Corunna Star Recovers to Shine Again

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 3, 2017

ZEELAND – Noah Jacobs of Corunna is another in a long line of tremendous distance runners to come out of this state.

Among the names he’s chased include Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein of Rockford and Grant Fisher of Grand Blanc.

Jacobs, a senior headed for University of Wisconsin, was the two-time defending Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals champion in the 3,200-meter run and last year he added the New Balance two-mile national championship.

This past fall Jacobs won the Division 2 cross country championship with a time of 15:28.00.

Unbeknownst to him, this year would be different. Challenges always present themselves, but Jacobs was shaken by what he had to face as he began to prepare for the 2017 track & field season.

In February, Jacobs was diagnosed with a stress reaction in his left tibia. A stress fracture is more severe. Fortunately for Jacobs, the injury stopped just short of a fracture.

Still, for five weeks he had to shelve his training and deal with the mental anguish of knowing it would be a long, painstaking road back to the MHSAA Finals, if indeed he could return.

A few weeks ago, Jacobs noticed his times were getting back to where they were a year ago. On Saturday, he fought off fierce competition and defended his LP Division 2 Finals titles in the 3,200 (9:11.63) and added a first-place finish in the 1,600 run with a time of 4:14.03 at Zeeland East to complete was has been a courageous comeback.

“Last season I was blessed with great health,” Jacobs said. “This year I was battling. I was losing races, to some good runners. I didn’t have that same kick. I had to break that mental barrier.

“(In February) I was a mental wreck. My teammates and my family kept me going.

“It was around Regional time, in early May, I was running in two or three quality meets. I kind of got my routine back. I got to use the race situations I used to use. The last two weeks have really been good. (My leg) is not perfect. People asked me how it is, and I have one word for them – ready. I’m ready.”

Jacobs had to fend off a couple runners coming into the second-to-last turn to win the 1,600.

“I took the lead with about 250 meters left,” he said. “I knew they wanted it. It could have been a tenth of a second, it could have been five seconds. I don’t know.”

His win in the 3,200 held more drama. He led with 600 meters to go before Shuaib Aljabaly of Coldwater put forth a burst of speed to pass Jacobs by two meters.

“I knew that I had to draft (early in the race),” Jacobs said. “I’ve raced (Aljabaly) before. I didn’t worry about him running. I just had to attack the last half. I had to push and push and push.

“I had a couple of coaches with 100 meters to go screaming at me. When he took the lead, I had to fight, fight. It’s happened before.”

Jacobs overtook Aljabaly with 50 meters left and won by 21 hundredths of a second.

Home cooking

One thing that can top winning an MHSAA Finals title is winning one at home.

Zeeland East won its first boys track & field team title with a score of 71 points. Coldwater placed second with 42.

East had clinched its 1,600 relay team took first as well.

Coach Ralph Neal, in his seventh season, said everything went right for his team.

“It was an amazing day,” he said. “I can look back at two years ago and what we were trying to build. I saw enough talent. I saw the field events. I saw the relays. We had all these pieces that came together. Nothing went wrong today. It’s what a coach dreams about.

“It is special winning it at home. (Athletic director) Tim Ritsema pulls his hair out to get this (event) going.”

Junior Brenden Knoll placed second in both the discus (176 feet, 7 inches) and shot put (55 feet) to earn his team 16 points. He said the formula to winning was basic.

“We put in the work, every day,” he said. “I just had my mind right. I put everything else aside. It feels real good. These are the reasons you work so hard.”

Getting serious pays off

John Adams III of Ferndale never qualified for the MHSAA Finals until this year. Last year he started running track for the first time, to stay in shape for football. That reasoning paid off as Adams, a 5-foot-10, 160-pound slot back and defensive back, will attend Olivet College in the fall with every intention of competing for a starting spot on the football team.

Fearless, Adams competed in the 100 dash, and he certainly wasn’t one of the favorites. That didn’t bother him. With a time of 10.94, Adams placed first in the 100.

