Cooper Closing In On Fantastic Finish
By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half
May 2, 2017
OAK PARK – As good as he is as a runner, Cameron Cooper understands he can’t do it alone.
Running one last high school season guided by knowledgeable veteran coaches and with a friend to help set their team's pace, the Oak Park senior is sprinting toward a captivating conclusion to his high school career and with more exciting possibilities ahead.
Cooper, 18, helped the Knights win the 2016 MHSAA Division 1 title, the program’s first boys track and field championship since 1972, as he placed first in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:51.68.
He then became just the second runner to go under 1:49.5 indoor when, while running with the Motor City Track Club, he placed first at the New Balance Nationals (March 10-12) held in New York City. His time of 1:49.46 eclipsed his personal-best of 1:49.7. Robbie Andrew of New Jersey owns the indoor record of 1:49.21 run in 2009.
Minutes after running the second-fastest time in the half mile, Cooper said he thought he could run faster – and he believes a time of 1:46 is attainable now that he’s competing outdoors.
“Outdoors, you can run faster,” Cooper said, noting there are only two turns on outdoor tracks instead of four at smaller indoor venues.
Although his times don’t reflect this outdoor advantage yet, Cooper is finding his fastest stride as the season’s most important meets draw near. Cooper has won all of his races this spring – individually or as part of a relay – and his top 800 time of 1:51.79 is only a tenth of a second slower than last season’s MHSAA championship performance.
Mentoring and hard work
Cooper began running competitively at the age of 8 with the Detroit PAL (Police Athletic League). He ran the sprints before his coach, Reggie Osborne, moved him to the 400 and 800 runs at age 10.
“When I was younger, it was way easier,” Cooper said. “In high school now, it’s more competitive. There (are) better runners.”
Cooper said there’s no secret to his success. Sure he’s a gifted runner, but it’s the hours of training that enable him to compete at such a high level.
His coaches at Oak Park – longtime Detroit Public School League coach Bob Lynch, now in his third season at Oak Park, and his protégé, Brandon Jiles – both work with Cooper almost daily. Officially, Lynch is the boys track coach and Jiles coaches the girls team, but in essence they team to coach both squads.
Jiles won the Class A Finals 800 in 1999 at Detroit Mumford with Lynch as his coach. Mumford won the Class A team title that season. The Mustangs would win three more MHSAA Finals titles (Division 1, 2002-04) with Lynch.
Then there’s Chris Richards, a Detroit Pershing graduate, who works with the sprinters on both teams. Although Richards doesn’t work directly with Cooper, his presence allows Lynch to spend more time with a runner like Cooper.
“Lynch’s specialty is the sprints,” Richards said. “I don’t know where, all of a sudden, he became an expert on the half mile and mile.”
That was said partly in jest. Lynch is highly regarded in the sport and has worked well with all athletes in running events whether they’ve been hurdlers, sprinters or distance runners.
Lynch has coached many greats, Olympian Marshall Dill for one, and he said Cooper is one of the best he’s had.
“It’s the work he puts in,” Lynch said. “Whatever I make him do, he does it. But I have to push him. His older brother (Corey Jones) influenced him. (Jones) was decent as an age-group runner, but he wasn’t a great runner. He worked hard to be where he was at.”
Jones ran for Lynch when he was the head coach at Detroit Mumford. Five years older than Cooper, Jones continues to have a positive influence on his brother.
“He wasn’t that talented,” Cooper said of his brother. “He’d run a lot on his own. Just seeing his work ethic made me want to run. He still works harder than I do. I do a lot of stuff on my own, too, like pushups and stuff. Corey had to work harder just to get his times. I have more talent, so I don’t work as hard.”
Even so, Cooper, who also placed fourth in the 1,600 at the Division 1 Final a year ago, understands he needs to work harder to reach his goals.
It’s not easy. When you add that he’s also one of the state’s top milers, Cooper’s work regiment can be overwhelming. To train for the 800 he’ll run 400 meters, then 600 meters, then 200. Then he’ll repeat that sequence. When training for the 1,600, he’ll run 1,200 meters, 1,000 meters and, again, repeat that. By week’s end he’ll run 15 miles or more, not counting what he does in meets.
Last weekend at the Jackson Invitational, Cooper ran the 800 in that season-best 1:51.79, one of the top times in the state. He also ran the 1,600 in 4:18, also one of the state’s top times this spring. Cooper is also the anchor on the 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams, and both ran well in Jackson according to Jiles.
Dewan Hawthorne is another senior on a veteran team. Hawthorne is a hurdler and also runs the first leg on the 3,200 relay. Hawthorne qualified for the Division 1 Finals in both hurdle events and placed ninth in the 300 low hurdles last season. Cooper and Hawthorne, along with sprinter KeVeon Clark, are the three athletes Lynch is counting on to set the standard for the other runners – and to score points.
Cooper and Hawthorne feed off of one another and are often seen running laps together in practice.
“Our team is stronger this year,” Hawthorne said. “We have some new guys, but me and Cameron are the big two. We both run cross country, and that helps us going into the indoor season. When the outdoor (season) comes, we’re ready.”
This season’s important meets are coming on quickly. Oak Park will host the Oakland Activities Association league meet on May 11, and the Knights will compete at the North Farmington Regional on May 19. Qualifiers will compete at the Division 1 Finals at East Kentwood on June 3.
After that, Cooper and Hawthorne plan on competing in college, and neither has made a firm commitment to a university. Cooper has narrowed his choices to Clemson, Florida, Louisiana State, Oregon and Texas A&M. Hawthorne is deciding between Michigan State and Morgan State.
Tom Markowski is a columnist and directs website coverage for the State Champs! Sports Network. He previously covered primarily high school sports for the The Detroit News from 1984-2014, focusing on the Detroit area and contributing to statewide coverage of football and basketball. Contact him at email@example.com with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Oak Park's Cameron Cooper runs his leg of the 3,200 relay during a tri-meet against Royal Oak and Ferndale this season. (Middle) Dewan Hawthorne (left) and Cooper. (Top photo courtesy of Darrell Washington.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)