After Close Calls, Chelsea Claims Title

June 1, 2013

By Greg Chrapek
Special to Second Half

ADA – This spring’s high school sports season long will be remembered for having some of the worst weather in years.

While the wet and cold weather hampered many teams across the state, the Chelsea boys track team used it to its advantage. And the payoff was an MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 track and field championship Saturday afternoon at Forest Hills Eastern.

After coming close the past two years, the Bulldogs came away with this year’s title as they totaled 64 points to edge second-place Grand Rapids Ottawa Hills by eight points.

Chelsea finished second two years ago, and last year the Bulldogs placed third. This year, thanks to some hard training when the weather was at its worst in the spring, Chelsea had what it took to bring home the title hardware.

“Back in March and April when the weather was bad and everyone was complaining about how bad the weather was, we talked about just concentrating and working harder,” Chelsea coach Eric Swager said. “Rain, sleet or snow everyone was out there working their hardest, and it paid off. … Everyone just worked that much harder when the weather was bad.”

The hard work resulted in Chelsea having a deep team capable of scoring points in a variety of events.

“Everybody contributed,” Swager said. “The sprints, the relays, the distance runners, field events. The entire team has been focused and working hard from day one. We have some individual talent, but everybody stuck together and that was the key.”

Berkley Edwards was one of the individual talents that helped pave the way for the Bulldogs. One of the state’s top sprinters, Edwards wrapped up his high school track career by winning both the 100 and the 200-meter dashes.

Edwards turned in a time of 10.58 in the 100-meter dash and then came back to edge Gary Jones of Allegan in a 200-meter dash that came down to the end. Edwards finished with a time of 21.37.

“Things went well for me today, better than expected,” Edwards said. “I ran a 10.58 which was a p.r. (personal record) in the 100, and then I ran a 21.37 which was a p.r. in the 200.”

The highlight for Edwards was holding on to win the 200.

“It was definitely a photo finish,” Edwards said. “It was a real close race. My strategy was to get out to the lead and hold it on the curve. I heard him (Jones) coming. I didn’t want to stress. I just stay relaxed.”

Sweeping both the 100 and 200 was a major key to Chelsea’s title and part of the strategy going into the Finals.

“My coaches told me I had an opportunity to win two races,” Edwards said. “They thought I could get the 100 and possibly the 200, and if I did we had a real good chance of winning.”

The Bulldogs also picked up points in the field events as senior Michael Hovater won the pole vault by clearing 14 feet, 10 inches. Chelsea also won the 3,200-meter relay as the team of Zach Rabbitt, Jacob Stubbs, David Trimas and Tony Vermilye turned in a time of 7:55.84.

Chelsea was pushed for the title by an Ottawa Hills team that had one of its best Finals performances in recent history. Key to Ottawa Hills’ strong effort was the performances turned in by its sprint relay teams.

Ottawa Hills finished in the top three of three of the four relay events, led by the first-place 400-meter relay team of Shawn Kneeland, Sam Beal, Jacori Millbrooks and Teyland Avery.

The relay was seeded second coming into the day but came away with the school’s first title-winning effort at the Finals since 1997.

“This was real big,” Kneeland said. “The key for us was to focus. Not to worry about anyone else and just focus on running our best.”

Senior Teyland Avery ran the anchor leg for the Bengals.

“To win a state title in Grand Rapids was real special,” Avery said. “We had two seniors on the relay team, and to finally win a title is special. Last year we finished third at state and we didn’t do too well. This just feels great. To run in my city and to win in my city is pretty special.”

For Detroit East English senior Marcell Wyckoff and the rest of his teammates, Saturday’s Finals were the first in school history as East English is in its first year as a high school. Wykoff, who came in seeded second, won the 400-meter dash.

“The first thing I wanted to do was to get out fast,” Wykoff said. “I knew if I got out to a good start, nobody would catch me. I had a pretty good start, and I held on.”

Wykoff’s title was the first in school history and was a little bittersweet for the senior.

“I came over from Crockett Tech,” Wykoff said. “This year was really different. It was not like I thought my senior year would be, but it ended up pretty good winning a state championship. It feels good on the inside.”

Mason senior distance runner Tanner Hinkle ended a few years of frustration both on the track and during cross country season. He won the 3,200 by more than four seconds with a time of 9:13.41.

“I have finished second two different times at state,” Hinkle said. “Winning it my senior year feels real good, to finally win a state title. I also finished second at state during the cross country season. I’ve been very close to a state title a few times before, and to finally win one is a dream come true.”

In the field events, Cadillac senior Riley Norman closed out a successful high school throwing career by winning the shot put for a second consecutive season. He turned in a winning put of 59-10, missing a Finals record by less than two feet.

“I won it last year with a 61-2 ½ and this year I had a p.r. of 62-10,” Norman said. “I wanted to set a new record, but I came up a little short.”

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PHOTOS: (Top) Chelsea's Berkley Edwards races toward the finish line on the way to winning one of his two MHSAA titles Saturday. (Middle) Mason's Tanner Hinkle sets the pace in the 3,200. (Photos by Greg Chrapek.)

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for

March 14, 2023

KALAMAZOO — Harrison Wheeler has not been a pole vaulter for very long – two weeks to be exact – but he already has some lofty goals.

Southwest CorridorThe sophomore is aiming for the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep record board and, if he makes it, he will be in good company.

Coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder, a 2001 Hackett graduate, still holds the girls record of 10 feet, 2½ inches.

“I’m hoping to have my name next to hers (on the record board),” Wheeler said.

