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.)
BROOKLYN — On the same day Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein set a course record at Michigan International Speedway that has never been approached, Kurtis Marlowe of Richland Gull Lake had a performance that was overshadowed.
But Marlowe’s winning time of 15:02.5 in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in 2000 also stood the test of time.
Freeland junior TJ Hansen eclipsed the Division 2 record with his winning time of 14:52.8. Runner-up Solomon Kwartowitz of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood also nearly broke the previous record, finishing in 15:03.3.
Even though it was apparent from earlier races Saturday that perfect conditions made fast times possible, Hansen didn’t set out to break Marlowe’s record.
“No, my goal was to go out and win,” he said. “Play strategy from the front, let others do the work, then just push it. Whatever time I got, I was gonna get. I knew it was going to take a time like that to win it today.
“I usually run close to a (personal record) every year at this meet. It’s one of my favorite courses. It’s definitely unique here at the speedway, so I really like the course, I really like to run it.”
Hansen went through the mile mark tied for 11th in 4:54.3, but you could’ve thrown a blanket over the top 12 runners at that point.
It was a three-man race between Hansen, Kwartowitz and 2022 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea when they reached the two-mile mark in 9:46.
Hansen made sure there would be no drama coming down the stretch.
“I was just trying to stay calm, let them do the work, just sit back,” he said. “When I needed to go, I was gonna go. My goal was to stay relaxed.”
Kwartowitz had no complaints with his race.
“It felt really smooth,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t get a chance to race these guys a bunch this year. I did at Spartan (Invitational, in September). I was really hoping to end it with a victory.”
The boys Division 2 team championship was a toss-up between four teams for the second year in a row, with Ada Forest Hills Eastern coming out on top with 134 points. Pinckney was second with 156, East Grand Rapids third with 175 and Allendale fourth with 176.
Last year, 32 points separated the top four teams.
Junior Henry Dixon led Forest Hills Eastern, placing sixth in 15:16.0. Senior Liam Hinman was 29th, senior Brendan Hoving was 30th, senior Cooper Jacobsen was 38th and junior Tyler Endres was 82nd.
It was the first MHSAA championship for Forest Hills Eastern, which had a program-best finish of fourth in 2007.
PHOTOS (Top) Freeland's TJ Hansen approaches the finish of his record run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)