Tower coaches reflect
on Sander’s career
By Jason Carmel Davis
“I’ve known Jan since about 1992. We’ve had a great history,” Tower boys golf coach Scott Pemberton said. “I got to know her the best because I helped her put up the lights at the football stadium at Tower.“Jan is just great — everybody is going to miss her.”
During what neared half a century at the Warren high school, Sander has racked up a number of accolades. She has earned a Women in Sports Leadership Award, been named Regional Athletic Director of the Year, earned Teacher of the Year honors and was named Macomb County Coach of the Year multiple times while coaching basketball and volleyball.Sander has also been named Coach of the Year by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan and has been elected to the Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the Michigan High School Coaches Hall of Fame.
Warren Cousino Athletic Director Aaron Setlak said Sander is simply the best in the business. He said the Macomb Area Conference will sorely miss her.“There aren’t enough women coaching or in positions of power in sports,” Setlak said. “(Sander) has done a lot of great things, and we’re losing a great one with her retiring.”
Setlak added he used to work with or for Sander on just about anything she’d ask him to. He said Tower is lucky to have had her around for such a long time.Tower volleyball coach Scott Barbe said Sander does an excellent job of making sure everyone — coaches, athletes, etc. — is well taken care of.
“I’ve only known (Sander) for about three years, but in my opinion, she’s one of the best (athletic directors) around. She not only supports my program, but she supports all the programs in the school,” Barbe said.“You couldn’t ask for a better (athletic director),” Pemberton said. “She puts her heart and soul in the program. Whoever replaces her will have huge shoes to fill. We’re not sponsored by the school, but without her, the golf team sure wouldn’t be where it’s at.”
Born in Bloomdale, Ohio, Sander graduated from Bowling Green State University with a bachelor’s of science degree.She began her teaching career in Livonia before coming to the Warren Woods Tower district in 1970, where she taught health, physical science and swimming before working as a special education teacher.
Sander became Tower’s girls varsity basketball coach in 1973, coaching until 1990 and again from 1992-2000. Sander’s teams won a total of 427 games — good for an average of 17 wins a season.Sander became Tower’s volleyball coach in 1976, keeping the post until 1996. She guided the Titans’ volleyball program to a total of 532 victories, including 12 league and district titles, and one regional championship.
“I was around when she was still a coach and a teacher. Everybody always knew (Sander) because she was always intense with the girls,” Tower baseball coach Leo Kondziolka said. “Two of my sisters played for her … and I was around for all the games, and I was a kid who watched her coach. (Sander) just makes everything special, and she always has.”For her success as a basketball and volleyball coach, Sander is recognized by the Michigan High School Athletic Association as being No. 16 in the state, in terms of total victories. Sander’s teams have won 74 percent of game she’s coached.
“When she comes out to games, her voice is distinct. You hear the, ‘Go Titans!’ Everyone knows it’s her,” Kondziolka said. “You can’t think about Warren Woods Tower athletics without thinking about (Sander). I think that makes it special. So not having her around next year — I hope we still have the commitment from the community that she’s helped make.“A lot of people came around because of Jan, and I hope we can continue to have that support for years to come, even when she’s gone. She’s a great role model, great coach and she’s been a great (athletic director) and friend.”
By Susan Shanley
WARREN — After three years of “thinking about it,” Warren Woods Tower Athletic Director Jan Sander has decided to bid farewell to the Titans.
And when the final day of school arrived at Tower, she officially retired after 47 years of teaching, 43 of those in the Tower district, and 17 years as the AD.
But make no mistake, the legacy she leaves behind will never be forgotten, and it’s not just because the athletic building bares her name.
Tower Principal Mike Mackenzie said Sander has provided a wealth of service to the district the last 47 years. He said her influence goes beyond athletics, with Sander concerning herself with students’ academic success and well-being.
Getting ready to say goodbye
It was still the middle of May, but already Sander was busy packing boxes. And after 17 years in the same office, she has a lot of stuff.
“I have more than one storage unit,” she admitted with a laugh.
On her schedule for the week was a series of meetings, along with setting the schedule for next fall’s teams. After all, games had to be finalized, officials had to be hired and coaches needed to know what’s expected of them.
Such is the life of an athletic director: Making plans for next year before this one ends and preparing for upcoming tournaments and year-end banquets.
“I want to make sure everything is ready for the next person,” she said. “There’s still a lot to be done.”
At the June 10 board of education meeting, the “next person” was announced, as Jordan Ackerman from Rochester College will take over beginning June 25.
Sander admits to being a bit nervous after finally making the decision to retire, especially because she said most of the major job-related decisions she’s made during her career have come from necessity, not choice. This one was purely her choice.
“I changed jobs over the years because circumstances led to change,’’ she said. “I changed from one specialty to another (teaching) because opportunities were there. I became the athletic director when the job opened up.
“But this decision — this is probably the first one I’ve made all on my own. It’s a little scary.”
Scary, maybe, but it’s one she has thought about for awhile and has decided to embrace.
“I love what I do; I’ve never done anything else,” she said.
The more things change, the more they stay the same
During her tenure at Tower, Sander has seen a few generations of students come and go. When asked to compare kids when she started to now, she said she thinks deep down kids are the same, but the environment around them has changed dramatically.
“Kids haven’t changed. They just want to know that someone cares about them,” she said. “They have different issues now; family dynamics have changed, technology has changed the world around them, but kids are kids. They want someone to care about them, and they want to feel loved.
“I’ve been very lucky. We have some wonderful kids here at Tower.”
As for how the coaches have changed over the years, she said she’s noticed the current crop spend a little bit more time in team bonding rather than just X’s and O’s, and she thinks that’s great.
“The football team came down to my office and sang the fight song to me,” she said. “There are kids who go here for four years and don’t even know we have a fight song. It just shows some school pride, and they had a lot of fun. Coaches are trying to develop the whole person, not just the athlete. They want to get the best of the kids while they have them.”
When asked about her proudest accomplishments over the years, she said there are too many to mention, and they have nothing to do with wins and losses. One thing she did note was being very proud of the way school administrators have proactively dealt with fiscal matters, which has resulted in Tower athletes being part of the very few who do not pay to play sports.
When asked what she won’t miss, she quickly responded, “paperwork.”
“I love the kids. I love watching them grow from freshmen to seniors. I love dealing with my coaches and the parents. I don’t like the busy work, like paperwork. I won’t miss that.”
What she’ll be up to
Sander said she will still be a presence in the community in the years to come. She said she’ll spend more time coaching her travel softball team and will do some traveling herself, but she’ll be around.
“I have a lot of family in the area, so I’ll be watching their games,” she said. “I may even want to become an official. I love officiating volleyball.”
Sander concluded by saying how fortunate she feels to have spent the vast majority of her career at Tower.
“I’ve been so blessed,” she said. “But it’s time.”