“I won because I worked the hardest,” he said. “I didn’t take track seriously until this year. When I got beat in the (Oakland Activities Association) meet (May 11), that’s when it hit me. I finished third. It was hand-held time, and it was really close. I’m not sure anyone knew who won. I didn’t want that to happen again.”

Special days

Sunday is Noah Caudry’s 18th birthday. It’s likely he’ll remember the day before his 18th birthday better in the years to come.

Caudry of Lake Odessa Lakewood won the 110 and 300 hurdles, and helped his team place fifth in the 400 relay even though it didn’t compete in the fast heat.

His time in the 110 (14.05) was a personal best. He’s a three-time champion in that event.

“This is my specialty,” he said of the 110. “I was hoping for (the three consecutive titles). I was hoping to get in the 13s, but I’ll take a PR.”

Caudry is a remarkable person. He graduated with a 3.94 grade-point average and plans on entering optometry school after earning a degree in biology.

New event, new success

Junior Cameron Oleen was a half-miler since he began running track at Fruitport two years ago.

This season, it was suggested Oleen run the 400 dash. He’d never run it before but thought he’d give it a shot.

“I really like it,” he said. “It’s the most difficult race. I can pace myself in the 800. In the 400 you have to run as fast as you can all the way through it. You could pace yourself in the first 300 meters and then die in the last 100. You might as well run as fast as you can the first 300.”

It would be difficult to argue that point with Oleen. He won the 400 with a time of 49.21 seconds.

“It’s conditioning,” he said. “The 800 helps me train for the 400.”

Oleen also competes in cross country and basketball. He added that running cross country helps him maintain the proper conditioning for the other two sports.

Click for full results.

PHOTO: Corunna's Noah Jacobs, far right, stays a step ahead of Coldwater's Shuaib Aljabaly during Saturday's 3,200 at Zeeland. (Photo by Janina Pollatz/

Hastings Relays Reigns as State's Oldest Continuous Track & Field Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for

April 10, 2024

Bob Branch remembers dabbling in other sports, but his first love was always running.

Mid-MichiganThe Hastings High School graduate admits he could never hit a baseball, football didn't especially appeal to him and basketball was just another way to spend time with friends. But for Branch, now 93, there was always track. That's the sport where his fondest and sharpest memories remain. And if you're talking track, many of his favorite memories come from participation in the state's oldest continuous track meet, the Hastings Relays.

Always held in early April, the meet dates back to 1937 – a bygone time that saw the first hostilities of World War II, gas at 20 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread selling for a dime.

And at a dusty old track surrounding the county fairgrounds in Hastings, a small relay event that included a scattering of participants from a dozen high schools was taking its first tentative steps.

Branch recalls a time when kids would run home after track practice because there were no buses, inexperienced young coaches had little actual knowledge of running fundamentals, and athletes looked at the sport as an afterthought after spending most of their high school days playing football and basketball.

The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago.For Branch, the relays were the ideal way to ease into the track season.

"I just liked to run," said Branch. "I remember I anchored a relay with my brother, and it always seemed cold when we had that meet. I remember teams would come from all over and you saw a lot of good athletes. Everybody seemed to have someone who was really good. Track wasn't very popular at that time, but I have a lot of good memories from running."

The Hastings Relays, which has changed formats and even names during its nearly nine-decade history, would traditionally kick off the track season. The meet was originally held at a makeshift quarter-mile track which surrounded the town's fairgrounds and was part of the city's annual Hastings Carnival – the track would become the midway during fair time.

The meet eventually moved to Johnson Field when the football field was dedicated in 1949 and ballooned to as many as 50 teams at its peak in 1957. For more than seven decades it was known as the Hastings Relays and then the Hastings Co-Ed relays before becoming the current Hastings Invitational, with the latest edition scheduled for Friday.

Johnson Field had a cinder track before it became an all-weather surface in the 1980s. During a time long before computers would be used to organize meet heats in mere minutes, Hastings coaches of all sports – defined as "volunteers" by the athletic department – would meet on the Friday before competition to hash out events.

