Catholic League’s newest athletic directors bring a wealth of experience
Jul 31, 2019
New program leaders hope to hit ground running at Cardinal Mooney, St. Catherine of Siena and Lutheran North
ORCHARD LAKE — They might be new to their jobs, but when it comes to running quality athletic programs, the Catholic League’s three incoming athletic directors are anything but rookies.
Ken Semelsberger, the former district-wide AD for Port Huron schools, takes over at Marine City Cardinal Mooney. Carlos Calderon comes to Wixom St. Catherine of Siena after having been assistant AD at Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard High School. And Jessica Stange, a teacher and coach and Macomb Lutheran High School North, assumes the AD’s role there.
Here are profiles of all three.
Semelsberger’s back in the game
Ken Semelsberger has actually retired twice — as Port Huron High School’s athletic director in 2009, and again two years ago after serving as the district-wide AD. All the while, he’s been driven by some advice from former University of Michigan (and former Detroit Nativity) coach Lloyd Carr.
“When I retired the first time, he told me, ‘Don’t retire from something, retire to something.’ My retire-to is doing what I do best, helping schools like this with their athletics,” Semelsberger said.
Few across the state have a résumé as deep as Semelsberger’s. A former Catholic League football coach of the year, he was inducted into the Catholic League Hall of Fame in 1981, received the MHSAA’s Charles E. Forsythe Award in 2003, and served as past president of the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrators’ Association (MIAAA).
Semelsberger and his wife, Debra, were simply planning (again) to enjoy retirement life, but he got a call this summer from a good friend, Cardinal Mooney interim principal Sue Strickler, with an offer that ultimately became too good to turn down.
“Originally, I said no,” Semelsberger said. “But I met with the school board president and some other people; they were really good people who just needed some help, and I felt like I would do it for a year and see how it works out.”
Semelsberger’s first impression of Cardinal Mooney reminded him of his days at Detroit Servite, where he attended high school, and later became a teacher and coach.
“I noticed that family atmosphere was there right away,” he said. “In the building you know everybody there, and that was one of the things about Servite. By the end of the year, I will know every kid at Cardinal Mooney. I think it’s just the uniqueness of being a small school and having that one-on-one relationship with these kids — that’s very important.”
His vision for Cardinal Mooney is “just to get every kid an opportunity to participate in something,” Semelsberger said. “I’m a big believer in participation in athletics, drama, band — anything in high school. I believe the more things a kid can get involved in, the better. I always attended the plays, the choir concerts and all those things, because I think it’s important that kids are involved in all those activities.”
There will be one big perk for Semelsberger — his part-time athletic secretary will be his wife, who previously assumed that role at cross-town Port Huron Northern. Lately, she has been “buying red gear,” he said.
“I was retired and enjoying that,” Semelsberger said. “We like to travel, that was one of the things we’re going to have a clear up a little bit, but we’ll make up for that later — I’m looking forward to working back in the Catholic League.”
Calderon moves to St. Catherine
Carlos Calderon’s last day at Ann Arbor Fr. Gabriel Richard was June 30. But he wasted no time getting to work at St. Catherine the very next day. By the day after that, the Stars’ coaches knew who he was.
“I think the school has a ton of potential,” Calderon said. “As I talk to people, they tell me they’re on the cusp of getting really big and getting really good at stuff. I want to be a part of that. That’s kind of why I applied for the job there.”
The 36-year-old Dearborn resident had coached soccer at the Ann Arbor Catholic high school for 15 years, and was associate athletic director for the past four, working with ADs Hally Yonko and Mickey Redmond.
“They have a phenomenal work ethic; I learned a lot from both of them, and I’m transitioning that over to (St. Catherine),” he said. “It was a big whirlwind coming right in.”
Since starting his new role, Calderon has met with the school’s new administrative team and returning coaches; he’s also hired a few new ones and negotiated a contract with a new uniform supplier.
Calderon’s top goals for the Stars’ athletic program are “just continue to keep building, and to have our girls modeling the mission of the school,” he said.
How will Calderon know if the St. Catherine athletic department is hitting the mark?
“Any time the alumnae come back and just want to be a part of it, or just check in and see how we’re doing,” he said. “I think that will have left the girls with a good taste in their mouth if they have a great experience at the school and want to come back. At least that’s what I’ve noticed at Richard — kids are always coming back and checking up on you and saying, ‘I miss you; I miss the athletics here.’ I think those type of things will show that we’ve left a good impression on kids.”
Stange steps up at Lutheran North
The league’s third new athletic director, Macomb Lutheran North’s Jessica Stange, was already on the faculty and coaching staff of her school, and had served as an understudy to former AD Ryan Wesley through the end of the past school year.
And the 2006 Lutheran North graduate is pretty excited to be leading the athletic department where she attended school and taught history and physical education for five years.
“For some time I’ve been kind of looking to do a little bit more with athletics,” Stange said. “I was involved in college athletics and coached at the college level, and it was always something I was interested in, and when the right opportunity came up in early fall, I interviewed, had a lot of conversations with people, and accepted the role.”
Stange graduated in 2010 from Albion College, where she was on the softball team. After graduating, she coached there while teaching at nearby Springport High School. But that changed in 2014.
“I had always wanted to come back and teach at North; I wasn’t sure in what capacity that would look like and when it would happen,” she said. “When I found out that there was an opening, I was excited to be able to reach out and get the opportunity to teach at my old high school.”
Stange describes the Mustangs’ athletic program as “a program that is strong in its traditions. It’s proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish, and we’re looking forward to being able to continue its success — not only on the field, but off the field as well. We’re doing a lot to encourage our students to not only participate well on the field, but also live out their faith outside of the classroom and in the community.”
And Wesley — who was named the Catholic League’s Athletic Director of the Year for 2018-19 — isn’t going far. He’s opted to return to full-time teaching duties at the school.
“He’s really excited, and is looking forward to spending more time with his family. I think he’s hopefully looking forward to getting back into coaching in some way after taking some time off, and he’s looking forward to being in the classroom,” Stange said. “We’re excited to still have him in the building, absolutely.”