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.)

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 [email protected] 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.)