Kilpela Farm Provides 'Perfect' Setting for 20 years of Jeffers Invitationals

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 9, 2022

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.)

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Jill EversJill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.

“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”

Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.