Concord Conquers LP D4 Convincingly

May 31, 2014

By Chip Mundy
Special to Second Half

HUDSONVILLE – Concord distance runner Jesse Hersha imagined the Yellow Jackets would win the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 track and field championship as far back as last summer.

Or just about the time he heard that Nolen Bright-Mitchell was coming to Concord from Albion High School, which had closed its doors because of budget issues.

“Last spring, we were already thinking we were going to be really good and we had a shot to win the state title,” Hersha said. “Later that summer, I heard a rumor that Nolen was coming, but they were trying to keep it on the down low.

“I asked my dad - he’s the coach - and he just said, ‘He is.’ I was like, ‘Yea, we’re going to win the state title.’ ”

Concord did it convincingly, too. The Yellow Jackets finished with 78 points, far ahead of the 46 registered by defending champion and runner-up Saugatuck.

Bright-Mitchell was as good Saturday as Hersha was with his premonition last summer. After winning the 200 last year for Albion, Bright-Mitchell swept the 100 and 200 and ran on Concord’s winning relay teams in the 800 and 1,600. He set LP Division 4 records in the 100 (10.7 seconds) and 200 (21.62), and the 1,600 relay also set an LP Division 4 record in 3 minutes, 24.19 seconds.

Bright-Mitchell, wearing a blue shoe on his left foot and an orange one on his right, will attend Grand Valley State University in the fall. But he hasn’t forgotten his Albion roots.

“I wore my Albion warm-ups in every meet we had,” he said. “But I love Concord. It’s a great community with great teachers and a great school.”

It was the second MHSAA championship in five years for Concord, which won the 2010 title.

“It’s been a really good year, and we accomplished a lot,” Concord coach Mark Hersha said. “We had a vision for it at the beginning of the year, and it’s really good to see the guys put it all together.”

Coach Hersha also received a bonus as he watched his son Jesse win his first individual track title as he took the 3,200 in 9:38.54.

“That was kind of nice, too,” Mark Hersha said. “It was a fast 1,600, so it was disappointing he was third. He cooled down a little bit, and it was courageous to go back out there and run again in the 3,200.”

Jesse Hersha, just a sophomore, already is a two-time individual champion in cross country.

“My whole high school career has kind of been like an only-distance track team, but now we’ve had a lot more people to come out from the baseball team and everything,” he said, “and a couple of Albion guys, especially Nolen.

“You have to give a lot of credit to Nolen for winning four events.”

Bright-Mitchell had some help on the relays as was joined on the winning 1,600 relay team by Lonelle Langston, Chase Hinkle and Zach Hudson, another Albion transfer.

The winning 800 relay team also included Brett Lehman, Langston and Chevy Burk. Langston also was seventh in the high jump, Lehman was eighth in the 100 and Burk was 11th in the long jump.

Concord also placed fourth in the 400 as Lehman, Hinkle, Treyvon Miller and Langston finished in 44.77 seconds.

Another Albion connection is on the coaching staff as former Albion coach Mike Jurasek and his assistant Dan Davis serve as volunteer coaches. Jurasek is a Concord graduate, and Coach Hersha welcomed him to the staff.

“From a distance, we’ve all seen the success he’s had at Albion and stuff like that,” Hersha said. “It’s kind of almost a miracle to see the things he does with kids – his personality, the way he prepares himself to prepare them – again, there’s a reason why he’s successful.

“Everything about him is a model of excellence, and it’s been a blessing all year long to have him. He doesn’t only help with the guys but with the girls, too.”

Saugatuck had only one individual champion, but it came with some flash. Freshman Blake Dunn won the 300 hurdles in 40.22 seconds, while David Dykstra of White Cloud took the 110 hurdles.

There were two LP Division 4 state records broken in the field events. Curtis Bell cleared 15 feet, 1 inch to set a record and win the pole vault, while Tyrell Hall of Marion soared 12-11.75 to win the long jump.

Other winners in the field events were Tucker Scharf of Unionville-Sebewaing in the discus (148-6), Tyler Crenshaw of Brown City in the shot put (51-8), and Hunter Weeks of Homer in the high jump (6-7).

In the running events, Austin Sandusky of Morenci won the 400 in 50.48, Bryce DeGrammont of Mio took the 800 in 1:58.09, and Luke Anderson of Harbor Beach captured the 1,600 in 4:17.49. The 400 relay went to Southfield Christian, and Muskegon Western Michigan Christian took the 3,200 relay.

Click for full results.

PHOTO: Concord’s Nolen Bright-Mitchell (4) set LP Division 4 Finals records in both the 100 and 200 Saturday in Hudsonville. (Click to see more from

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)