COMMENT: Public Act 184 a real loser for Michigan school athletics

There is a crisis in Michigan schools today that focuses on one issue:

Not having enough people.

In interviews with school district officials, we’ve been told that finding people has never been harder than it is today. We are all looking for sports team coaches and officials, umpires and referees everywhere to manage these games in an orderly and safe manner. Dig a little deeper, and school districts are desperate for people willing to serve as substitute teachers and bus drivers.

Given this current reality, we remain amazed at the approval of Public Act 184 last summer. This created a new set of retirement rules, which stipulate that a retiring teacher or administrator can only be reinstated as a trainer after a nine-month waiting period. Even more frustrating, individuals who had served many years as high school coaches and retired from the classroom this past June but planned to coach a few more seasons are being told they cannot do so. These coaches are on hiatus for no good reason.

Cheri Ritz has been the varsity softball coach at Wayland High School since 1995. Cheri has won numerous championships and has been a model coach and great student leader throughout her career. Cheri retired as a teacher in June and planned to coach the softball team for a few more years, earning a small fraction of her pre-retirement class salary. Under the “old” pension law, Cheri could have retired in June and been fired from the district for 30 days and then returned and worked for the district in any capacity as long as she was earning less than 30 percent of her pay in the district at the time of her retirement . Under PA 184, this scenario can no longer happen.

In the state of Michigan, we have hundreds of recently retired students who want to remain among our best coaches and earn pennies an hour for their time. Now they simply can’t because of a law that had no intention of affecting coaches and school sports. Cheri is just one example. The same problem has found several longtime successful coaches, including Northville’s golf coach Chris Cronin and Steve Porter of Cross Country & Track Field at Milan High School.

In recent months, the MHSAA has met with the Office of Retirement Services, representatives from the Governor’s Office and even the PA 184 legislature. Every single conversation highlighted the fact that coaches weren’t even part of the discussion when this new retirement law was passed. In other words, it wasn’t the issue that recently retired coaches continued to be coaches, but this new law now treats coaches as some sort of enemy with zero phase-in period, change, or even the possibility of this new law being repealed apply, which came into effect immediately on July 25, 2022. We have attempted to work within the system to find some reasonable approaches and solutions to this issue, but to no avail so far.

We need your help. You must contact the Governor’s Office and your State Representative and the State Senator’s Offices. Tell them that PA 184 needs repairs now. We need to find a way for these individuals to continue to train and guide our student-athletes. Let them know that our children cannot play their games without people willing to coach, and let them know that our children will miss out on valuable life lessons if those coaches are not allowed to continue.

And let them know that PA 184 couldn’t have been passed at a worse time as our most valuable resource – people – is at an all-time low.

PHOTO: Wayland softball coach Cheri Ritz, front right, accepts the 2015 Division 2 championship trophy.

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