Standout Dunn Does it All for Saugatuck
April 22, 2016
By Dave Sontag
Reprinted from Prep Baseball Report
At times, he wears a uniform under his uniform.
The attire that rests inside his baseball jersey has an “S” on the chest. The “S” should stand for Superman. For Saugatuck multi-athlete Blake Dunn, he doesn’t think playing four varsity sports each school year is newsworthy.
“Personally, I have never wanted to give up on any sports. I have the support from all of the coaches. I never wanted to close the door to any of the sports,” Dunn said.
The talented junior is currently competing on his school’s baseball and track & field teams. He hopes to end his high school career earning 16 varsity letters, an unprecedented feat in Saugatuck history.
Dunn has been the starting quarterback for three years and starred on the basketball court for three winters. In an age when many high school athletes prefer to specialize in one sport, Dunn has a different attitude.
“High school only happens once,” Dunn said. “My parents are behind me and my coaches all support me.”
So how does Dunn prepare for each of his spring sports?
Track coach Rick Bauer allows Dunn to conduct his workouts in the morning – before school. Baseball coach Dave Gawlak then works with Dunn after school on the diamond. Game and meet conflicts are minimal during the spring sports season.
It helps that Saugatuck’s athletic director is Bill Dunn, Blake’s dad. The veteran AD has not scheduled many events when baseball and track are competing on the same day. However, Blake did have to make a decision his freshman year when both the track and baseball teams traveled to Bloomingdale High School on the same day.
Blake said that day at Bloomingdale was the most memorable he has had during his high school career.
“I started off playing baseball that day and singled in my first at bat,” Dunn said. “I then changed into my track uniform and won three straight events.”
Dunn won the 110-meter hurdles, the 300 hurdles and as part of the 800 relay before changing back into his baseball uniform.
With the “S” etched on his chest, how did Dunn cap his full day of competition?
“I went back to the baseball field and hit a home run in my next at bat,” Dunn said.
Dunn not only intends to earn 16 varsity letters in his high school career, he also has earned all-state recognition in all four sports. He’s also recently been added to the MHSAA football record book for his accomplishments this past season.
Which sport does he like the best?
“I love them all so much. I really don’t know which one is my favorite,” Dunn said.
As an elementary student, Blake grew up on the gridiron with his dad, who is also Saugatuck’s football coach. Being a coach’s son, Blake serves as another coach on the field.
“He’s always hung around the field,” Bill Dunn said. “Ever since second or third grade, Blake has been around me on the football field.”
The 5-foot-11, 180-pounder said there is nothing like “the Friday night lights in football and the Friday night crowds in basketball.”
“I have limited opportunities to play sports. I don’t want to miss out on any of them,” Blake Dunn said.
Demonstrating talent on the basketball court, Dunn scored 51 points against Lawton this winter. He finished his junior year with more than 1,000 career points.
Dunn’s offseason schedule consists of playing travel baseball and working out with the school’s basketball and football teams.
“I don’t wear myself out playing one sport and possibly getting hurt,” Dunn said.
Dunn does realize that college coaches encourage athletes to play multiple sports. In fact, statistics have proven that high school athletes who specialize in one sport are at an increased risk of injuries – especially knee and hip injuries.
David Bell, a professor of kinesiology and orthopedics and rehabilitation at University of Wisconsin, said after his school completed its recent study “Prevalence of Sport Specialization in High School Athletics” that parents need to be more cognizant of their children specializing in one sport.
Athletes who trained in one sport for more than eight months during the study were more likely to have a history of knee and hip injuries, Bell reported.
The MHSAA also is currently spearheading a task force to promote multi-sport participation.
“For years it seemed educators were alone in promoting the multi-sport experience as the best for young people,” Executive Director Jack Roberts said. “Major college football coaches, members of the USA Women’s World Cup Soccer championship team, Hall of Fame pitcher John Smoltz, PGA golfer Jordan Spieth and others demonstrate to us that the multi-sport experience is the healthiest and happiest way to participate in youth sports.”
While playing four sports has kept Dunn busy athletically, he has been able to keep his grades solid. He holds a 3.95 grade-point average with a rigorous schedule.
The two-way baseball player has made a verbal commitment to play at Western Michigan University after high school. He is not sure if he will continue at WMU on the mound or as a catcher – or both.
“They have talked to me about maybe catching and then closing on the mound,” Dunn said.
Staying close to home does not surprise his dad.
“He’s really a down-home kid,” Bill Dunn said of his son. “The relationship with Billy (Gernon, WMU’s coach) is awesome.
The elder Dunn is proud of his son’s work ethic.
“He has God-given skills, but he works at it.” Bill said. “I remember him coming off of a basketball game on a Friday night and heading to Kalamazoo the next morning at 6:30 to work out for three hours.”
The talented junior has been clocked pitching at 90 mph and ran a 6.7-second 60-yard dash.
The script for Dunn has been storybook-like. Peeling off one uniform only to compete in another sport, he has carved quite an athletic career.
But while Western Michigan is waiting for the multi-talented athlete to finish high school, Blake will continue doing what he does best – performing at the highest level on his way to 16 varsity letters.
PHOTOS: (Top) Dunn has starred in football, basketball and baseball during the 2016-17 school year. (Middle) Dunn also was a Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion last spring in the 300 hurdles and as part of the 1,600 relay. (Top photos courtesy of the Dunn family, middle photo by RunMichigan.com.)
Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
March 14, 2023
KALAMAZOO — Harrison Wheeler has not been a pole vaulter for very long – two weeks to be exact – but he already has some lofty goals.
The sophomore is aiming for the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep record board and, if he makes it, he will be in good company.
Coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder, a 2001 Hackett graduate, still holds the girls record of 10 feet, 2½ inches.
“I’m hoping to have my name next to hers (on the record board),” Wheeler said.
The sophomore has a few feet to go before surpassing current record holder Brian Kucinich, who vaulted 12 feet, 6 inches in 1992.
Wheeler’s unofficial best is 9 feet; officially it is 8 feet, 6 inches.
“That is going to be a very big jump in my pole vaulting career,” he said.
Wheeler is one of 42 athletes on the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion boys team, which includes 12 seniors and 13 juniors. Besides Wheeler, the team has six sophomores and 10 freshmen.
One of the returners is senior Liam Mann, who helped lead the Irish to the Finals title last year.
Mann, Andrew Finley, Evan Wurtz and Isaac Backman won the 800-meter relay with a time of 1:31.55 last season, setting a school record as well.
While he lost his relay mates, Mann said there are good runners to replace them.
“(Senior) Brice Brown is coming out to do track, and I’ve been working with him this winter,” Mann said. “Jude Coffman, who is a sophomore, is coming out this year. I think he’s going to be a good addition to our 4-by-1.
“(Junior) Gabe Oeurn, last year he was running solid times, but this year he’s been putting in the work and I think he’ll be able to break that 12-second barrier.”
Mann, who will attend Ashland (Ohio) University on a track scholarship in the fall, also added gold in the 200-meter dash (22.82) last season.
“Last year, I played basketball and was able to lift to keep in shape,” he said. “This year, I wanted to focus all my time on track, so I’ve been doing indoor track, practicing once a week and going to meets on weekends.”
He continued to put his skills on display as a running back during football season with Kalamazoo United, ending the fall with 1,413 rushing yards on 177 carries and 267 receiving yards on 10 catches.
Opportunities & possibilities
The biggest group of competitors impacted by graduation are the sprinters, coach Charissa Dean said.
“Hackett’s been really big on sprinting talent in general,” she said. “But track has 17 events, and only two of them are open sprint events and two are relays.
“The other 13 are wide open for possibilities, and there’s a lot of younger talent that’s coming back this year. While they didn’t go to the state meet, they are the next generation of athletes coming up.”
Among that next generation are freshmen Marek Butkiewicz and Sean Siems, who “are incredibly talented athletes,” Dean said.
“(Junior) Gavin Sehy figured out how to do the distance thing this year in cross country.”
Sehy said he wanted to run track, but wasn’t sure where he fit.
“I thought I was mid-distance when I was younger, but my dad forced me to do cross country my sixth-grade year and it turned out I was decent at it so I kept doing (long distance) in track,” he said.
“It’s kind of brutal at times to train for long distance, mentally and physically, because you have to go on long runs, but I have fun with it. At the cross country state finals, I hit an 11 flat split at the two-mile, which beat my 3,200 best from last season, so we have yet to see my best times.”
Butkiewicz and Sehy have been running consistently six days a week all winter to prepare for their first meet, March 22.
“I’ve never done track,” the freshman said. “I know I can perform well. I know my times compared to other people.”
A sophomore this year, Alex Dumont had a 400-meter time that “came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “Toward the end of the season we recruited him to do the 4x8, so an 800-meter runner. That kid came through.
‘We actually took him to the state meet in the 4x8. He did the lead leg, and I clocked him at a 2:07. He was sprinting. It was an amazing leg in that relay.”
It was Germinder who converted Wheeler to the pole vault last year.
“Harrison’s a strong athlete, and just the way his mind works in that he asks questions and he wants to learn and he wants to improve,” she said.
“He wants to work hard, and he wants to put in the time. That’s something you need for that, along with the athletic component.”
Wheeler, who said he was shocked at being successful right away, competed for two weeks last season before a foot injury suffered on a vault sidelined him.
“It took her a whole season to finally convince me to do it,” he said. “I grabbed a pole one day and ended up being really good at it. Ever since, I’ve had a love of it.
“The feeling I have once I get in the air is almost like I’m just floating. When you get really good vaults and you get that nice height and good form, you get what we call a ‘stall.’ You just feel like you’re sitting up in the air for a second. It’s gotta be the coolest thing ever.”
Germinder has the background to help the Irish vaulters.
While at Hackett, she competed in the AAU National Championships and said she learned from the best, Oran Mitchell, a noted pole vaulting coach.
Her own coaching style revolves around the safety of the athletes.
“You can teach a lot of people to grab hold of a pole and pop yourself over,” she said. “But I want to make sure my athletes are safe. That’s really, really important to me, and that’s something that was instilled in me.
“When you’re jumping 6 to 16 feet, that’s a long way to fall. Safety is very important to me. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then I’m not the coach for you.”
Germinder said one of the foundations on which the team is built is leadership, which was instilled in the younger athletes by last year’s seniors.
“That’s one of the things our program is built on,” she said. “If you’re there because you want to get ready for the next sports season, we’ll coach you for that.
“If you want to be a state champion, we’ll coach you for that. That’s the really unique thing about track. There’s something for everyone, whatever that might be.”
As for the girls team, numbers are steadily climbing.
Five years ago, the team had just two girls. This year, 25 girls are on the team.
No matter girls or boys, track or field events, one thing is common for all the athletes.
“We pray before every meet, we put God first, and all those pieces have fallen into place for us.” Germinder said.
“I really believe that foundation is what is going to be our success this year. It’s there, it’s just a different team.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Hackett's Harrison Wheeler points to the pole vaulting record he hopes to break this season, while pole vaulting coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder points to the record she still holds at the school. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. (Below) The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. (Top photo and head shots by Pam Shebest; team photo courtesy of Hackett track & field.)