Baldwin Makes Wise Choice to Try Track

By Pam Shebest
Special for

March 26, 2019

KALAMAZOO — Three years ago, Heath Baldwin was sitting in the stands watching his sister, Hope, play volleyball when he started chatting with head coach Lauren Cholometes’ husband.

The current Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep senior had no clue that chitchat would turn into a life-changing event.

It turns out that Simon Cholometes was also Hackett’s track & field coach and owns Areté, a training center in Three Rivers where Baldwin’s buddy Eric Wenzel works out.

Intrigued, Baldwin – then a sophomore playing football, basketball and baseball – visited the facility.

“He set up a hurdle and had me do it, and I was pretty good at it so I wanted to try it,” said Baldwin, who was already playing baseball in the spring but added track to become a dual-sport athlete that season.

“Coach C convinced me to do (track),” he said. “I was more of a baseball guy until then. I gave it a try my sophomore year, and it went pretty well.

“This past year, I didn’t really have too many expectations going in. Then it kind of got big and I started to really love it.”

That is an understatement.

That first season, two years ago, Baldwin qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals in four events, finishing fifth in the 110-meter hurdles, eighth in the high jump, 10th in the long jump and 14th in the 300 hurdles.

Last year, as a junior, Baldwin led the Irish from a 38th-place finish in 2017 to the D4 meet championship, winning the 100 hurdles (14.83 seconds) and the long jump (22 feet, 2½ inches) while placing fourth in the 300 hurdles and seventh in the high jump.

The senior, who also has earned honors in football, basketball and baseball, is one of six finalists for the Detroit Athletic Club’s “Michigan High School Athlete of the Year” award, which will be presented in May.

His track success also has led to a scholarship at University of Michigan next year.

This spring, Cholometes hopes Baldwin can help lead the Irish back to the top.

“Our expectations are pretty high,” the coach said. “We lost a few key contributors, but there’s no reason the team shouldn’t be better than last year’s team.”

Baldwin’s goal this year is to hit the 23-plus foot mark in the long jump, something the coach said is a possibility.

“He’s got that athleticism, and combine that with how coachable he is, and he’s got a solid work ethic, too,” Cholometes said. “It’s been a joy to work with him, and to see him be successful like that is pretty cool.”

This season, the 6-foot-4 lanky senior gave up baseball to concentrate solely on track.

Football a family legacy

Baldwin earned his love of football from his father, Roger, who passed away in 2016.

‘My dad was a big football fan, and all my brothers had played,” Heath said. “My dad coached me until eighth grade.”

As a junior varsity player for United, a Hackett and Kalamazoo Christian cooperative team, “They needed a kicker, and I kinda just started that and got pretty good at it,” he said.

That kicking carried over to his varsity play, and this year he made 48 of 53 extra-point attempts and booted field goals of 33 and 36 yards, earning him all-state first-team honors.

Baldwin performed double duty, catching 50 passes for 910 yards and 18 touchdowns at wide receiver as well.

“It’s a little disappointing I didn’t get to 1,000 (yards), but I’m not too mad about it,” he said. “It was a fun season. We had a good time, but I wasn’t really focused on stats until after the season.”

United coach Jesse Brown, whose team finished 11-1, said he is not surprised at Baldwin’s success in any sport.

“His size and speed are the two things that stand out the most,” Brown said. “There isn’t anything that he can’t do, from track, football, basketball and baseball.

“Hands down, he is one of the best high school athletes I have ever seen. He was clutch in so many tight games of the past few years, making unbelievable catches, field goals and even this year at defensive end.”

All-around opportunities

Of all his sports, basketball is his least favorite to play, Baldwin said, but he likes the camaraderie. He and many teammates have played together since their YMCA days.

The center was hoping to reach 1,000 career points as a three-year varsity starter, but fell 82 points short.

“I just tried to out-hustle everybody because I’m not the best shooter,” said Baldwin, who earned all-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors all three seasons. “I get rebounds and put-back points, get the scrappy points and they all add up.”

This year, he averaged 20.2 points per game, 8.1 rebounds and 2.1 blocks. He racked up 38 points in a game against Coloma and hit double digits in 20 of the team’s 21 games.

Coach Mark Haase said Baldwin became one of the team’s best free throw shooters this season.

“He has great athleticism and is even a better teammate though,” Haase said. “He became a decent 3-point shooter this year as well.

“He has great agility and coordination. It also helps that he has played three sports each year in high school. It helps to make a more well-rounded athlete.”

Baldwin said track has become his favorite sport for several reasons.

“I like the adrenaline it gives you, just lining up, competing head-on-head with other people,” he said. “If you lose, you can’t blame it on anybody else, just you.

“I do like the individual aspect of the sport … you hold yourself accountable.”

Several Division II and III colleges were interested in Baldwin in both football and basketball, but he decided to continue his love for track.

“The bigger schools were coming around, and I wanted a bigger school because I’ve been at private schools my whole life with not very many kids in my class,” he said. “I wanted the bigger atmosphere.

“I knew I wanted to do Michigan State or Michigan. It was a pretty tough decision.

“I’m just grateful to Coach C for convincing me to do track because I never would be in the position I am in today.”

Pam 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 [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Kalamazoo Hackett’s Heath Baldwin takes on a hurdle during last season’s 110-meter Division 4 championship race. (Middle top) Baldwin, left, and track coach Simon Cholometes. (Middle) Baldwin was a standout on both the football and basketball teams as well. (Below) A shirt from last season shows many of Baldwin’s track & field accomplishments. (Track photo by, football by Daniel J. Cooke Photography and basketball by Scott Dales. Shirt and heads shots by Pam Shebest.)

Not Even Sky Seems Limit as Richards Keeps Calvary Sports Soaring

By Tom Kendra
Special for

January 4, 2024

Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.

West MichiganRichards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.

He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.

While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.

Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.

This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”

The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.

“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.

One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.

Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.

“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.

“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”

True to his school

One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.

“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.

Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.

Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.

That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.

Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.

Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.

Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.

Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.

“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”

Great heights

Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.

The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.

“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”

The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.

Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.

Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.

McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).

“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”

Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.

Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.

“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.

Decision time

Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.

“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.

That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)

Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.

“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”

Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.

The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.

Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.

Only after all of that will it be college decision time.

“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)