by Patrice Johnson
There is an unflappable quality to Stockbridge Community Schools’ first female Athletic Director. One might say Meghan Kunzelman emanates competence and good-natured steadiness, a Kunzelman Factor if you will.
Senior High Principal Jeff Trapp may have hit the nail on the head when he said, “Meghan has had a positive impact right from the start as she puts her best into everything she is a part of.” And the list of everything Kunzelman is part of runs long.
In addition to all things A.D., the tall brunette coaches Girls Varsity Volleyball, teaches a yearlong algebra support class, and is responsible for “Check In and Check Out,” a support program for middle school students.
“If kids are having educational or behavioral issues,” she explained, “I check in and check out with those students to be sure the problem is not continued.” Plus, Kunzelman “helps with minor discipline.” In other words, she functions as assistant principal without the title.
If the new Athletic Director feels frazzled, those around her would never guess. Heritage Secretary Deanna Kruger, whose daughter plays on Kunzelman’s volleyball team, wrote, “Meghan was and has been really fun to work with this year. She is knowledgeable about students and sports. She remains calm under pressure, and that is an amazing feat.”
“I’m doing well.” Kunzelman grinned. “I just work a lot. I’m finding balance now.” She admitted she misses retired secretary Mary Carpenter, who used to coordinate the awards for the former A.D., Joe Wenzel.
To profile Kunzelman solely according to her professional career, however, would be a disservice. Last June, she and husband Benn Kunzelman, a super-specialized millwright in blade technology, celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary. Together, the couple is raising two boys, Hunter and Beau.
In fact, a majority of the Benn’s family lives in the area. His father, Gordie and wife Penny Kunzelman, reside in Gregory; Benn’s mother and stepfather, Sarah Willson-Lennen and Scotch Lennen, live in Stockbridge; and his brother Matt and family live in Gregory. Beau and Hunter now relish going to school with three of their cousins. All told, Smith Elementary attends to five Kunzelman children: kindergartner Beau, three first graders including Hunter, plus a third grader.
“At Smith,” Meghan chuckled, “they call us the Kunzelman Gang.”
Throughout the interview, Kunzelman answered questions using non-egotistical pronouns like we and us. She said she hopes to “help all our athletes succeed.”
If comments from a member of her volleyball team are an indication, Kunzelman is already making inroads. “Coach has brought lots of new things to our volleyball program,” high school senior Michelle Zemke wrote. “She really focuses on teamwork as well as making goals and achieving them. Her determination and willingness to help us have surpassed any other coach I have ever had, which has made me fall back in love with volleyball.”
When asked how she cultivates athletes with talent, Kunzelman demured, saying she, as with any coach, suggests athletes play as much as they can. “You shouldn’t push too hard,” she warned. “But you can encourage athletes to work on specific skills in the off season and play on club and travel teams.” She added, “If students are interested in going to college to play, I’ll certainly get their names out there.”
Kunzelman stressed the importance of athletes keeping their grades up. Since the volleyball team’s G.P.A. was 3.5, she nominated them to Academic All State. She also nominated three seniors with 3.7 or greater grade point averages. The process required sending transcripts and completing paperwork, and on November 15, Kunzelman learned that her efforts had paid off. Her Varsity Volleyball team was named to Academic All State.
“It’s something we encourage all our coaches to do,” she said.
To submit nominations, coaches must belong to their respective sport associations, which Kunzelman encourages. These memberships also serve as a means to build Stockbridge’s image–another of her top goals as A.D. “I’d like to help bring Stockbridge athletics to gain more respect and recognition in the state,” she said. “People don’t know who we are.”
To further bolster Stockbridge’s image and name recognition, Kunzelman plans to leverage the close proximity of the old and new gyms to land the hosting of district and regional tournaments. “That would bring people in who aren’t used to coming here,” she said. She is also building a more coordinated approach among coaches to avoid scheduling conflicts. “We have a limited number of students,” she noted, “so we need to make it easy to participate in more than one sport.”
When Kunzelman became A.D. this fall, she called an all-coaches meeting. “I see them a lot,” she said. By way of example, she attended all the home football games and most of the soccer games. “I was at all the volleyball games, of course.” She grinned.
Kunzelman met future husband Benn while attending Olivet College. She graduated with a degree in Physical Education and Health, minoring in math with a concentration in secondary education. For the past 11 years, she taught, coached and served as assistant athletic director in Stone Memorial High School in Crossville, Tennessee. Benn took a job with Atlantic Plant Maintenance where he works today, traveling to power plants and fixing their turbine blades to operate at maximum efficiency.
Between teaching full time and giving birth to two sons, Kunzelman earned a Master of Science Degree in educational leadership and an administration license from Tennessee Tech. Acquiring her Michigan license required the completion of additional coursework in teaching reading.
When the Athletic Director position at Stockbridge opened due to Joe Wenzel’s move to junior high principal, Kunzelman jumped at the opportunity to apply. “The majority of Benn’s family lives here,” she explained. “Benn takes great pride in this community. We want to raise our kids here and have them go to Stockbridge schools.”Asked if she had encountered resistance because of her gender, Kunzelman shook her head. “Everyone’s been super supportive. It’s been great working with Jeff [Trapp] and Joe. Joe’s really supportive. He’s my go-to. Doesn’t tell me what to do, but he’s my sounding board.”
Then Kunzelman added softly, “I actually feel like we’re at home.”
Always doing her best with a desire to help others, a commitment to family and education, a sense of teamwork and place, plus a ready laugh–maybe these attributes form the heart of that indefinable Kunzelman Factor.