Jaylin Townsend’s introduction to the state’s track & field scene came a year later than planned, but it was quite a first impression.
As a sophomore, the Flint Beecher star walked out of the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals with two individual titles, one relay title and a runner-up finish in another relay.
“It kind of surprised me,” Townsend said. “Coming into the season off of COVID, we could barely get into the weight room, and it was hard to get on the track and run. We couldn’t get the blocks out. It was kind of an eye opener, really.”
Despite it being his first season – the 2020 season was canceled completely – Townsend was dominant throughout. He won all but one of the individual races he competed in, with the lone loss coming in the 200 meters in the first meet of the season.
That was quickly corrected, as he cut nearly four seconds off his time in his next meet and never lost the race again.
He won the 100 meters at the Division 4 Finals with a personal best of 10.98 seconds. He won the 200 in 22.75. His personal best in that event is 22.37, which was run in the prelims of the Regional.
Beecher’s relay teams that featured Townsend were equally dominant. The 800-meter relay team suffered just one defeat – disqualification at the Genesee Area Conference championship meet. Townsend, Micah Brown, Danny Bradley and Jacoby Sanders ran a season-best 1:30.59 to win at the Division 4 Finals.
The 400 relay team of Townsend, Bradley, Carmelo Harris and James Cummings II took second at the Division 4 Finals with a time of 44.11. It was their first non-DQ loss of the season.
It was close, but Jaylin Townsend (@Jay23Trip) took home two State Championship medals for Flint Beecher, winning the 100 Meter Dash and the 200 Meter Dash.#StateChamps x @MHSAA pic.twitter.com/BMnhp2GaPV
— STATE CHAMPS! Michigan (@statechampsmich) June 19, 2021
Townsend’s contributions were good for 38 team points, which alone would have placed fourth in Division 4. Beecher as a team finished third with 54 points.
While the immediate success came as a surprise to Townsend, it didn't to his coach.
“I saw it in him,” Beecher coach Joe Wilkerson said. “I knew he could be something special. I told his mother when I talked to her, ‘This guy is going to be a state champ this year.’ There was just something about him that I saw it in him. Lo and behold, he was a three-time state champ. It just made me feel good, because I could trust my own instincts a little bit right now.”
Townsend knows his success will motivate his future opponents even more, but he’s fine with that.
“Going into this year, I know they’re coming for me,” he said. “I know I have to put in some extra work.”
Putting in extra work is something Townsend is used to, as he had to a year ago to get up to speed. He said working on his stride and coming out of the blocks were the main points of emphasis.
“I had to learn a lot, actually,” he said. “Most of the stuff, I was just doing off raw talent. I would make sure to ask Coach, ‘Hey, do you have an extra 30 minutes? Can you stay after?’ My first-ever track meet, when I came out of the blocks, I used to pop right up.”
That has Wilkerson excited, as he believes the sky is the limit for his young star.
“This guy, he’s exceptional,” said Wilkerson, who has coached track at Beecher on and off since 1979. “I’ve been coaching for a long time, and I’ve never had a student quite like him with that kind of natural ability.”
Townsend’s focus on track is essentially limited to the spring season, as he also plays football and basketball for the Buccaneers.
“I’ve always been a great athlete, and I wanted to continue to be great,” Townsend said. “Going into basketball, it keeps me in shape for track.”
He was a key reserve forward for the Beecher basketball team, which advanced to the Division 3 Semifinals this season. He plays mostly in the post, despite being a shade under 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds.
Football is the sport he’s most focused on, particularly when it comes to competing in college. He plays receiver, free safety and cornerback for Beecher, and said he’s had talks with Central Michigan, Ferris State and Grand Valley State.
It was his performance on the track, though, that really helped to start those.
“When I started posting the speed, some of the colleges started to look like, ‘Hey, we can use this kid,’” Townsend said. “It helped out a lot.”
Heading into his junior track season, he hopes to turn a few more heads. He knows the best way to do that is to hold off the challengers who now have him in their sights, and continue to improve on his times. His goal is to work his 100 time down to 10.5 and his 200 time into the mid 21s.
“It kind of goes together,” he said. “Coming off last season, it put a target on my back, but it made some college coaches want to come to the track meets. They want to see me run. They want to see my speed. It’s nothing I can’t handle, though.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Flint Beecher’s Jaylin Townsend, right, turns a corner as he works to get a pace ahead of Saugatuck’s Benny Diaz on the way to winning last season’s LPD4 200 championship. (Middle) Townsend gets ready to defend during last month’s Division 3 Semifinal against Schoolcraft. (Top photo by Will Kennedy; middle photo by Hockey Weekly Action Photos.)
Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.
Richards, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.)