Amid Life's Hurdles, Mendon Sprinter Rises
April 11, 2018
By Wes Morgan
Special for Second Half
Sam Cleveland remembers a day back in elementary school, or at least parts of it, that changed his life forever.
He recalled feeling lightheaded, seeing a fuzzy image of the floor before passing out. After regaining consciousness, he was taken by ambulance to the hospital.
Now a junior three-sport athlete at Mendon High School, Cleveland was diagnosed with severe hypoglycemia, a condition caused by a low level of blood sugar (glucose), which is the body’s primary energy source. Since then, he has been on a strict diet that requires many meals a day.
Despite the health concern, Cleveland has been able to navigate a twisting path through life, academics and athletics. Without going into detail, his coaches noted how Cleveland had been able to remain focused in the face of a challenging home life as a youngster.
Now he lives with his grandmother, who is battling cancer and relies heavily on the support Cleveland provides. Through all of this, Cleveland has been an integral component to the success of both the Mendon football and wrestling teams. The Hornets advanced to the MHSAA Division 8 Semifinals in football, and the grapplers followed that up this past winter with a trip to the Division 4 Quarterfinals after claiming their first Regional crown in nearly three decades.
Cleveland’s role in football was mostly on special teams, where he returned both a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns in one game. He missed the majority of his sophomore season in 2016 with a broken fibula. On a power-packed wrestling team, Cleveland filled the 152-pound spot when one of the Hornets’ top performers, Kaden Frye, missed a good chunk of the season recovering from a severe leg fracture.
“I’m not very good at it at all,” Cleveland said, noting his still-solid 11-12 record on the mat. “This year I wasn’t going to wrestle. I had a lot of stuff going on personally. It wasn’t appealing at all to me because the year before that I had a really bad year. But I’ve realized wrestling is one of those things that keeps me going. It’s the pinnacle of my athletic ability because of how hard we go. There’s no other practice like wrestling practice.
“I can’t cut weight, or I will die. I have to eat like eight times a day on a schedule. It’s a struggle to wrestle, but I do it anyway because I love my coach and the kids on that team. There’s nothing like that atmosphere. Here at Mendon, wrestling and football are the hardest things you’ll do. We try our best and put everything on the line.”
That Cleveland decided to return for another year of wrestling didn’t surprise coach Caleb Stephenson, who said the student-athlete has accepted a number of challenges he didn’t necessarily ask for in life.
“A kid like Sam is exactly what you think about when you think about small-town sports,” Stephenson said. “He’s so crucial. You’ve got to have these guys that are three-sport athletes. He’s going to give you everything he’s got every single day, and you just love kids like that.
“He’s had to deal with so much more than he ever told you. He’s had a rough upbringing and has had to deal with some things kids shouldn’t have to deal with at such a young age. Without Sam this year, we wouldn’t have been the wrestling team we were. When Kaden got hurt, Sam stepped up. That’s the way he’s grown up. He’s had to; he’s had no choice.”
On the track is where Cleveland’s confidence noticeably comes alive. As a freshman, he qualified for the Division 4 Finals in the 100 meters. Last season, he secured the final (eighth) all-state spot in the event with a time of 11.5 seconds, along with a seventh-place performance with the Mendon 800 relay team and an 11th-place finish with the 400 relay. Cleveland also qualified for the Finals in the long jump.
“He’s a tough kid,” Mendon track coach Vic Wilczynski said. “This might be one of the first years he has started out not hurt. He’s a good leader and is out there working with the younger guys. Not many guys have qualified as a freshman in the 100 (from Mendon), and he followed that up with all-state. You look up at that (program) record board, and there aren’t that many guys up there in the 100, period.”
He may not headline the football and wrestling rosters, but the spring is when Cleveland has a chance to shine.
“I’m pretty psyched about the 100,” Cleveland said as the 2018 track season gets going. “It was never really my thing. In middle school I used to run the 800 and the 400. I never thought of myself as a sprinter, to be honest.
“Track season is the most important season to me. It keeps me in the best shape and is something I thrive at. I strive to be better every day.”
Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.
PHOTO: Mendon’s Sam Cleveland charges forward during a 100-meter preliminary at last season’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals at Houseman Field. Evart’s Major Griffin is to his left, and Wyoming Potter’s House Christian’s Shelton Rodriguez is to his right. (Photo courtesy of JoeInsider.com.)
Ruddy Brothers Return to Track, Help Lift Whiteford to Regional Title
By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com
May 23, 2023
OTTAWA LAKE – Shea and Ryin Ruddy are the answer to everyone who ever wondered if being fast in one or two other sports translates to being fast on the track.
