By Dan Hardenbrook

Vince Gross, superintendent and athletic director at Whitefish Township Community School has been voted the 2024 Northern Lights League (NLL) Athletic Director of the Year.

Gross was hired for these roles at Whitefish in 2022, and has a long history of serving schools and athletics. He has coached at all levels from elementary starter programs to middle school and high school teams. He has always been willing to step up, regardless of gender or sport, volunteering his time to work with basketball, golf, volleyball, and even reverse co-ed volleyball. Many recognize Gross for his time officiating local sporting events in soccer, cross country, football, basketball, volleyball, and track and field. He oversees events at the local elementary and middle school levels, and works around the region at high school games and has even been called on by colleges.

While his impact on schools and sports is far-ranging, his effort to increase opportunities for rural community schools like Whitefish Township has earned Gross high praise from those who work with him.

Gross is a dedicated advocate for Upper Peninsula schools and athletes statewide, and especially the Northern Lights League, whose membership consists of “micro schools” and charter schools. Due to small schools and isolated locations, those districts often struggle to offer athletic opportunities. But the NLL has expanded offerings in recent seasons, increased school membership, and seen participation and recognition skyrocket.

Many NLL schools, including the one Gross oversees in Paradise and their biggest rivals in Grand Marais, offer programs that include the youngest of students all the way to soon to be graduates. Conference tournaments have expanded in stature and location, as well as multiple levels across different grades and groups from elementary, middle school and high school varsity programs.

An increase in awareness and opportunities has led to multiple qualifiers in state level competitions, including championship performances at U.P. Finals in track, where 2023 Whitefish Township graduate Seth Mills became one of Michigan’s top-rated throwers in shotput and discus.

Multiple Northern Lights League teams have opted in to MHSAA tournaments and won volleyball and basketball games, and co-op agreements have been reached with neighboring communities for sports the NLL can’t offer or host at their facilities such as football. Players have earned multiple All UP awards instead of being ignored because they play in places without media coverage.

Gross also serves on the MHSAA’s Upper Peninsula Athletic Committee, making sure U.P. kids get fair representation at the state level in Lansing. He is the current acting president of the Northern Lights League. Whitefish Township and other NLL schools have also formed satellite memberships with the EUP Conference under his guidance.