SCOTTVILLE — For so many, closing one chapter and moving head-long into a yet uncharted course can be exciting, uncertain and certainly, challenging. At the end of June, Mason County Central’s Tim Genson will close parts of 35 years at MCC and will move into the ranks of the retired.
Genson has, in many ways, become synonymous with Spartan athletics, having been in the role of Athletic Director since August 1992.
“When you do something this long that is only natural. In terms of legacy, a lot of people made my life a whole lot easier,” said Genson.
Genson was reflective, I found, and felt blessed by the experiences and relationships provided through his roles at MCC. He will miss the day-to-day interaction with students, but knows it is the right time to step away and discover what will be next in his life journey.
Genson graduated from Mason County Central in 1985, spent two years at West Shore Community College and received his teaching degree from Central Michigan University in 1990.
Genson began coaching the seventh grade basketball team while he was at West Shore and assisted with the middle school track team. While coaching, Genson said the athletic director gave him the nudge he needed.
“I thought a lot of (former middle school athletic director) Don Peterson, and so if he thought this might be a good field for me, I’d definitely think about it,” Genson said.
After West Shore, Genson decided to go to Central, but his grade point average wasn’t what it could have been. Genson admits now, he didn’t apply himself as he should have, likely as he didn’t have a clear direction of where he was headed.
With the help of a CMU alumni and a plan in place, Genson was able to attend CMU, but his first semester was rocky. He still wasn’t applying himself and he made a promise to himself to pick it up when he returned from the break and he did just that and the results were excellent, getting good grades and the knowledge and experience that came along with being present in class.
Genson was excited about his student teaching experience, but the experience nearly turned him away. He started to have doubts.
“I had no desire to get in to education after that,” he said. “I spent the summer thinking I’d wasted five years of my life.”
He did some work for Ken Ross in the summer, helping with some surveying and then Mason County Eastern’s Jim Jackoviak called in the fall and asked Genson if he would be interested in a long-term substitute teacher position.
“I was very reluctant, but I needed to find out if I wanted to do this,” he said.
Having gotten the call the Monday after Harvest Festival, he went to work right away. With a chuckle, he recalls his father, Bob Genson, sending his son off on his first day, with his way of encouragement, “Teach them something. Even if it’s wrong, teach them something!”
While teaching at MCE during 1990-91, he also coached. Genson had a good experience and thought this might be the field he wanted to go in to after all.
“Jim (Jackoviak) gave a kid who wasn’t sure, an opportunity.”
In August 1992, Genson was hired by Mason County Central to serve as the athletic director, but only part-time. He recalls his schedule was to come in mid-day, but it didn’t take long for Genson to realize his messages, by mid-day, were already stacked high. He got his first taste of the role of an athletic director, which is pretty much a seven days per week, 15-18 hours a day job.
In the 1993-94 school year, Genson was hired to teach iat MCC, but had to resign from the JV basketball and varsity track coaching positions he held. A year later, in ‘93-94, Genson was named the varsity basketball coach at MCC, a position that lasted for 16 years, until 2009.
Genson looks back and notes every athletic facility is different than when he started. Several teams made the trip across U.S. 10 to practice and play at McPhail Field. The basketball and volleyball programs played in A.O. Carlson Gymnasium.
Looking back at top memories as the athletic director, Genson mentions a few. One memory intermingles with the role of father. His son, Noah, was running cross country his senior year and was typically the fourth, fifth or sixth runner on a good Spartan team. Genson was watching a race at Grand Traverse Resort and recalls seeing a blond-haired runner in the last quarter mile of the race.
He thought it was probably Logan Merrick or Mitch Lange, two excellent runners who typically finished high in the race. Another spectator mentioned they thought the runner was Noah, but Genson recalls saying, “no, it must be Logan,” but about that time, he realized his son was one of the top runners!
“He picked up the slack that day because someone else didn’t have their best day,” Genson said. “He ran the race of his life and finished high enough to send the team to state.”
Genson was so excited for his son and the team and it was a proud moment for him as a father.
Another moment Genson lists as a classic moment was watching the 2005 Division 3 softball semifinal at Bailey Park in Battle Creek. MCC played a 15-inning game with Freeland. At the time, it was the longest game by innings played. It was a game the Spartans lost, 2-1.
“That was a classic. Sitting there realizing I had watched our team play two full games (in number of innings),” Genson said. “It really was the finals game.”
Freeland went on to win the state championship the next day.
