ATLANTIC MINE — Imagine being able to host a cross country invitational on your own property.
That’s what Painesdale Jeffers High School head coach Sam Kilpela does every year in late August.
The Jeffers Invitational has been held annually on the Kilpela farm property since 2003.
“My grandparents lived here,” he said. “This farm has been part of the Kilpela family for many years (since the 1890s) and many of their daughters were part of the program. We moved here in 2015, and now it’s up to us to keep the tradition going.
“People ask, ‘You mean you have a cross country course at your farm?’ We have a lot of property, about 40 acres. The starting line is in our front yard, and the finish line is in our back yard. It’s real convenient. We don’t have to drive anywhere to get what we need. We have everything we need right here.”
The course also has received many rave reviews, including a few after the most recent Jeffers Invite which drew 11 schools Aug. 31.
“It’s a beautiful course,” Hancock coach Jen Smith said after the Dale Phillips Invitational in Marquette the next day. “It has that old country feel to it, which makes you feel right at home. It makes you feel real comfortable. We decided to do races back-to-back days because the kids enjoy running on both courses. We didn’t want to miss either meet.”
Dollar Bay junior Amos Norlin, who won the 3.1-mile race at Atlantic Mine in 17 minutes, 50 seconds, had similar thoughts.
“This is one of my favorite courses,” he said. “This is better than running on a golf course. I find I need to look back when we race on a golf course. You’re more hidden here. Only, the downhills and sharp turns tend to bother my ankles.”
Watersmeet senior William Snow, who placed third (18:28), also enjoyed the course.
“I love the tall grass and the ground is nice and soft,” he added. “There’s not a cloud in the sky. It’s perfect for running. I wish I could train on this course. I’m going to miss it.”
The Jeffers boys put a little icing on the cake by winning their invitational for the first time in 13 years with 44 points. Ironwood was runner-up at 58.
“It has been many years,” said Kilpela, who has been coaching for seven. “The kids have been working hard. It’s really good to see their hard work pay off. I’m especially happy for our senior Tavin Larson because he finally got his first win on his home course. We have only five guys on varsity, but they’ve been strong.”
Calumet edged Hancock 55-61 for the girls championship.
John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.
PHOTO The Painesdale Jeffers boys cross country team shows off its hardware after winning its invitational at the Kilpela farm Aug. 31. (Photo courtesy of Adams Township schools.)
Helen Sachs ♦ Holland West Ottawa
Cross Country ♦ Sophomore
Sachs ran what was the second-fastest time in the state this season, 17:15.8, to win the Elite race at the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 16 at Michigan State University's Forest Akers East. On Tuesday, she took over the top spot on fastest times list with a 17:01.6 personal record at the first Ottawa-Kent Conference Red jamboree. She's won three of four races this season, finishing second only to teammate Arianna Olson at the season-opening Under the Lights Invitational on Aug. 26 at Grand Rapids South Christian. Olson's 17:11.30 in that race was the only time faster than Sachs' best before this week.
An immediate standout last season, Sachs went on to finish fifth at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final as Olson placed third and West Ottawa as a team was runner-up. At this past spring's LPD1 Track & Field Finals, Sachs finished fourth in the 3,200 (10:26.59), sixth in the 1,600 (4:52.38) and ran on the runner-up 3,200 relay (9:04.06) as West Ottawa finished fourth as a team. Her 17:01 earlier this week was nearly 25 seconds faster than her season-best cross country time a year ago. West Ottawa finished second as a team in the Spartan Invitational Elite race, to Ohio championship contender Hilliard Davidson.
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Sept. 15: Nina Horning, Lake Orion volleyball - Report
Sept 8: Arturo Romero, Muskegon Oakridge soccer - Report
Sept. 1: Austin King, Midland Dow tennis - Report
Aug. 25: Olivia Hemmila, Troy Athens golf - Report
(Photos courtesy of Helen Sachs.)