Busy Block Does it All During 3-Sport Spring
May 3, 2017
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
LANSING – Dawson Block has his seven varsity letters earned over the last 2½ years piled on a table in his bedroom.
They aren’t in any particular order or out for display. In fact, they’re probably the most disorganized part of an incredibly organized guy’s impressive high school sports career.
As sports teach lessons, it’s obvious what the Lansing Christian junior is learning most this spring. Time management is a must when you’re playing three sports in one season, with competitions usually four or five days a week and one day to practice for all of them.
But he’s pulling it off – and then some.
In fact, the main downside – not counting the busy schedule – is that he can’t dedicate more time to all three. He’s run a personal-best in track in the 800 meters and is only a few seconds from his best in the 1,600. He’s a regular scorer for a golf team that’s in serious contention for its first league title and could make the MHSAA Finals for the first time. His return to the pitcher’s mound has included two solid outings – not bad for someone who hasn’t played baseball since middle school. And on top of it all, he’s carrying a 3.95 grade-point average as he makes academic lessons a priority while picking up more on the track, course and diamond.
“I’m a big fan of sports,” Block said. And it’s just that simple, even when scheduling gets complicated.
“I like running. I like being outside, playing golf, trying to get the swing down. And baseball is something (where) I have a decent throw, so it makes it a lot easier. I just like pitching.
“I’ve done track for a long time, and I feel I’m pretty good at it and I can’t see myself not doing it. The past few years I’ve fallen in love with golf, and I have a drive to want to be good at it and potentially play in college if I get good enough. Baseball, I’m more just there to help the team out; they need arms, so I do it for that reason.”
A spring day in the life of Block looks like this:
On days when he doesn’t have a game/match/meet, he’ll go to golf or track practice after school. If he goes to track, he’ll get done at 4:30 or 5 p.m., then head over to the driving range by himself to hit balls. Or, he could go from golf or track practice after school and catch the end of baseball practice, where coach David Miranda will work with him on pitching. Or, Block will hit track practice, then the golf range, and as happened last week, pitch to his dad Jason in their yard until it’s too dark to see the ball. If Dawson goes to golf and baseball practice, he’ll finish his sports night with a running workout.
And then from about 8 p.m. until he’s done, Block takes care of his homework.
“I’ve never met a kid – and I’ve been coaching for 12 years or more at Lansing Christian in baseball, golf, basketball and soccer – Dawson is just, ever since I can remember, over the top,” said Jason Block, who in addition to being Dad is also the Pilgrims’ boys golf coach. “Whatever he’s in, he’s going to try to within reason be the best he can be. When we’d play flag football, he’d do practice and then run with a parachute after practice; he always does the extra mile.
(But) if anyone can do it, it would be Dawson. His work ethic is off the charts. It basically became a situation of we got the calendar out, (said) here’s a track meet, here’s a golf match, where are the holes? Is there any way without killing ourselves that we can make this work?”
Track and golf always were sure to be part of Dawson’s schedule. He’s competed in both all three years of high school so far. But he hadn’t thrown since middle school – although he pitched well enough back then that Miranda, who had coached against some of Block’s teams when Dawson was a kid, approached him in church a few times to ask him to join on – if only to lend another left-handed option to the pitching staff.
“I told him no for a long time,” Block said. “But then I was like, maybe this wouldn’t be bad. Maybe I can do this with the other things, just come when I can and pitch. I just decided that one day at church.”
It no doubt helped that Block had done similar juggling before. In addition to two previous years of spring dual sporting, Block was the second-fastest finisher on the cross country team that placed 13th at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals in the fall, coming in 45th with a time of 17:29.6 – and balanced that sport with playing on the junior varsity soccer team.
During the winter, Block was on the junior varsity basketball team – but then also ran every night after practice to keep his mileage up for spring.
Block has run the 800 this spring in 2:13.87, his career best, and his 4:55.23 in the 1,600 at a tri-meet April 18 was fewer than three seconds off his personal record for that race. On the golf course he’s averaging 45 strokes for nine holes and shot an 86 as Lansing Christian won last week’s Duane Blatt Invitational hosted by Pewamo-Westphalia. He threw one inning Saturday in his second baseball outing after allowing only one run over multiple innings during his first.
From the Dad point of view, Jason can be impressed with Dawson’s organization; his son always has his clothes laid out for the next day and hand-writes his schedule in a calendar he keeps handy. At the same time, Jason said occasionally he wishes Dawson would find time for more fun and going out with friends. But Block’s parents have made sure not to push any of these athletic opportunities on him, and the fact he continues to be a model student in the classroom is a good sign he’s making everything fit.
Anticipating three varsity letters this spring and at least four over his senior year, Block could graduate with 14 after playing more than 20 sports seasons. That pile in his room is going to get a little higher.
And so will that stack of benefits from playing so much. Along with time management, Block quickly points to patience – especially on the golf course – as a lesson he’s derived from athletics. There’s something there about bouncing back as well after a bad shot or other mistake.
And he got an interesting history lesson from one of his teachers, Eric Thomas, who told Block the story of Jim Thorpe, who won Olympic gold medals and played Major League Baseball and in the National Football League a century ago.
As noted above, the main downsides to this spring for Block have been less sleep – he’s staying up a little late getting that homework done and has to talk himself into a second wind sometimes – and the inability to be everywhere at once. He doesn’t like feeling like he’s letting any of his teammates down – and he does his best to be with all of them as much as possible.
But he’d also tell anyone interested to give three sports in one season a try.
“It can be a lot of work, a lot of struggle,” Block said. “But if you’re willing to work hard and have some determination, you can do it.”
Geoff Kimmerly joined the MHSAA as its Media & Content Coordinator in Sept. 2011 after 12 years as Prep Sports Editor of the Lansing State Journal. He has served as Editor of Second Half since its creation in Jan. 2012. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Barry, Eaton, Ingham, Livingston, Ionia, Clinton, Shiawassee, Gratiot, Isabella, Clare and Montcalm counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lansing Christian’s Dawson Block races down the straightaway during a race this spring. (Middle) Block lines up a putt during a golf competition. (Below) Block throws during a baseball game Saturday, May 7. (Photos courtesy of Jason Block.)
Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
The 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.
“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.”
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.”
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 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 protected] 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.)