By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half
Sam Baustert has never allowed his size to hold him back.
Baustert may be only 5-foot-6 and 125 pounds, but the Whitehall senior has come up big over and over again – with one more track season to go.
“I’ve always been one of the smallest kids in my grade,” said Baustert, who will earn his 12th varsity letter this spring. “That just forced me to work harder, to be more focused and to prepare more.”
He was also blessed with the ability to run far and to run fast.
Baustert embarks on his senior track season as one of the top distance runners along the lakeshore. He won the 3,200 meters last spring at the West Michigan Conference meet and at the Greater Muskegon City meet.
“I expect him to have a great senior year,” said Whitehall boys track coach Kirk Mikkelson, who is starting his 25th season leading the program. “He ran 10 seconds faster in the mile at our meet at Grand Valley than he did in the same meet last year, so that’s a great sign.”
Baustert said one of the secrets to his success is choosing the right sports.
“I played basketball one season and I found out I wasn’t very good,” Baustert said.
So instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole, Baustert pivoted to wrestling, where the 14 weight classes provide a spot for every height and weight.
He compiled a standout four-year career on the mat, culminating this winter, when he won West Michigan Conference, county and District titles at 112 pounds. He also was a quiet leader as the Vikings made a run to the Division 3 Team Semifinals, where they lost a tight match to eventual champion Dundee.
Baustert is now shifting his focus back to track, another sport where his small stature doesn’t hold him back. He will run cross country and track at Grand Valley State, where he will be following in the footsteps of his two older siblings, Kyle and Lauren.
“I feel very comfortable at Grand Valley,” explained Baustert, who sees himself specializing in longer distances in college, like his running idol, Mo Farah of England. “It’s close to home, so my family will be able to come see me run. I’m excited to be on a team with a lot of great runners that will make me better.”
His specialty is the 3,200, where his goal for this season is to break the 9:30 mark. He also regularly runs the 1,600, where he hopes to break 4:30. In many meets he helps his team out by running a leg on the 3,200-meter relay.
That grueling, “team-first” mentality forces him to conserve energy for other races and prevents him from running his best times in his favorite event, the 3,200. That is one of the reasons he is looking forward to the Meijer West Michigan All-Star Meet on May 23 at Reeths-Puffer.
“I’ve run my PR at that meet the last two years, because it’s an individual event and I don’t have to run anything else,” said Baustert.
But for the most part, Baustert is a team-first kind of kid, which has made him a key part of the Vikings’ continued success. Whitehall has won or shared 15 consecutive West Michigan Conference boys track & field titles, and won more than 93 percent of its dual meets during Mikkelson’s 24-year tenure.
Mikkelson believes this year’s team has a chance to continue that WMC title streak and also make a run at snapping five-time reigning city champion Fruitport’s stranglehold on that meet’s crown.
Turrell Harris and Tyler Brandel are two of the senior leaders in the sprints, and they combine with sophomore Jaegar McGahan and senior Brett Evans on a formidable sprint relay team. Logan Thomas is strong in the pole vault, and Brandon Kallhof and Bailey Taranko are expected to contribute key points.
As for the distance events, Mikkelson said Baustert is like another coach with that group.
“Sometimes he just takes off with the distance guys, and I know that they’re in good hands,” said Mikkelson. “He’s very analytical about everything. He has the respect of all of his teammates.”
Baustert has stayed busy throughout his high school years, rarely having a day off from practice or a meet with cross country, wrestling and track. Now with less than two months remaining as a prep athlete, he knows it’s his turn to pass on what he’s learned to his younger teammates.
“It’s kind of weird being the team leader, but I guess that’s how it’s supposed to work being a senior,” said Baustert, who plans to major in electrical engineering. “It seems like I was just a freshman, trying to figure things out; now I’m the one with all the answers.”
Another place he’s always had the answers is in the classroom, with a 4.1 GPA and ranking No. 4 in his graduating class of more than 150 students.
“Sam is the epitome of what you look for in a student-athlete,” said Mikkelson. “He’s not a loud kid who is going to get in anybody’s face, but he is an inspiration to our younger kids because of how hard he works and how serious he is. He has been leading by example his whole life.”
Tom 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 firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (top) Whitehall senior Sam Baustert keeps a close eye on his teammates as he waits his turn to run. (Middle) Baustert, far left, runs on the outside last season, looking for a chance to make his move. (Photos courtesy of the Whitehall boys track & field program.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)