Baustert Stands Tall Leading Whitehall

April 15, 2019

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 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.)

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 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.)