Avondale Star, St. Mary's Chase History

May 30, 2015

By Bill Khan
Special for Second Half

ZEELAND — Everyone else was chasing Joshuwa Hollomon on Saturday as he was chasing his place in MHSAA track and field history.

Hollomon became only the 10th Lower Peninsula boy in the 91-year history of the Finals to win the 100-meter (or 100-yard) dash three times in his career, finishing the feat at the Division 2 meet at Zeeland Stadium.

The Auburn Hills Avondale senior won a tight finish against Flint Southwestern Academy senior Jonathan Fife with a time of 10.71 seconds. Fife's time was 10.81.

Hollomon won the LP Division 1 title as a sophomore in 2013 before taking Division 2 his final two years.

"To win it three years, going unbeaten, I can look back and tell that to my kids one day and say, 'I did this' and have that be an influence on them," Hollomon said. "This is a great accomplishment."

Hollomon is only the third Lower Peninsula boy in the last 24 years to win the 100 three times, joining Baldwin's Jason Johnson (1995-97 Class D) and Sparta's Brandon Vandriel (2007-09 Division 2).

Hollomon also was trying to sweep the 100 and 200 in the Finals for the second straight season, but Fife turned the tables in the 200 to win in 21.55 seconds. Hollomon settled for second in 21.98.

Going into the meet, Hollomon had no idea of what to expect from Fife.

"I don't know anybody I race," said Hollomon, who will play football at the University of Cincinnati. "I don't watch them. I study myself. I know the person next to me on both sides wants to win just as bad as I do. When you get fast people, it makes you faster."

The biggest disappointment for Hollomon came in the 800 relay, as he never received the baton for the final leg because of a dropped first exchange.

While Hollomon has become accustomed to winning MHSAA championships, a school with a championship pedigree in nearly every sport except track and field won its first title.

Orchard Lake St. Mary's scored 52 points to beat runnerup Zeeland East by 7.5.

The Eaglets' best finish in an MHSAA final meet was third in Division 2 in 2006. They laid the groundwork for Saturday's championship by placing fourth last year.

"We broke six school records this year," St. Mary's coach Sean Clouse said. "We're pretty young still. We have a great group of seniors and a lot of young kids, too, so hopefully we'll be back again next year."

Six of the 14 athletes who scored for the Eaglets were sophomores, including 300-meter hurdle champion Richard Bowens. Bowens posted a time of 38.42 seconds and was also on the seventh-place 1,600 relay team.

St. Mary's won the 400 and 800 relays for the second year in a row, but was able to take the team title by having more firepower throughout its lineup. The Eaglets scored in eight events, including all four relays.

Junior Tyler Cochran was on the winning 800 relay team and took third in the 400 in 49.83 seconds. He was also on the seventh-place 1,600 relay unit.

Senior Ross Moore was on both winning relay teams and placed eighth in the long jump. Sophomore Kahlee Hamler was also on both first-place relay teams. Freshman Ky'Ren Cunningham was on the 800 relay team, while sophomore Ryan Johnson rounded out the 400 relay.

Sophomore Trey Bryan was fifth in the long jump, while senior Brian Agomuoh was seventh in the discus.

"Our long jumper surprised us a little bit," Clouse said. "We knew our relay teams were going to do well. We're just so happy with them. The sprint teams doubled up last year and doubled up again this year. Cochran in the 400 came through really big. The hurdler, Bowen, was amazing."

Cool, rainy conditions favored distance runners, but were a detriment to other athletes. Algonac senior Mitchell Mueller was able to repeat as pole vault champion by going 15 feet, 6 inches, but was left wondering what might have been under more ideal conditions. He attempted to break the LP Division 2 Final record of 16-1 set by Marine City's Jaime Salisbury in 2012, but came up short in three tries at 16-2.

"It was definitely challenging," Mueller said. "It kind of stunk that today had to be that kind of day, but I still got to go 15-6, still got a chance to go for the record. By the time we got to the chance to go for the record, it was raining pretty good. The last attempt was pretty close. It was just too much rain, not a good day. It was really cold, but it was still fun and I still had a great time."

Algonac had another champion in junior Morgan Beadlescomb, who won the 1,600 in 4:13.58. He sat on the shoulder of Cedar Springs senior Austin Sargent most of the race before making an explosive move with 300 meters to go. It was a flashback to a similar scenario in the cross country finals in November, when Beadlescomb out-dueled Sargent for the title.

"I work on my kick a lot," Beadlescomb said. "I kind of rely on that. In cross country, it was exactly the same. The last 300 meters is when I took off and won."

The host Zeeland school district had three of the top four finishers in the 800, with senior Sam Plaska of Zeeland West making his move with 100 meters remaining to overtake Sturgis junior Daniel Steele, who had opened up a large lead. Plaska won in 1:55.11, just ahead of Zeeland East's Matt Cramer. East's John Groendyke was fourth in 1:56.83.

"It's unbelievable," Plaska said. "I'm so happy to have the home crowd here, my family and friends cheering me on. It's such a great day."

Zeeland East provided some excitement for the home crowd early by setting the LP Division 2 Final record in the 3,200 relay. The quartet of Scott Binder, Dan Cramer, Matt Cramer and Groendyke won in 7:50.70, breaking Fenton's mark from 2007.

Other individual champions were Freeland's Nathan Whitting in the high jump (6-6), Melvindale's Anthony Fitzgerald in the long jump (22-5), Mason's Justin Scavarda in the discus (172-2), Coldwater's Logan Targgart in the shot put (57-3.75), Lake Odessa Lakewood's Noah Caudy in the 110 hurdles (14.70), St. Johns' Steven Linton in the 400 (49.04) and Corunna's Noah Jacobs in the 3,200 (9:27.49).

Williamston won the 1,600 relay in 3:22.98 with the team of Hunter Grischke, Seth Kerby, Steffan Smalley and Tyler Lamar.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Auburn Hills Avondale's Joshuwa Hollomon rushes toward the finish during one of his championship runs Saturday. (Middle) Orchard Lake St. Mary's hoists its first MHSAA track and field championship trophy. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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 first 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.)