Coach Taught Athletes to Enjoy Sports

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

May 16, 2018


There are to be no ties worn Saturday at the memorial service for George Richardson. He didn't like funerals, so Algonac Muskrats and Michigan State Spartans gear is encouraged.


And while some sadness is inevitable, people should be having fun telling stories of the longtime Algonac coach, who made it his mission to make sure all his athletes – whether in middle school or high school, in cross country, track, basketball or football – enjoyed themselves while under his tutelage.


“He enjoyed life, and he lived it to the fullest,” said Algonac cross country and girls track & field coach Dan Shafer, a longtime friend of Richardson’s. “George would want it to be a happy time, not a sad time. We won’t ever really be able to measure the impact he had, just because it’s so vast and over so many decades. He had a great impact on our community. To say that Algonac will miss him, that’s an understatement.”


Richardson, who was battling cancer, died on April 26. He was 76 years old and is survived by his wife of 50 years, Diane, his two children, Anthony and Lynn, his mother Martha, and his sister, Mother Maria of Jesus. The memorial service will be from 7-9 p.m. at Algonac High School, and the family has asked any expressions of sympathy take form of contributions to the Algonac athletic department.


It’s fitting that even in death Richardson is giving to Algonac athletics, as he gave more than any amount of money could cover during his life.


Richardson, a Detroit native, graduated from Michigan State University in 1963 and spent his first two years out of college teaching in Battle Creek. In 1964, he took a job as a physical education teacher at Algonquin Middle School in Algonac, and he remained in that position until retiring in 1999. He also began coaching in 1964, and his final season as a coach was the spring of 2017 when he coached the middle school boys track & field team at Algonquin.


His coaching duties included football, basketball, cross country and track at various levels. 


“He was a guy, and I’ve heard several people say this, he never had a bad thing to say about any kid he taught or coached,” said Shafer, who began coaching at Algonac in 1977. “He loved kids and loved working with kids, and the kids loved him back.”


One of the main reasons the athletes loved Richardson was his way of making practices fun while still preparing them to succeed in their sport.


“He’s very motivating, but he makes sure not to push the young kids too far,” said 2016 Algonac graduate Morgan Beadlescomb, a four-time MHSAA Finals champion in cross country and track. “He really focuses on teaching his athletes to enjoy running rather than being serious competitors at 11 years old, making sure they don’t burn out. He was very, very good at making all of us enjoy running. All the cross country kids loved running. We’d end practice sometimes and play two-hand touch football. We were doing little things you wouldn’t expect, and we all enjoyed it and didn’t really know we were working out.”


His approach helped feed athletes into the high school programs who were ready and excited to compete.


“We had a lot of success in track and cross country, and that’s something he should get a lot of credit for,” Shafer said. “He got them enthused about the sport, but didn’t run them to death to the point they were hating it. He really pushed that enthusiasm for the sport. Winning is great, but improving and having fun, that’s the key. Those kids would come out because they liked cross country in middle school, and because they liked track in middle school. He knew his stuff, too. He could coach all the events.”


Without Richardson, Algonac’s middle school cross country program may not have continued to exist. Shafer said that when the funding for the coaching position was cut in the 1990s, Richardson continued doing it for free to keep the program alive.


“He was a very giving person,” Shafer said. “I haven’t heard anybody say a negative word about him.”


Beadlescomb, who won the MHSAA Division 2 cross country titles in 2014 and 2015, and the MHSAA Division 2 1,600 meter titles in 2015 and 2016, now runs at Michigan State. Shafer said Richardson was always very proud of Beadlescomb, and that he had alerted him to the future star when Beadlescomb was just a sixth grader.


“George called me the first day of middle school practice; he said right from the get go, ‘I think he said he’s going to be your best runner ever,’” Shafer said.


Richardson and Beadlescomb have kept in touch, and Beadlescomb said they last talked a little more than a month ago.


“He stayed in touch, even when I was in college, and that was also something special,” Beadlescomb said. “He was always very supportive. I feel like he had some influence on everybody. He was their coach in one way or another.”


Even when he wasn’t coaching, Richardson was a constant presence at Algonac athletic events, whether it be standing along the fence during football games or volunteering his time at a track or cross country meet. 


He was always there for Algonac, and while Shafer said he doesn’t know how many people will show up for the memorial service, he expects it will be a special night.


One person who will be there is Beadlescomb, who said he wouldn’t miss it despite being in the most crucial part of his track season at MSU.


“He’s the reason that I’m at Michigan State,” Beadlescomb said. “He’s the reason that I’m running competitively, essentially. I owe it all to him. He’s the reason that I’m able to run and still like to run. It’s important to me. I definitely need to be there.”

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

PHOTO: Coach George Richardson, far right and back row, takes a photo with his 2016 Algonquin Middle School boys track & field team. (Photo courtesy of the Algonac athletic department.)

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 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.)