Houghton Repeats to End Perfect Season

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

February 17, 2019

MARQUETTE — The Houghton boys completed a perfect swimming & diving season Saturday while retaining their Upper Peninsula title with 313 points.

The Gremlins earned their second straight U.P. Finals title after finishing runners-up in both 2016 and 2017.

“They all came together today,” Houghton coach Erik Johnson said shortly after taking a dip in the Marquette High School pool. “My favorite bath is something special.

“Our depth is what helped us today. We were pretty senior-oriented this year, and we’ll let them soak it in and enjoy it. Kevin Beagham had a great day. Being a senior and team captain, this is special for him. As for the perfect season, it’s something I really don’t keep track of. Our kids are pretty loud about getting their friends fired up. The seniors left their mark on this program.”

Beagham won the 100-yard breaststroke in 61.18 seconds, 200 individual medley (2:15.67) and helped the Gremlins take the 200 medley relay (1:52.61) with classmates Cameron Jackson and Colton Haataja and freshman Davin Evans also part of that relay.

“This feels amazing,” said Beagham, who plans to attend Iowa State University this fall. "We’ve been working for this all year. There was a lot of pressure this year. We definitely had a target on our back.

“The 100 breaststroke was a little rough, but I think all the other events went pretty well. I’ll remember this forever. I’m real proud of all our guys and girls. I couldn’t have done any of this without them.”

Marquette and Gladstone shared runner-up honors at 203 points apiece.

Senior Josh Nykanen led Marquette with victories in the 50 freestyle in 23.08 seconds and 100 breaststroke (1:07.79), and as part of the 400 freestyle relay (3:46.41).

“That relay is a challenging race, especially with it being at the end of the meet,” said Johnson, whose future plans include serving an electrical apprenticeship in Minneapolis. “You’re using all your muscles and you get a little sore, but it’s all worth it. All my friends are on the 400 freestyle relay, and this gave us one last chance to swim together. I’m just happy the meet went the way it did. We’re pleased to come out as runners-up.”

Also part of the winning relay were senior Robert Bell, junior Wyatt Clement and freshman Bob Caron.

Marquette coach Nathan McFerrin said he was pleased with the team’s effort.

“At the beginning of the year, if you told me we’d tie for second, I wouldn’t have believed you,” he added. “Our boys numbers were a little down this year, but we have 10 incoming freshmen and four of the eighth-graders could have won the 200 medley and freestyle relays. We have a lot to be excited about.”

Gladstone took a relay title for the first time, covering the 200 medley event in 1:41.48.

“It’s awesome to tie for runner-up as a team and be the first team from Gladstone to win a relay,” said senior Tyler Barteld. “I’m proud of all our guys. Having low numbers makes it feel more like a family than a team.”

Also helping the Braves win that relay were junior Nick LeClaire and sophomores Peter Noblet and Isaac Berthaume.

Sault Ste. Marie junior Andrew Innerebner set U.P. Finals records in 100 freestyle (48.27) and 200 freestyle (1:44.02).

Marquette’s Sam Williams is now the former 100 record holder with a 48.39 from three years ago, and Innerebner topped his previous best in the 200 (1:46.36) from 2017.

It’s fun to compete against the best in the U.P.,” said Innerebner. “I basically took into account that I was in the first (individual) race. I wanted to set the pace and get everybody excited.

“I remember Coach Steve (Hubuata) telling us we’re here to shock the world. We did great today. We had a lot of personal bests.”

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) A Houghton swimmer helps his team toward the championship in the butterfly Saturday. (Middle) Swimmers launch during one of the day’s early races at the Upper Peninsula Finals. (Click for more from Jarvinen Photos.)

DeWitt's Thomas Blazes Swimming Path with Historic Finals Performance

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

April 4, 2024

Aaron Thomas easily could have decided that swimming wasn't going to be part of his life.

Mid-MichiganThe DeWitt senior could've pieced together some combination of his other entertainment interests to fill his time. For instance, he could have spent more time with friends or immersed himself in video games. Or maybe devoted more time to a flirtation with golf or playing trumpet in the school band. Thomas also could have gained a head start on college and his ultimate goal of a degree in biomedical engineering.