It does, and what they've accomplished this spring is more than enough proof.
In March, the Ruddy brothers came out for track for the first time since middle school for Ottawa Lake Whiteford after the district loosened the rules on athletes wanting to participate in multiple sports during the same season. About seven weeks later, the duo has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in four events each and will lead a contingent of 10 Bobcats to Kent City next week.
“What they are doing on the track is amazing,” said Whiteford track & field coach Jay Yockey. “Really, when you look at it, they’ve only lost a couple of races here and there. They aren’t finishing second. They are going out and winning races, winning meets. It is not a small feat at all.”
Shea, a senior, was a four-year starting quarterback for Whiteford who led the Bobcats to the Division 8 championship last fall, scoring the game-winning touchdown on an unforgettable, 17-play fourth-quarter drive. Since his freshman season, he’s also played basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.
Ryin, a junior, was also a starter on the Bobcats football team and followed in his older brother’s footsteps with basketball and baseball.
This year, however, they went to Whiteford athletic director Jeremy Simmons to inquire about also running track.
“I had each athlete attend a meeting with both coaches and their parents where we went over the rules,” Simmons said. “We made sure everyone was on the same page and answered questions that they had. Everything is outlined.”
Yockey found out early on what kind of athletes both were.
“They are confident in their abilities but aren’t arrogant and boastful,” Yockey said. “For what they have accomplished this year is truly outstanding – and I understand they are doing pretty well in baseball, too.”
Saturday’s Division 3 Regional at Adrian Madison was a milestone day for both.
Shea won the 400 and was on the 1,600 relay unit that finished first. He also was second in the 100 and part of the 400 relay that came in second.
Ryin was part of both of those relays, plus the 800 relay that placed second – and was Regional champion in the 300 hurdles.
Together, they helped the Bobcats to the team title.
“Ryin’s 300 race really sticks out to me as he is such a competitor and driven to win,” Yockey said.
Ryin took to the hurdles quickly.
“He’s really done quite well with working his hurdle form, attacking each race and winning,” Yockey said. “He currently is seeded seventh in the state in an event that usually takes a season or two to perfect.”
Ryin last ran track in the seventh grade. Shea ran that season as well, which was his eighth-grade year.
“We had high expectations, but I think we exceeded what we thought we would do,” Shea said of this spring. “It was really tough to start, but it’s gotten a lot easier as I’ve gotten into the routine. I think it’s benefited me for both sports.”
Shea started out the season competing in the high jump. About two weeks ago he gave the 400 a shot. He ended up winning the Regional in the event and is seeded second going into the Finals.
The Hillsdale College football signee credits Coach Yockey with helping him get up to speed on what to do and not do on the track.
“Coach Yockey helped me a lot. He got me into shape and told me where I needed to be with my times,” Ruddy said. “I kind of wish I would have done it in the past, but it’s all right. I think the years of experience would have paid off.”
Shea is the anchor on the 400 relay and leads off the 1,600 relay. The 1,600 unit holds the school record and had the fastest time of any 1,600 relay in Division 3 earlier this season.
“I knew adding Shea and Ryin would be a benefit for us,” said Yockey. “But, to go in and win a Regional title … that’s always the dream. The fact that we won a Regional title and will go to states with 12 scoring opportunities is definitely exciting. It exceeds my expectations from the start of the season.”
Whiteford had two other Regional champions Saturday – Keegan Masters won both the 1,600 and 3,200 and Stepan Masserant won the Pole Vault. The Regional title was Whiteford’s first since 2007, the same year the Bobcats won the school’s only track & field state championship.
It also comes just a year after Whiteford christened its new track and hosted its first home meet in more than a decade. Yockey said the new track helped ignite interest in the sport.
“Having a new track is huge,” he said. “Kids want to be a part of something they can be proud of, and kids weren’t proud of our track facility. I still hear upperclassmen joke about the gravel lane they had before I got here.
“I think being able to host home meets, and a beautiful facility definitely helps in having kids come out and participate in track & field.”
Shea said he’s not surprised about the rapid rise of the Whiteford boys track & field team this season.
“I’m not shocked,” he said. “I knew we had the talent. We had to put it together, of course, and we’ve done that. I’m satisfied. I’m going to the states in four events. I can’t be disappointed with that.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Shea Ruddy (far left) takes the baton from brother Ryin during a relay this season. (Middle) The 1,600 relay of Shea Ruddy, Dylan Anderson, Ryin Ruddy and Jake Iott show off their latest trophy with Whiteford coach Jay Yockey after the Bobcats claimed their first Regional track & field team title since 2007. (Top photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; middle photo courtesy of the Whiteford boys track & field program.)