Coldwater Sends 7 Shot Putters to Finals

May 26, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Individually, Coldwater’s shot putters might not be the most sizable guys muscling up to the pit at this weekend’s MHSAA Track & Field Finals.

But as a group, the Cardinals might be the largest ever to advance to championship weekend – and perhaps the most athletic as well.

Coldwater has qualified an incredible seven shot putters for the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals at Zeeland.

They’ve been produced by throws coach Mike McConnell, one of the state’s more reputable in those events. But the magnificent seven also are a product of all-around athleticism – six are three-sport athletes, and the seventh plays two sports.

It’s difficult to track if seven qualifying shot putters from the same school was a first-time accomplishment at an MHSAA Regional. But it’s more than fair to call it rare.

“We have three seniors that are the cornerstone of our throwing team, but through the course of this year we have had three juniors and a freshman that have stepped up with them to make us, what I like to believe, one of the best throwing teams in the state,” Coldwater head boys track & field coach Jeff Schorfhaar said. “A lot of this has to do with the athleticism of our throwers … (and) I believe, and of course I am biased, that (McConnell) is one of the best throwing coaches in the state of Michigan.

“This will be something that we will remember for a long time, no matter what happens Saturday at Zeeland.”

McConnell’s work speaks for itself over two decades of Finals placers. He’s had at least one thrower score at an MHSAA Finals in 22 of the last 24 seasons at Coldwater and formerly Camden-Frontier. Highlighting some of the most recent successes, Coldwater’s Logan Targgart won shot put in Division 2 in 2015 and discus in 2014.

Senior Connor Covert, who finished fifth in both shot put and discus at the 2016 LP Division 2 Finals, led a group of Cardinals that took the top seven places in shot put at the Regional two weeks ago in Mason. Four throwers tossed personal records – third-place freshman Dylan Targgart, fifth-place junior Nathan Spray, sixth-place junior Cole Targgart and seventh-place senior Colin Klein. 

Covert and senior runner-up Sam DeMeester advanced to the Finals by finishing among the top two in the event. The other five Coldwater throwers cleared the automatic qualifying standard of 48 feet, 5 inches. Fourth-place junior Zach Gipple joined the personal record-setters with his third-farthest toss of this season.

DeMeester and Gipple also competed at the Finals in shot put last season, DeMeester just missing the medal stand with a ninth place finish. Covert’s 54-7 at this year’s Regional was half an inch farther than last year’s Finals throw. He, Dylan Targgart and Cole Targgart also made the Finals in discus, Covert and Dylan Targgart finishing first and second, respectively, at the Regional with Cole Targgart coming in fourth but clearing the automatic qualifying standard of 142-0.

The Coldwater boys track & field team is enjoying another memorable season as a whole and will be seeking a fourth straight top-10 Finals finish and winning its league and that Regional earlier this month.

Last season, they Cardinals finished eighth as a team at the LP Division 2 Finals, but only 3.5 points out of fifth. Theys were ranked fifth in the final Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association LP Division 2 poll two weeks ago before finishing ahead of No. 3 Battle Creek Harper Creek at both the Regional and league meets.

Block, Pilgrims Power to 1st League Title

We told the story at the start of this month of Lansing Christian junior Dawson Block, a multi-sport athlete contributing to three teams this spring – golf, baseball and track & field.

He’s now also a champion.

Block helped the Pilgrims to their first-ever league title in boys golf, as Lansing Christian finished one point ahead of Olivet in the Greater Lansing Activities Conference standings based on league jamborees and the end-of-season tournament.

Lansing Christian topped the standings heading into that final tournament, at Michigan State’s Forest Akers East, needing to finish no lower than second to clinch the title. Furthermore, they had to play without two seniors who were on a class trip to Washington, D.C.

With only five players available, the Pilgrims did finish second, just three strokes behind the Eagles. Parker Jamieson and Andrew Preiskorn were co-medalists with 83s, and Block shot a fourth-place 86 – in doing so, he earned the seventh and final spot on the all-league first team.

Block and his golf team continue their season Thursday with a Division 4 Regional at Hastings Country Club, seeking to make the MHSAA Finals for the first time. His baseball team will play in a Division 4 District on Saturday at Potterville. And while Block didn’t advance to the Division 4 Track & Field Finals, he did run a personal record and fifth-place 10:44.62 in the 3,200 meters at his Regional after finishing fourth in the 1,600 in 4:51.84.

PHOTOS: (Top) Coldwater’s throwers and throws coach, from left: Cole Targgart, Dylan Targgart, Zach Gipple, Colin Klein, coach Mike McConnell, Connor Covert, Sam DeMeester and Nathan Spray. (Middle) Lansing Christian’s boys golf team celebrates its first league title. (Photos courtesy of Mason and Lansing Christian’s athletic departments, respectively.)

Hastings Relays Reigns as State's Oldest Continuous Track & Field Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 10, 2024

Bob Branch remembers dabbling in other sports, but his first love was always running.

Mid-MichiganThe Hastings High School graduate admits he could never hit a baseball, football didn't especially appeal to him and basketball was just another way to spend time with friends. But for Branch, now 93, there was always track. That's the sport where his fondest and sharpest memories remain. And if you're talking track, many of his favorite memories come from participation in the state's oldest continuous track meet, the Hastings Relays.

Always held in early April, the meet dates back to 1937 – a bygone time that saw the first hostilities of World War II, gas at 20 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread selling for a dime.

And at a dusty old track surrounding the county fairgrounds in Hastings, a small relay event that included a scattering of participants from a dozen high schools was taking its first tentative steps.