Considering the lifetime of challenges he's faced in swimming, those seemed more tenable options.

Instead, Thomas chose the tougher path.

"My life is swimming," he said. "I've been in water so much, I've never looked back."

By "looking back," Thomas means ignoring a disability that would have turned many youngsters away from the pool. He was born without 65 percent of his pointer finger on his left hand and with a thumb that's only about 90-percent intact. The other three fingers stop at the top of the knuckle. As DeWitt coach Brock Delaney explains, much of a swimmer’s success comes from the power of fingers and subsequent strength in the hands – and without that combination, swimmers are at an immediate disadvantage.

But rather than letting those obstacles keep him high and dry, Thomas has excelled and finished this season with a historic first. He qualified for the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in the 200-yard individual medley and finished 29th and also competed in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition event and topped all divisions with a time of 54.07 seconds. In doing so, Thomas became the first competitor to swim that combination at a Finals meet.

Thomas additionally this winter made DeWitt's Century Club of swimmers who have amassed 100 points in a season for the second time, and he has earned National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association (NISCA) Paralympic All-American honors in the 200-yard freestyle (1:56.64), 200 IM (2:08.21), and 500 free (5:11.58). He also competes in Paralympic swimming as part of the Mid-Michigan Aquatics Club.

To some, the quest for those achievements likely would seem a long and difficult path. But to Thomas, it's business as usual. A disability? What disability, offers Thomas, whose ultimate goal is swimming in the 2028 Summer Paralympics in Los Angeles.

"I've always loved swimming," he said. "When I'm in the water, I never worry about anything. I just feel free."

Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. And Thomas has found a way to even the playing field, Delaney said.

"He's such a hard worker who has made up for a left-hand deficiency," Delaney said. "He's legit, a strong kid who loves to swim. "

But determination can take a swimmer only so far. Delaney said Thomas, classified as an S10 swimmer for Paralympic events, has developed physical strategies to increase his performance. In the backstroke, for instance, Thomas swims with his left hand underwater to help in propulsion. For speed, Thomas tries to keep his body on his "power side."

The rest, Delaney said, is simply heart.

"He moved here from Alma between his eighth grade and freshmen years," he said. "If not our hardest worker, he's in the top three. He's got something not all athletes have."

Thomas said one of the chief reasons he spends so much time around pools is the type of person he finds there. He describes people who combine encouragement and understanding with a will to compete despite any perceived physical shortcomings. What he's learned from them not only explains his swim career, but teaches valuable life lessons as well.

In fact, Thomas' career plans, beginning at Hope College in the fall, include securing a degree in biomedical engineering with an ultimate plan to help build prosthetics.

"Getting to know people in the prosthetic field really interests me," he said. "Swimming and prosthetics have been a nice tie-in with school. Prosthetics ties it all together for me."

Thomas said he can think of only a single instance where he questioned whether he should follow his love of swimming. But that thought quickly passed, and he's thrown himself into the sport ever since.

"I wouldn't trade my disability for the world," he said. "It's given me so many opportunities. The whole club and school thing and getting to the state meet never would have happened.”

Thomas will swim at Hope, and his goal is to qualify for the 200 IM at the Los Angeles Paralympic games. Thomas estimates he's within 15 seconds of qualifying in that meet's long course event.

"It's achievable," he said. "For sure it's doable."

Whether he makes it to Los Angeles or if his swim career quietly winds down, Thomas, who describes himself as competitive, said he still will have gained something for which everyone strives, athlete or not.

"Water has always been a safe spot for me," he said. "I think I've always used it as kind of a break from life. It helps clear my head.

“I've always been taught that you get out of work what you put into it. Work always pays off in the end. I've always remembered that.”

PHOTOS (Top) Aaron Thomas races for the DeWitt swimming & diving team. (Middle) Thomas posted the fastest time across all divisions in the Paralympic 100 freestyle exhibition at this season’s Finals. (Photos provided by the DeWitt swimming & diving program and Thomas family.)