The sophomore has a few feet to go before surpassing current record holder Brian Kucinich, who vaulted 12 feet, 6 inches in 1992.

Wheeler’s unofficial best is 9 feet; officially it is 8 feet, 6 inches.

“That is going to be a very big jump in my pole vaulting career,” he said.

Wheeler is one of 42 athletes on the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion boys team, which includes 12 seniors and 13 juniors. Besides Wheeler, the team has six sophomores and 10 freshmen.

One of the returners is senior Liam Mann, who helped lead the Irish to the Finals title last year.

Mann, Andrew Finley, Evan Wurtz and Isaac Backman won the 800-meter relay with a time of 1:31.55 last season, setting a school record as well.

While he lost his relay mates, Mann said there are good runners to replace them.

“(Senior) Brice Brown is coming out to do track, and I’ve been working with him this winter,” Mann said. “Jude Coffman, who is a sophomore, is coming out this year. I think he’s going to be a good addition to our 4-by-1.

“(Junior) Gabe Oeurn, last year he was running solid times, but this year he’s been putting in the work and I think he’ll be able to break that 12-second barrier.”

Mann, who will attend Ashland (Ohio) University on a track scholarship in the fall, also added gold in the 200-meter dash (22.82) last season.

“Last year, I played basketball and was able to lift to keep in shape,” he said. “This year, I wanted to focus all my time on track, so I’ve been doing indoor track, practicing once a week and going to meets on weekends.”

He continued to put his skills on display as a running back during football season with Kalamazoo United, ending the fall with 1,413 rushing yards on 177 carries and 267 receiving yards on 10 catches.

Opportunities & possibilities

The biggest group of competitors impacted by graduation are the sprinters, coach Charissa Dean said.

“Hackett’s been really big on sprinting talent in general,” she said. “But track has 17 events, and only two of them are open sprint events and two are relays.

Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. “The other 13 are wide open for possibilities, and there’s a lot of younger talent that’s coming back this year. While they didn’t go to the state meet, they are the next generation of athletes coming up.”

Among that next generation are freshmen Marek Butkiewicz and Sean Siems, who “are incredibly talented athletes,” Dean said.

“(Junior) Gavin Sehy figured out how to do the distance thing this year in cross country.”

Sehy said he wanted to run track, but wasn’t sure where he fit.

“I thought I was mid-distance when I was younger, but my dad forced me to do cross country my sixth-grade year and it turned out I was decent at it so I kept doing (long distance) in track,” he said.

“It’s kind of brutal at times to train for long distance, mentally and physically, because you have to go on long runs, but I have fun with it. At the cross country state finals, I hit an 11 flat split at the two-mile, which beat my 3,200 best from last season, so we have yet to see my best times.”

Butkiewicz and Sehy have been running consistently six days a week all winter to prepare for their first meet, March 22.

“I’ve never done track,” the freshman said. “I know I can perform well. I know my times compared to other people.”

A sophomore this year, Alex Dumont had a 400-meter time that “came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “Toward the end of the season we recruited him to do the 4x8, so an 800-meter runner. That kid came through.

‘We actually took him to the state meet in the 4x8. He did the lead leg, and I clocked him at a 2:07. He was sprinting. It was an amazing leg in that relay.”

Seeing potential

It was Germinder who converted Wheeler to the pole vault last year.

“Harrison’s a strong athlete, and just the way his mind works in that he asks questions and he wants to learn and he wants to improve,” she said.

“He wants to work hard, and he wants to put in the time. That’s something you need for that, along with the athletic component.”

The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. Wheeler, who said he was shocked at being successful right away, competed for two weeks last season before a foot injury suffered on a vault sidelined him.

“It took her a whole season to finally convince me to do it,” he said. “I grabbed a pole one day and ended up being really good at it. Ever since, I’ve had a love of it.

“The feeling I have once I get in the air is almost like I’m just floating. When you get really good vaults and you get that nice height and good form, you get what we call a ‘stall.’ You just feel like you’re sitting up in the air for a second. It’s gotta be the coolest thing ever.”

Germinder has the background to help the Irish vaulters.

While at Hackett, she competed in the AAU National Championships and said she learned from the best, Oran Mitchell, a noted pole vaulting coach.

Her own coaching style revolves around the safety of the athletes.

“You can teach a lot of people to grab hold of a pole and pop yourself over,” she said. “But I want to make sure my athletes are safe. That’s really, really important to me, and that’s something that was instilled in me.

“When you’re jumping 6 to 16 feet, that’s a long way to fall. Safety is very important to me. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then I’m not the coach for you.”

Germinder said one of the foundations on which the team is built is leadership, which was instilled in the younger athletes by last year’s seniors.

“That’s one of the things our program is built on,” she said. “If you’re there because you want to get ready for the next sports season, we’ll coach you for that.

“If you want to be a state champion, we’ll coach you for that. That’s the really unique thing about track. There’s something for everyone, whatever that might be.”

As for the girls team, numbers are steadily climbing.

Five years ago, the team had just two girls. This year, 25 girls are on the team.

No matter girls or boys, track or field events, one thing is common for all the athletes.

“We pray before every meet, we put God first, and all those pieces have fallen into place for us.” Germinder said.

“I really believe that foundation is what is going to be our success this year. It’s there, it’s just a different team.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Hackett's Harrison Wheeler points to the pole vaulting record he hopes to break this season, while pole vaulting coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder points to the record she still holds at the school. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. (Below) The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. (Top photo and head shots by Pam Shebest; team photo courtesy of Hackett track & field.)