By Judy Reed
All Autumn (Waite) Mattson has ever wanted is to live and serve in the community that she grew up in—a community she loves. So it was with a heavy heart that she turned in her resignation to Cedar Springs Public Schools on February 11, after 14 years of working with kids. “I didn’t want to leave,” she said.
Mattson, a former Red Flannel Queen, attended all 12 years of school at Cedar Springs, and graduated in 1997. Except for the four years she went away to college, she has spent her entire life here. “My family has been here since 1892, and my kids are the 8th generation to attend Cedar Springs Public Schools,” she explained. “My husband and I chose to come back here to live because this is a community that cares about kids.”
When an athletic secretary position came open in July 2002, Mattson jumped at the chance. She later coached both Girls JV and Varsity basketball for several years, before becoming athletic director in July 2006. “My kids were brought up in the gym,” she said with a chuckle. “I had both of them a week after basketball season ended.”
Mattson earned two AD awards in 2014 when she was named Regional Athletic Director of the Year by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association (MIAAA), and Athletic Director of the Year by the West Michigan Officials Association.
She has also been active with the MHSAA, serving as a conference presenter on Women in Sports Leadership, and serving on various committees.
In addition to being AD, Mattson also served as Dean of Students at Cedar Springs High School for two years, until this past January. “I had some of the greatest growth of my career as Dean of Students,” she remarked. “It gave me a chance to work with other staff and students that I would not have had a chance to work with in athletics. That opportunity opened my eyes to what Cedar Springs is all about.”
Many of the students she worked with in that capacity are not happy to see her go. “Last week I had kids come up to me asking who are they going to talk to now? It really made an imprint on my heart. These are kids I wouldn’t have a had a chance to meet otherwise.”
One of her proudest accomplishments is as founder of the Athletic Leadership Council. It started out as student-lead group in 2008 with 14 members, and now has 62 high school athletes in grades 9-12. Their mission is to unite the students, staff, and community and promote Red Hawk pride. They develop leadership growth through bi-weekly meetings, doing community service projects, presentations to peers, community groups and collaboration with leadership professionals. For the second year in a row, they will be present at the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Administrator Association conference, where Mattson was asked to be a presenter. She has spoken at the conference the last two years about the Athletic Leadership Council. “More schools want to know about it,” she said.
Mattson also founded the Red Hawk kids club, a weekly program that partnered with elementary administrators. The mission of the program is to have High School athletes guide elementary students to uphold the Red Hawk creed.
“We have the most amazing kids,” she remarked. “They are thought provokers, listeners, inspiring. They always thank us, but they are the ones that inspired me.”
If Mattson loves her job, and the kids, and the staff, why is she leaving without having a new job to go to?
“This is the third superintendent I have worked under, and a lot has happened during that time. I was able to stand behind the things that happened. I loved that we had a real culture of learning, of love, and that it was ok to think outside the box. Teaching and learning was at the center of everything we did. That culture of being able to recreate yourself every few years is not there anymore. I just didn’t feel I could be my best self anymore,” she explained.
Mattson said she noticed a shift in teaching and learning when administrator Steve Seward left, and saw a change in the system with due process, when Jennifer Harper was put on leave. “The culture was changing,” she explained. Other events impacting her decision were when the board president read the letter at the October 12 board meeting that upset many staff members, and former associate superintendent Dave Cairy leaving. Her athletic assistant Tyler Wolfe also resigned in December.
“Me leaving is a way that I feel I’m standing up for kids,” she said. “I’m always trying to instill in them to stand up for themselves. I had a student tell me, ‘Not many adults have the trust and respect from the students that you have. You alone brought a united family atmosphere to CSHS and the way you have chosen to make a career change, as much as I would love to see you stay, only make me realize that putting yourself first is not selfish, but the most important thing you can do. Thank you for letting me be a part of your legacy.’ To have that come from a student is amazing.”
Leaving was tough on Mattson. She said working that last day and then leaving for the last time was the most emotional thing she’s ever done. But it wasn’t just hard on her; her family feels it, too. Her kids asked to go with her to the last ALC breakfast so they could say goodbye to the athletes.
“The Mattson family has had amazing adventures in that stadium, in that gym. They made us. I’m excited to explore my passions to see what my next adventure is,” she remarked.
Mattson asked for an exit interview with the board of education, which is not routine, so was denied. She appealed that decision, and was waiting to hear from the board when this paper went to press.
In her absence, teachers Justin Harnden and Julie Weiler will run the ALC. The new baseball coach, Michael Schaub, will serve as interim Athletic Director, and Deb Williams will be athletic administrative assistant.
“Cedar Springs Public Schools will be posting a position for a full-time athletic director,” said Superintendent Dr. Laura VanDuyn.
“We wish Ms. Autumn Mattson the very best in her new position,” said VanDuyn. “Autumn served our district for 14 years in a variety of capacities. We know that countless students, staff and families will remember her work and passion for athletics and for Cedar Springs Public Schools. She did a fine job establishing and presenting to others the Athletic Leadership Council, which many of our high school students enjoy. All our best to you, Autumn! ”