Diaz, Jones Star Again, While Lansing Catholic Follows Standout Pair

By Scott DeCamp
Special for MHSAA.com

June 4, 2022

KENT CITY – Benny Diaz’ first three races of Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Track & Field Finals at Kent City High School said a lot about his considerable ability and sheer speed.

His fourth and final race said a lot about his character, even though he didn’t win that one.

The Saugatuck senior blazed to championships in the 110-meter hurdles (13.64 seconds), 100 dash (11.16) and 300 hurdles (39.43) before he pulled up with a hamstring injury near the midway point of the 200 dash.

Diaz, a University of Michigan signee, had a chance to become a four-event winner, but it was not in the cards. After he bent over at the waist and paused on the track, he finished the 200 in a slow trot as the packed stands cheered him to the finish line. He was “slightly upset,” but just wanted to finish the race.

“I’d say it’s better to finish it than to just stop,” Diaz said. “I guess it says a lot about your character. You’re willing to finish things, even if it’s not going so well.”

Diaz’ injury opened the door for Lansing Catholic to capture its second Division 3 team championship, and first since 2012. Lansing Catholic finished with 38 points to edge Saugatuck by a single point.

Led by junior Hunter Jones’ pair of individual titles, Benzie Central placed third with 32 points. Pewamo-Westphalia (30) and Hart (29) rounded out the top five.

Lansing Catholic took first in the final race of the day, the 1,600 relay (3:25.91), to push the Cougars over the top. Senior Josh Otten anchored that winning relay, placed runner-up in the 400 and third in the 1,600, and he anchored the second-place 3,200 relay. Senior Dave Pruder was third in the 800, and he joined Otten on the aforementioned relays that scored valuable points for the Cougars.

“Every one of them came through,” said Lansing Catholic coach Tim Simpson, who also guided the Cougars to the Division 3 title in 2012. “Otten came through with a huge day, Pruder came through with a huge day. Everybody else did their job.”

Jones captured championships in the 800 (personal record 1:52.68) and 1,600 (4:10.68), and he finished second in the 3,200 (9:25.87) to join Diaz as one of the top performers of the meet.

Benzie Central trackJones now has three MHSAA track state titles under his belt, as well as three Division 3 cross country championships. He won the 1,600 at last year’s Finals.

“I was comfortable for the mile and the 800 I was strong, but after the 800 I was at the trash can – I wasn’t feeling well,” said Jones, who is close to announcing his college commitment to a Division I school but is keeping that announcement close to the vest.

“My coaches, they helped me out. They helped me gain confidence and I threw myself on the track, got around eight laps and got runner-up (in the 3,200).”

Diaz finishes his storybook high school track career with five total Finals titles, going back-to-back in both hurdles events as a junior and senior.

Hurdles are the specialty for the slender Diaz, a 6-foot-1, 160-pounder, who glides along the track and makes it look effortless.

Seemingly stuck with the pack in the 100 on Saturday, Benny turned on his jets in the final 30 meters and burst to an impressive victory. He said that he tends to be a slower starter and strong finisher.

“Oh, no, it’s like that – it’s like that,” Diaz said with a grin. “I can just be lackadaisical before the start and just, it turns on. I mean, that’s just the type of kid I am, kind of low energy, just chill. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low.

“That’s just my race. I’m usually behind at the start and then I catch up with my top speed – speed and endurance.”

Diaz hobbled to the medal stand after the 200. He attributed the left hamstring injury to nerve problems, which flared up Friday.

He said he didn’t know how the nerve issues started and was hoping it wouldn’t be an issue Saturday.

“I’ve just been managing it. I was trying to keep it a secret, but now it’s kind of out the window,” a smiling Diaz said.

“But, I mean, I’m still happy with 30 points.”

Other individual champions included Sanford Meridian’s Dane Plichta in the 200 (22.82), Richmond’s Evan Green in the 400 (49.79 PR), Manton’s Noah Morrow in the 3,200 (9:17.84), Mason County Central’s Andrew Quinn in shot put (61-1.5 PR), Hart’s Kellen Kimes in discus (165-10 PR), Lake City’s Gavin Bisballe in high jump (6-5), Ovid-Elsie’s Tryce Tokar in pole vault (14-3 PR) and Warren Michigan Collegiate’s Trevon Redding in long jump (22-5).

Other first-place relay teams included Madison Heights Bishop Foley in the 400 (44.38), Sanford Meridian in the 800 (1:30.97), and Traverse City St. Francis in the 3,200 (8:10.56).

Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett sophomore Jacob Juip competed in the first-time adaptive events in the 100 (57.63) and 200 (2:17.57). 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Saugatuck's Benny Diaz, middle, builds his lead in the 110 hurdles Saturday at Kent City. (Middle) Benzie Central's Hunter Jones sets the pace on the way to one of his two race wins. (Click for more by Carter Sherline/Run Michigan.)

Not Even Sky Seems Limit as Richards Keeps Calvary Sports Soaring

By Tom Kendra
Special for MHSAA.com

January 4, 2024

Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.

West MichiganRichards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.

He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.

While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.

Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.

This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”

The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.

“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.

One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.

Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.

“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.

“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”

True to his school

One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.

“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.

Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.

Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.

That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.

Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.

Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.

Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.

The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.

Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.

“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”

Great heights

Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.

The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.

“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”

The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.

Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.

Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.

McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).

“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”

Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.

Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.

“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.

Decision time

Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.

“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.

That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)

Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.

“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”

Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.

The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.

Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.

Only after all of that will it be college decision time.

“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”

Tom KendraTom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)