Alwine's Risk Rewarded with Top Vault

By Wes Morgan
Special for

June 5, 2019

Wyatt Alwine was one more failed attempt away from having a very bad day at last Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Track & Field Finals.

With some of his adrenaline reserve drained from a long rain delay, the Constantine junior — seeded No. 1 entering the meet — described himself as a “mental case” after having missed his first two tries at an opening height of 12 feet, 3 inches, one of which ended in the grass.

After finishing third overall for all-state status a year earlier, Alwine was in danger of not posting a height at all.  

“My head just wasn’t there,” he said. “The rain delays didn’t help. I think that was one of the main reasons for a lack of focus.”

A calming influence for Alwine throughout the storms was first-year Constantine pole vault coach Stephanie Teeple — a past three-time Finals champion at Sturgis (1998, 2000, 2001) who went on to do big things at the University of Nebraska and Western Michigan University, including breaking the WMU outdoor record. She always could count on her coach and father, Wes Teeple, who set a school record at Eastern Michigan University and won two league titles, and her mother, Cheryl, who also coached at Sturgis. Oh, and there was older brother Brad to lean on as well. Brad Teeple won a Class B crown in 1999 and went on to compete for Alabama and Nebraska.

Wes and Cheryl Teeple have made it to most Constantine meets this season after Stephanie joined the staff.

“It’s good to have their whole family,” Alwine said. They all come out and support us. It’s a family thing. They definitely know what they’re talking about.”

And when Alwine found himself on the brink of elimination Saturday, he was ready for some encouragement.

“He struggled a little bit on the first two and put it together on the third one,” Stephanie Teeple said of Alwine’s start to the day. “You can either give up or want it, pull through and clear it. Once he got those jitters out, he just improved from there.”

Alwine ended up with a personal-record of 14-3 to win the LPD3 championship, edging Beaverton junior Will Aldrich, who topped out at 14-0 in what ended up being a much more high-flying finals than in 2018. Alwine jumped 13-3 last year for his third-place finish — a height that was not even good enough for a top-eight spot this year.

But even after regaining confidence, Alwine had to trust his coach in crunch time. After clearing 13-9, it was time to take a chance.

Teeple told Alwine to move up to a 15-foot pole that he had never tried. This might not sound difficult to the uninitiated. But for anyone who has had the guts to vault, it’s a rocket ride into the unknown. Added length requires more speed, more strength, a rock-solid plant and nerves of steel. Breaking one out on the biggest stage amplifies the importance of all the above.

“I said, ‘I don’t know about this,’” Alwine recalled. “It’s a big pole. I just listened to her, and it ended up working out.”

“If he wouldn’t have gotten on that bigger pole, I’m not sure he would have gotten over 14-3 to win the meet,” Teeple said. “That’s all it takes, is one kid to get on a bigger pole and it makes all the difference. But that’s what’s good about Wyatt; he is pretty fearless. He has the tools to be a good vaulter, so I’m just glad I get to coach him and do what I know how to do best. I’m really excited for the future to see what he can do.”

Alwine wasn’t able to get over 14-6 cleanly as his leg caught the bar on his descent. After reviewing film of the attempt, Alwine said his body was nearly a foot over the bar.

“I knew I had something special when I got third at state,” Alwine said. “This year, with Miss Teeple coming in, she gave me pointers that really helped me more. It was a lot different. But it kind of clicked a lot better with me. Miss Teeple brought up how the bottom arm is your power. The plant is most important. That and moving up poles got me up to higher heights. 

“It kind of got me stoked to do some summer vaulting with her because I know the height is there. It’s exciting (that I won), but I’m already excited to get back to it.”

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of He can be reached at with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Constantine’s Wyatt Alwine clears the pole vault bar during the 2018 season. (Middle) Alwine, this spring. (Top photo courtesy of; middle courtesy of Wyatt Alwine.)

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.)