Cardinals Cap Unbeaten Season with 1st Title

June 12, 2017

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

As coach Jeff Erickson searched the hallways for athletes to bolster his boys track & field team, he let them know up front this was not a sport where they’d get tons of attention and hype.

This season, those 28 athletes instead earned an MHSAA Finals championship.

With a few football players here, some basketball players there, and a boost from the cross country program started only four years ago, Whittemore-Prescott routed its Lower Peninsula Division 4 Regional opponents by 98 points and then claimed the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Division 4 team championship over Memorial Day weekend.

Technically, those accomplishments earned the Cardinals the MHSAA/Applebee’s Team of the Month award for May. But it’s impossible to not also mention what Whittemore-Prescott accomplished the following weekend, on June 3 – the Cardinals won their first MHSAA Finals boys track & field title, by five points over Manton, and without an individual event champion.

“For a Division 4 school to be as deep as we were, we had kids come out this year that really helped us out and added to our depth,” Erickson said. “We had the banquet (last week), and I told the kids the difference between us and everybody else was our number two and number three (in each event). Everybody is going to have one or two good kids, and sometimes that’s enough to win a state meet … but we had our share of really good kids, and our key was our number two and number three.”

Whittemore-Prescott won every meet it participated in this season.  

The 187 points scored at the Regional not only led to the large margin of victory, but were the most scored by a boys team at any Regional this spring. The Cardinals then won the MITCA team meet by 202 points with first place finishes in four events: junior Michael Eagen in long jump, junior Zane Aldrich in the 1,600 and by the 400 and 800 relays.

The MHSAA Finals are scored a little differently than MITCA’s team meet, taking more into account a team’s elite performances – but the Cardinals’ depth still showed through.

Although there were no individual winners, Eagen was second in the long jump, a half-inch out of first. Senior Azaiyah Bell took fifth in the 100 meters, and junior Bradley Lomason was sixth in the 400. Senior Hunter Kensa was seventh in the 800, and Aldrich was fourth in the 3,200. The 1,600 relay of senior Ian Driscoll, Bell, sophomore Ridge Schutte and Lomason took second, only a half-second back, and after the same group placed third in the 800 relay.

“I thought we had a chance to be very, very good, but believe it or not we lost a lot from last year,” said Erickson, referring to his team that finished sixth in LP Division 4 in 2016. “But teams lose kids every year. It’s really about trying to fill those voids and seeing into the future. We go after the (MITCA) team meet, because to be in the position (to win) you have to have three pole vaulters, three hurdlers, and that’s helped us to have that depth. We always try to have a back-up plan.”

Erickson, a 1989 graduate of the school, also had an advance plan to build up the program – although all of the pieces fell into place perhaps more smoothly than could have been imagined and with a few beneficial surprises along the way.

Groundwork was laid when Erickson started an offseason “Iron Club” for athletes from any program – for example, the softball team has been one of the biggest participants as Cardinals from all sports take advantage of another chance to put in extra work. Among those Erickson recalled recruiting to the Iron Club was now-senior Nick Stern, who won Regional titles this season in both the discus and shot put.

Another significant piece was the formation of the cross country program in 2013. Erickson, then the athletic director and track & field coach, was approached by then-sophomore Clayton Lange about starting the team. Erickson told Lange he’d do so and coach if Lange could find six classmates to fill out the roster with him – and when Lange did, Erickson and assistant Leroy Oliver got that program rolling.  

In addition to Oliver, Erickson found more valuable help. Al Kushion joined his track & field staff after 31 years coaching at McBain. Doug Grezeszak, a MITCA Hall of Fame coach at Ogemaw Heights and Whittemore-Prescott alum, also came on to assist. Tim and Jody Yorton joined to instruct the throwers; Jody had been an All-American at Ferris State.  

And Erickson’s contributions can’t be overstated. He originally took over the program on short notice while serving as athletic director in 2007 when his coach at the time was called into active military duty. Add in his roles in the formation of the cross country program and as a recruiter in the halls both for his team and the Iron Club. And then consider that this was his first school year not at the school – he moved on before last fall to the Clare-Gladwin Regional Education Service District, about an hour drive from Whittemore-Prescott.

That daily trip meant relying more on his assistants. It also meant pushing Iron Club later into the afternoon, which meant athletes often went home and came back to work out – and Erickson said this team was especially committed to doing so.

“It was kind of a unique story from the perspective of that, and the kids and what they were able to do,” Erickson said. “What the kids were able to accomplish, it was such a great thing.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2016-17
Frankfort baseball - Report
Flushing girls basketball - Report
Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central girls skiing - Report
Powers North Central boys basketball - Report
Dundee boys basketball - Report
Rockford girls swimming & diving - Report
Rochester girls golf - Report
September: Breckenridge football - Report

PHOTOS: (Top) Whittemore-Prescott’s boys track & field team stands together with its first MHSAA Finals trophy in the sport. (Middle) The Cardinals’ Zane Aldrich leads the pack during the 3,200 at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals at Grand Rapids Houseman Field. (Photos by Dave McCauley/

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 [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.)