Branch recalls a time when kids would run home after track practice because there were no buses, inexperienced young coaches had little actual knowledge of running fundamentals, and athletes looked at the sport as an afterthought after spending most of their high school days playing football and basketball.

The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago.For Branch, the relays were the ideal way to ease into the track season.

"I just liked to run," said Branch. "I remember I anchored a relay with my brother, and it always seemed cold when we had that meet. I remember teams would come from all over and you saw a lot of good athletes. Everybody seemed to have someone who was really good. Track wasn't very popular at that time, but I have a lot of good memories from running."

The Hastings Relays, which has changed formats and even names during its nearly nine-decade history, would traditionally kick off the track season. The meet was originally held at a makeshift quarter-mile track which surrounded the town's fairgrounds and was part of the city's annual Hastings Carnival – the track would become the midway during fair time.

The meet eventually moved to Johnson Field when the football field was dedicated in 1949 and ballooned to as many as 50 teams at its peak in 1957. For more than seven decades it was known as the Hastings Relays and then the Hastings Co-Ed relays before becoming the current Hastings Invitational, with the latest edition scheduled for Friday.

Johnson Field had a cinder track before it became an all-weather surface in the 1980s. During a time long before computers would be used to organize meet heats in mere minutes, Hastings coaches of all sports – defined as "volunteers" by the athletic department – would meet on the Friday before competition to hash out events.

People associated with the meet still recall the camaraderie built on those long Friday nights, followed by working what would often become 10-hour meets. Steve Hoke has been involved since watching his father, Jack, who coached teams at 15 of the meets beginning in 1951 and also had run in the first Hastings Relays. Steve Hoke later competed in the Relays as well during the early 1970s before becoming an assistant track coach, later the Hastings athletic director and now a volunteer worker.

"It was always a huge deal," said Hoke, who said the meet began as a pure relay event before transitioning to its current team format in the 1990s. "I remember we'd line the track the night before, and all the coaches would come to the house to organize everything. There was a brotherhood.”

Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s.If you quiz many of the fleet of volunteers who've worked the relays over the years, each has a different memory from the meet. While Hoke describes the brotherhood and Branch the outstanding competition, others remember weather and the time a thunderstorm wiped out the line markings on the cinder track, or waking up to find three inches of snow that caused a rare cancellation of the meet. Others recall the shock of moving from the cinder to all-weather track or using the meet as an early measuring stick of what it would take to qualify for the state meet. The real old-timers remember the meet disappearing for three years during World War II.

Hastings native and Western Michigan grad Tom Duits was the state’s second collegian to break the four-minute mile when he ran a 3:59.2 at a meet in Philadelphia in 1978. Duits, who ran in three Hastings Relays, was in line to join the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 before the United States pulled out of the games due to tension with Russia.

Duits has his own memories of the meet and the competition he faced there.

"I remember sunshine and being excited to be competing again. There were all these athletes swarming around; it was an awesome display of talent," he said. "It was always one of the best meets we'd be in. You could pretty much see the level of runners who would be at state, which made it a big deal. It was always early, but you could tell where you stood. It was great exposure."

Hastings track star Wayne Oom competed in four Hastings Relays from 1984-87. One of his sharpest memories was the difference between running on a raw cinder track versus the far more comfortable all-weather surface.

"Those cinders would grind into your skin," said Oom, part of the Hastings school record in the two-mile relay. "But I think it helped us because when we'd go to other tracks, it seemed we would run faster. I remember how competitive it was, especially in the distances. There were some great runners."

While participants have their unique memories, so do coaches. Former Saxons coach Paul Fulmer remembers 2008 when his team finished first on the boys side of the meet while his wife, Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, saw her girls team win the championship.

Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays."I knew we were one of the favorites to win because we were usually near the top of our conference and Regional," he said. "But then Katie's team was pretty good, and it was cool for them to win too."

Fulmer, who coached Hastings from 1978-81 and then 1985-2010, said at least part of the meet's popularity was derived from a unique way of scoring. Instead of individuals earning points solo, participants worked in pairs. For instance, two athletes would combine their shot put or long jump scores. New events such as the 1,500 relay and sprint medley were added.

"We had a tradition of being the state's oldest meet, and that was a big deal," Fulmer said. "And we ran a good relay; that attracted teams too. We took a lot of pride in that.

"And we'd get quite a lot of people to come to the meet. We'd set up until like 9 or 10 p.m., and then we'd have a party with all the coaches on Friday night."

While the meet has stretched 87 years, Branch said early participants and current runners have one thing in common: a drive to win. Branch ran in an era when the popularity of high school track was in its infancy. Today some of the best all-around athletes at a school are involved in the track program. The relays span the nearly nine decades in between.

"The quality of teams has gotten better and better," said Branch, the 1947 Lower Peninsula Class B Finals champ in the 220. "And this has made for a better meet. We would get guys who played football or baseball kind of drift into track, and that made the sport better. I think people began to appreciate track because we'd get teams from all over.

"We went from not really knowing what we were doing to track being a good sport. Even then, I'm not sure we appreciated what we had. We really liked the Hastings Relays and always wanted to do well there. It became popular and quite an honor to do well. Those are the kind of things I remember."

PHOTOS (Top) Racers run at the Hastings Relays, with several more awaiting their turns to compete at the longtime meet. (2) The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago. (3) Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s. (4) Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays. (Top photo by Dan Goggins, Hoke photo provided by Steve Hoke and Duits photos provided by Tom Duits.)