Copper Country Distance Stars Cap Senior Seasons with Fast Finals Finishes

By John Vrancic
Special for

June 13, 2022

CALUMET — It was quite a workout for Dollar Bay’s Nik Thomas and Houghton’s Eric Weiss whenever they met in area track meets this season.

A prime example was on display during the Houghton County Invitational on May 13 at Houghton when both seniors were clocked under 10 minutes in the 3,200-meter run.

Thomas won in a school-record 9:54.91, and Weiss was runner-up at 9:56.47.

Thomas also set a school record at that time in the 1,600 while winning in 4:26.58. Weiss was clocked at a personal-best 4:30.71.

“Breaking 10 minutes in the 3,200 was a huge accomplishment.” Thomas said after winning four races in the Division 3 Regional at Lake Linden on May 18. “I was really proud of that. Kolson Kytta (last year’s UPD3 1,600 and 3,200 champ and now assistant track coach at Chassell) called out my splits at Houghton, and I really appreciate that. What’s neat is every time I ran a PR, I set a school record.”

Thomas then established Upper Peninsula D3 Finals records June 4 in the 1,600 (4:25.91) – which topped his previous school record – and 3,200 (10:05.59).

He also won the 800 (2:01.27) at the U.P. Finals in Kingsford.

Weiss was Division 1 runner-up in the 800 (2:03.18) and 3,200 (10:07.12) and third in the 1,600 (4:37.2) at the Finals.

Thomas also set the school record in the 800 (1:59.92) in the Copper Country Invitational in Houghton on May 16 and added three victories in the Copper Mountain Conference meet at Wakefield on May 24.

“Nik is crazy fast,” said Weiss, who won the 3,200 in a personal-best 9:49 at the Ontonagon Invitational May 6. “I was very happy with running a 4:30 in the Houghton County Invitational. That was also a great race when I got my PR at Ontonagon. I definitely felt good that day.”

Houghton trackAlso in the mix was Ewen-Trout Creek senior Jonah Nordine, who was the UPD3 Finals runner-up in the 800 (2:06.39), 1,600 (4:40.3) and 3,200 (10:26.51).

Weiss, who took the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference title in the 1,600 (4:37.44) and 3,200 (10:21.03) on May 31 at Calumet, became interested in distance running as a freshman.

“I went out for cross country and started enjoying it,” said Weiss, who plans to continue his running career this fall at North Dakota State University in Grand Forks. “I’ve also done cross country skiing and a little bit of running in the winter.”

Thomas, who temporarily battled paralysis during his sophomore year, says he was proud to represent his school.

“I got into such a zone,” said Thomas, who also set two meet records in the Houghton County and Copper Country Invitationals. “There were times when I lost my vision. While I was paralyzed I never thought this would be possible, but everybody was so supportive.

“Going under two minutes in the 800 was unbelievable. We’re such a small school. Everybody knows everybody. I don’t think you’ll find this kind of experience anywhere else.”

John 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) Dollar Bay’s Nik Thomas leads the pack near the end of the first lap of the UPD3 800 race at the June 4 Finals at Kingsford. (Middle) Houghton's Eric Weiss runs a straightaway during the UPD1 3,200 championship race. (Photos by Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.) 

Hackett Catholic Prep's Baldwin Carrying Hopes from Home to Paris

By Pam Shebest
Special for

July 12, 2024

KALAMAZOO — Heath Baldwin studied Spanish at Hackett Catholic Prep, but he will need to brush up on some French as he heads to Paris to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The recent Michigan State University grad, who earned a master’s degree in marketing and research analytics, will compete in the decathlon, a two-day event Aug. 2-3 at the Stade de France.

While the Olympics will be televised in the United States, because of the time difference, Baldwin’s events will take place locally during the early morning hours.

Wishing him a Bon Voyage, more than 200 former classmates, friends, family and well-wishers plus six television crews congregated Thursday for an impressive sendoff, starting with the Hackett “Summer Ensemble” playing the school fight song.

A 2019 Hackett grad, Baldwin led the track & field team to three Regional championships, two MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 titles, was an individual five-time Finals champion, holds four school records and was named track & field Athlete of the Year for all divisions his senior season by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association.

