Blind Vaulter Builds on Promising Launch

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 24, 2019

When Bradly Rainwater’s family members learned he was born blind, they decided to not put any limits on him.

As it turned out, Bradly had the same mindset.

The Davison sophomore is a pole vaulter on the track & field team. It’s an event that he took up not just because his father and uncle were former all-state pole vaulters, but because it was one of the most difficult events in any sport.

“I have always gone after the hardest things,” Rainwater said. “I thought this would be another thing that I would see if I could do it.”

Rainwater, who also is a member of the marching band and wrestling teams at Davison, recently finished his first full season competing as a vaulter and has proven that he can do it, with a personal best of 8 feet, 6 inches. But he’s not satisfied with simply clearing a height in competition – he wants to go higher.

“In the end, I’d like to go to state and get a reasonable placing,” Rainwater said of his career goals. “That would be good for me. I’d enjoy that. For someone in a situation like mine, or a situation similar, you have to work twice as hard to get things where you want them to be. But I am dedicated to it.”

Davison pole vaulting coach Brad Rainwater, Bradly’s grandfather, is also dedicated to it, and is doing all he can to help his grandson reach his goals. Brad Rainwater has been coaching for four decades, but had to teach himself some new tricks when Bradly came along.

“It’s a learning process for us, as well,” Brad Rainwater said. “We started by putting our heads together, my sons and I, and I took it basically like I would coach anyone, but we had to be more hands-on. Basically, it’s step-by-step. It’s the same way when he wrestles; they have to literally do every movement like step, step, step, step. Everything on the vault is done by steps, so we start him with doing three steps, then four steps, then five steps. We’re thinking of ways to teach him to turn, so we use a lot of rings and high bar so he can get that feel.

“What it’s done for me is made me a better coach, because I have to break everything down. Now I’m a little more technical with them all.”

Recently, Bradly began using a track on the runway to help guide his pole to the box, which allows him to start his run farther back. He’s made steady improvement throughout the season, setting his personal best May 13 during a dual meet against Flint Carman-Ainsworth and matching it two days later at the Heritage Hawks Last Chance Invitational.

During practices with a bungee cord, he has cleared more than 10 feet. He’s also started imparting wisdom on other vaulters.

“If I have young vaulters, he teaches them the first three steps and a plant,” Brad Rainwater said. “If people are around (Bradly) and they didn’t know he was blind, because he’s actually doing the drills or showing kids how to do drills, they go, ‘He’s blind?’”

Bradly said the reaction from teammates and opponents alike has been great.

“They work with me some, like they’ll say, ‘You didn’t turn correctly,’ or ‘You didn’t do this correctly,’ which I appreciate, because criticism like that I can’t necessarily see on film,” he said. “Opponents, some of them come up to me and say thank you to me, and that I inspired them. It’s still hard for me to grasp, because I’m not as good as I should be, but I appreciate people saying that.”

While there’s no official number of blind individuals who have competed in the pole vault, it is rare.

“I know that he’s only one of maybe three others in the state (history), and the other three had some sight,” Brad Rainwater said. “We try not to limit him; we try not to put him in a box that he can or can’t do that. As far as I know, he’s one of the very few in the country that’s doing this. We love it, because we hope it opens doors for other kids that have desire to do other things.”

Bradly, however, said he hasn’t quite grappled with the fact that what he’s doing is special, as he feels he still needs to get better. That’s his focus now, and it’s reflective of someone who has played sports his entire life, from T-ball to soccer to basketball, and now wrestling and track. 

He’s not a blind pole vaulter; he’s simply a pole vaulter. And when he’s done, he wants to be known as a great one.

“I’ve always had the attitude of why not,” he said. “Why not work extra hard to be as good as they are?”

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 paulcostanzo3@gmail.com with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Davison pole vaulter Bradly Rainwater lines up for an attempt this spring. (Middle) Rainwater works with his grandfather Brad Rainwater, the school’s longtime pole vaulting coach. (Photos and video provided by the Rainwater family.)

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.)