Being the athletic director means involvement with the West Michigan Conference, one of the oldest conferences in the state and until this year, a conference that had changed very little. MCC is one of the founding members.
“It’s a great league! It is an incredibly great small school league,” Genson said. “The success we have had as a league, from state championships, both team and individual, has been impressive. We have a phenomenal number of high level athletes who have played in the WMC.”
Memories from Genson’s coaching career come easily, of course the memories of the very successful 1997 and 1998 teams are present. The Spartans lost in the semifinals in 1997, but came charging back to play in the state finals in 1998. Playing at the Jack Breslin Student Events Center in East Lansing, capturing the state runner-up title in Class C, will always be special, but Genson also has fond memories of teams who had players who grew so much, as teams, as individuals.
In the last few games of this season, Genson was particularly blessed by having past athletes show up at some of the games, home and away, knowing it was Genson’s last season. That was special to the coach.
Some might question whether this end to the coaching career is really the end. Afterall, Genson stepped down after the 2009 season, only to return in 2016 and coach for eight more seasons. But Genson says this time is different. In 2009, Genson said he needed a break, a time to rejuvenate and when the opportunity came around in 2016 to coach again, he was ready.
“I told Carrie (his wife), maybe it’s the right time to offer us some flexibility,” he said.
Genson is quick to credit Carrie with contributing to his success.
“Carrie has been incredibly supportive — there are no words,” he said.
Their son, Noah, is now married and lives downstate, and without all the commitments, they could visit more. Along with Tim’s father, Bob, his mother, Sue still lives in the area, and his sister, Ann. All surprised Genson by being at his last regular season home game and celebrating as a family.
There have been a lot of changes since Genson came on the scene. In athletics, Genson says one of the most significant has been the change in the seasons, moving girls basketball to the winter and girls volleyball to the fall.
While the change has offered some good, he says, “I don’t know if it has helped volleyball.”
He thinks volleyball got more coverage when it was in the winter and he indicates it has certainly caused a basketball officiating problem, stretching the officials too thin.
“I don’t think it has done any favors to girls in the State of Michigan,” he said.
The 3-point shot in basketball has also been a huge change.
“The last 15 years the 3-point shot has filtered from the NBA to college to high school and has become a primary weapon,” Genson said. “It is a huge part of the game. We have lost some post-play and the pick ‘n roll because the preference is the 3-point shot.”
Genson said he’s been blessed with great mentors, from Ted Winkel and Gerry Genter who helped in teaching government and lesson planning to Tom Kudwa in coaching. Other mentors who helped were Jim Nastold and Jim Murchie.
Genson also says, with a smile on his face and without naming names, “there were a couple people who also taught me what not to do.”
“A lot of good is here,” Genson said of the district. “A lot of darn good people are working here.”
Genson is one of those people, too.
“We think of coach Genson as the athletic director and basketball coach, but his impact in the classroom has been huge as well,” said MCC HS principal Jeff Tuka. “He just has good delivery as a teacher and the kids like being in his room.”
Sports have been a huge part of Genson’s life. He sees life lessons as a huge part of school sports.
“Life is full of difficult situations. Going through adversity, you have to ask yourself, how do you respond? Sports and athletics have the greatest tools for teaching us how to get through adversity. Sometimes you have to go to that mental rolodex to find the tools to say, ‘I can get through this, I can do this,’” he said.
“Character is what shows up in adversity and when we fail. Winning is easy,” he said. “We don’t generally win all our games. We have to overcome injury, mental blocks and our shortcomings.”
In his career, Genson completed 24 seasons on the bench, winning 327 games overall with a winning percentage of 62%. His teams won five WMC titles, eight districts, two regional titles and made two trips to the final four. He is the longest-tenured basketball coach in school history.
The basketball whistle was hung up on March 8 when the Spartans fell to Shelby, 54-51, in the district semifinals
“It always ends sooner than you want it to,” he said.
He could have said that about his career in general, too.
Having coached volleyball and softball for Tim, I know first-hand how his support helped us build a solid program. As a former coach, I felt his sadness at ending a season, but his body of work is solid and one he should be proud to call his own. Well wishes are sent his way by so many.
The classroom has kept Genson grounded all these years — he enjoys seeing the students each day.
“I was asked a couple times to move to a full-time administrative position, but I knew I would miss the students and being in the classroom too much,” said Genson.
And it’s Genson’s turn to pass on advice to those who wish to pursue careers in education.
“Make sure you have a passion and you have a purpose,” he said. “When you have those, it makes it easy to go to work.”