Benzie Phenom's Story Continuing to Unfold on Track

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

May 14, 2021

As the phrase “history in the making” originated, someone simply had to know there would be a long-distance runner in Northern Michigan named Hunter Jones.

Arguably, he is history in the making.

And, track enthusiasts have a chance to preview some of the history the Benzie Central High School runner will make. Emphasis on will. He already has made history in so many ways.

He is only a sophomore. And, the history he makes will have at least one asterisk —for the 2020 Michigan high school track season that wasn’t.

The Benzie track team is offering its next preview glimpses of history-making Monday at the Titan Last Chance Meet at Traverse City West. The next opportunities after that will be on the Benzie track, during the Northwest Conference meet May 21 and the MHSAA Regionals on May 25.

This history-in-the-making story to watch over the next month is Jones’ likely accomplishment of winning his first MHSAA individual track championship June 5 at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Jenison High School. Perhaps the only reason he hasn’t achieved that first title before is COVID-19 cancelled his freshman season.

Many onlookers believe Jones will do that in the 800. They also believe after re-hydrating, resting, stretching and foam rolling, he’ll hit the track again shortly after and win another state title in the 1,600.

And, they further believe, he’ll write even more history after a brief recovery to win the 3,200 and finish with three Finals championships in one day.

Benzie Central boys track & fieldJones is preparing for the Finals by competing is all three of those events in the same day in the remaining meets. He and his coaches are challenging him by adding a 400 in all of those meets including the Finals.

He may run the 1,600 relay in the Finals should his team qualify. So four state championships are not out of the question. He tried the four events earlier this week and narrowly missed winning all four in an eight-team meet on Benzie’s track. He started the open 400 a bit slow and finished less than one second behind Kingsley’s Gage Hessem.

“I don’t know if anybody — I don’t know if I — truly, truly appreciate what this kid is,” acknowledged Asa Kelly, the Huskies’ longtime distance coach and a former college runner. “We knew he was going to be good for a long time, but how good is the question, right?

“We’ve had multiple state champions and loads of all-state kids, but nobody quite like him,” added Kelly, who has coached the boys cross country team to three Division 3 Finals titles. “He’s got this insatiable desire to win.”

At the age of 16, Jones is already in the history books. He owns school, meet and event records. He also has cross country course records. When he runs cross country in the fall, he’ll be pursuing a third Finals championship to go with his Lower Peninsula Division 3 titles won as a freshman and sophomore.

He is also a national champion. He won the sophomore division in the 3,200 of the National Scholastic Athletic Federation indoor track event in Virginia this spring.

“I want to be a state champion in at least three events,” Jones offered as one of his goals for his first track season. “It doesn’t matter what it is – at least three events.

“I have to run four events, so I think it will be challenging for me to go to each event and try to win,” he continued. “I think it is a good goal to try to win those.”

His others goals for this season? He wants to break the school records in the 800 and 1,600. He broke the school record in 3,200 last week in Farmington running an 8:59.

Benzie Central boys cross countryAnother of his Benzie coaches, Traci Knudsen Kelly, has no doubt Jones will he will win three Division 3 Finals championships this June. She should know. She competed in the Big Ten as a member of the Indiana University cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams after setting records and winning state titles in 400, 800 and 1,600 runs at Suttons Bay High School.

“It’s a rare kid that comes along like him,” she noted. “I mean, I have never seen a high school kid like that.

“Between just the internal drive ... the will to win, the work ethic ... I mean, he’s the whole package.”

Jones’ brother Rick and sister Sarah are among the standouts in Benzie’s rich track and cross country past.  Hunter recalls watching his siblings compete, and as he started running he was winning races as a second grader against fifth and sixth graders.

“I used to be deathly scared of racing, and I would almost cry before races,” Jones recalled. “It was weird going up against people that were like double my height.”

Not so anymore for the decorated runner whose future may not have any limits.

“The fact that he is sophomore is what a lot of people forget,” said Asa Kelly. “He is so young yet, and he’s got so much in front of him.”

Yup, history in the making.

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Benzie Central’s Hunter Jones warms up during a track meet this season. (Middle) Jones, with Benzie coaches Asa Kelly, left, and Traci Knudsen Kelly. (Below) Jones crosses the finish line during the Cross Country Finals at Michigan International Speedway. (Track photos by Tom Spencer. Cross country photo courtesy of Benzie Central's cross country program.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)