People associated with the meet still recall the camaraderie built on those long Friday nights, followed by working what would often become 10-hour meets. Steve Hoke has been involved since watching his father, Jack, who coached teams at 15 of the meets beginning in 1951 and also had run in the first Hastings Relays. Steve Hoke later competed in the Relays as well during the early 1970s before becoming an assistant track coach, later the Hastings athletic director and now a volunteer worker.

"It was always a huge deal," said Hoke, who said the meet began as a pure relay event before transitioning to its current team format in the 1990s. "I remember we'd line the track the night before, and all the coaches would come to the house to organize everything. There was a brotherhood.”

Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s.If you quiz many of the fleet of volunteers who've worked the relays over the years, each has a different memory from the meet. While Hoke describes the brotherhood and Branch the outstanding competition, others remember weather and the time a thunderstorm wiped out the line markings on the cinder track, or waking up to find three inches of snow that caused a rare cancellation of the meet. Others recall the shock of moving from the cinder to all-weather track or using the meet as an early measuring stick of what it would take to qualify for the state meet. The real old-timers remember the meet disappearing for three years during World War II.

Hastings native and Western Michigan grad Tom Duits was the state’s second collegian to break the four-minute mile when he ran a 3:59.2 at a meet in Philadelphia in 1978. Duits, who ran in three Hastings Relays, was in line to join the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 before the United States pulled out of the games due to tension with Russia.

Duits has his own memories of the meet and the competition he faced there.

"I remember sunshine and being excited to be competing again. There were all these athletes swarming around; it was an awesome display of talent," he said. "It was always one of the best meets we'd be in. You could pretty much see the level of runners who would be at state, which made it a big deal. It was always early, but you could tell where you stood. It was great exposure."

Hastings track star Wayne Oom competed in four Hastings Relays from 1984-87. One of his sharpest memories was the difference between running on a raw cinder track versus the far more comfortable all-weather surface.

"Those cinders would grind into your skin," said Oom, part of the Hastings school record in the two-mile relay. "But I think it helped us because when we'd go to other tracks, it seemed we would run faster. I remember how competitive it was, especially in the distances. There were some great runners."

While participants have their unique memories, so do coaches. Former Saxons coach Paul Fulmer remembers 2008 when his team finished first on the boys side of the meet while his wife, Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, saw her girls team win the championship.

Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays."I knew we were one of the favorites to win because we were usually near the top of our conference and Regional," he said. "But then Katie's team was pretty good, and it was cool for them to win too."

Fulmer, who coached Hastings from 1978-81 and then 1985-2010, said at least part of the meet's popularity was derived from a unique way of scoring. Instead of individuals earning points solo, participants worked in pairs. For instance, two athletes would combine their shot put or long jump scores. New events such as the 1,500 relay and sprint medley were added.

"We had a tradition of being the state's oldest meet, and that was a big deal," Fulmer said. "And we ran a good relay; that attracted teams too. We took a lot of pride in that.

"And we'd get quite a lot of people to come to the meet. We'd set up until like 9 or 10 p.m., and then we'd have a party with all the coaches on Friday night."

While the meet has stretched 87 years, Branch said early participants and current runners have one thing in common: a drive to win. Branch ran in an era when the popularity of high school track was in its infancy. Today some of the best all-around athletes at a school are involved in the track program. The relays span the nearly nine decades in between.

"The quality of teams has gotten better and better," said Branch, the 1947 Lower Peninsula Class B Finals champ in the 220. "And this has made for a better meet. We would get guys who played football or baseball kind of drift into track, and that made the sport better. I think people began to appreciate track because we'd get teams from all over.

"We went from not really knowing what we were doing to track being a good sport. Even then, I'm not sure we appreciated what we had. We really liked the Hastings Relays and always wanted to do well there. It became popular and quite an honor to do well. Those are the kind of things I remember."

PHOTOS (Top) Racers run at the Hastings Relays, with several more awaiting their turns to compete at the longtime meet. (2) The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago. (3) Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s. (4) Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays. (Top photo by Dan Goggins, Hoke photo provided by Steve Hoke and Duits photos provided by Tom Duits.)