“I went through a lot at Hackett, obviously, with my dad (Roger)  passing away (in 2016) and I always had a great support system of people who took care of my family and made sure we were doing good,” Baldwin said. “They’ve stuck with me through college, too, following me in all my events and to this point, so it’s cool that I’m doing well now and they’re along for the ride.”

Hackett clears a hurdle during the 2019 MHSAA Finals.The ride will begin Tuesday when Baldwin travels to Germany to train before heading to Paris.

“Everything’s starting to feel more real,” he said. “I think once I get to Germany and start to train with other people, we’ll be able to get a little competitive. I think it will be fun training in Paris.”

Facing a huge crowd in Paris should not be a problem, he said.

“The more people will only help me. I’m a big adrenalin guy. I feel like I get more nervous talking at an event like this than I do for the Olympic Games.

“Once I get out on the track, everything just feels natural to me.”

Naturally a no-brainer

Baldwin’s Finals championships for Hackett had come in high jump, long jump and both hurdles races. Tackling the grueling decathlon was a no-brainer.

“I was good at the hurdles, high jump, long jump, which are three very technical events in the decathlon, so if you’re good at those three, you usually can pick up the other ones pretty easily is what they say,” he said.

“Also, I played baseball as a pitcher, so that correlated with the javelin. A lot of college coaches recruited me off that, I think.”

Baldwin said knew 2024 was an Olympic year, “so I thought it was something I maybe could do. After last year, when I scored above 8,000 points (in the decathlon) for the first time and came in sixth at the USAs, it became a little more realistic for me.”

The personable athlete not only qualified for the Olympics at this year’s U.S. Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., but won the decathlon with a personal best 8,625 points.

He finished first in the shot put (54 feet, 2½ inches), high jump (6-11¾), 110 hurdles (13.77 seconds) and javelin throw (218-9). 

MHSAA trophies Baldwin helped win decorated the stage for his sendoff.Other decathlon events are the 100 dash, long jump, 400 run, discus, pole vault and 1,500 run.

Baldwin earned Great Lakes Region Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year honors and was named first team Academic All-American with a 3.8 GPA.

"We were awestruck at his athletic achievements (at Hackett),” said Judge Paul Bridenstine, the “Voice of the Irish.” 

“While he continued to play football, basketball, baseball exceptionally at Hackett, his athletic life was transformed when he was introduced to (former HCP track & field coach Simon Cholometes).”

Cholometes said Baldwin’s success is something that didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Heath put the wheels in motion a long time ago and worked harder than most people can even fathom,” he said. “I can remember 5:40 in the morning, Heath running sprints up that hill over there,” he said, pointing. “A foot of snow, running sprints up that tall hill.

“In college, he’s a Big 10 champ, three-time All-American, Great Lakes Region Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year, MSU’s Athlete of the Year twice, holds five school records plus Big 10 records in heptathlon and decathlon.”

Family won't be far

Baldwin plans to be in Paris for the opening ceremonies and will be cheered on by his mom Suzann, sister Hope and brothers Aiden and Gowan.

The Olympian also will have a remembrance of his late father with him. He has a tattoo of his dad’s signature on the inside of his upper left arm.

A hurdle that was gifted to Baldwin on Thursday.Losing his father “was a big part of my life and obviously changed my perspective in the way I train and the way I live in a way he’d be proud of,” Baldwin said.

“We set some big goals going into this year and it’s been a dream. I love representing the Kalamazoo community and Michigan, Hackett and Michigan State.

“I like to remember everybody I compete for, and I think that gives you a bigger purpose when you go out there. That’s definitely something I’ll be doing at the Olympics in Paris. I’m excited to represent there and hopefully go for a medal.”

PHOTOS (Top) Health Baldwin, seated, signs a hat during his sendoff Thursday at Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep. (2) Baldwin clears a hurdle during the 2019 MHSAA Finals. (3) A hurdle was gifted to Baldwin on Thursday. (4) MHSAA trophies Baldwin helped win decorated the stage for his sendoff. (Sendoff photo by Pam Shebest.)