Dunn Ends with Memorable Finishes

By Tom Markowski
Special for Second Half

June 1, 2019

JENISON – The Dunns are done.

Brad Dunn is the last of nine children, four of them boys, to go through Saugatuck High School – and he more than held his own on the last day of competition.

His father, Bill Dunn, is the football coach and athletic director at the school, and it’s been a successful ride for him and his family. Will and Nick are the two oldest boys, but it was Blake Dunn who caught the attention of fans statewide. Blake led Saugatuck to the MHSAA Division 7 Football Final before the team lost to Pewamo-Westphalia, 21-0. He set just about all the school records in football and is in the top 10 of a number of MHSAA all-time record lists including points scored in a season (323, good for third place), career points (827, good for second) and career touchdowns (113, food for fourth).

Brad is no slouch. His 43 touchdowns this past season places him in a tie for 10th and is one better than his brother had in 2016.

On Saturday at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Track & Field Finals at Jenison High School, Brad Dunn placed first in two individual events to end his career on a high note.

He took first in the 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.63 seconds and then later first in the 300 with a time of 40.06.

“It’s crazy being the youngest,” he said. “I usually got blamed for everything. (My older brothers) set the example for me. They told me what to do and what not to do.”

Blake is playing baseball at Western Michigan University and Brad, who played four sports in high school including also basketball and baseball, will attend Grand Rapids Community College and plans on being a pitcher for the baseball team. He’s a lefthander who possesses an 83-mph fastball and three other pitches.

“You know, I’ll miss all the sports I played,” Brad said. “I’ll miss the community. I looked up to Blake when I was growing up. He was awesome.”

Disappointment turns into a positive

Giovanni Weeks of Kent City thought he had won the 100 dash but was edged at the finish line by Aiden Harrison of New Lothrop. Harrison won with a time of 11.07 to 11.09 for Weeks.

No matter. Weeks placed first in the long jump (21 feet, 5¼ inches) and then won the 200 dash (21.93).

All of this took place as the Grand Rapids area was inundated with thunderstorm after thunderstorm. There were three weather delays during the meet with the shortest, taking place in the middle of the meet, lasting just 30 minutes but featuring dime-sized hail.

“It was pretty hectic,” Weeks said. “I had my jump just near the prelims of the 100 and I really just had one good jump. I didn’t have to think about it, and that probably helped. Winning was a thought but it just depends on the day. You can’t plan on this thunder and stuff.”

Northern exposure

Jeremy Kloss of Harbor Springs trailed Ransom Allen of Ithaca nearly the entire 1,600 run. Allen took the lead from the start and looked unbeatable until the last 100 meters.

“(Allen) ran an awesome race,” Kloss said. “He took the race by the horns.

“I felt he was tiring a little with 300 to go. That momentum came to me in the last 110. I just went back to the drills, lifting my legs up. It was amazing. To have the lead all that way is crazy.”

Kloss nosed in front with about 50 meters left and won by four hundredths of a second. His time was 4:15.59. Allen was second at 4:15.63.

Kloss was runner-up last year, sixth in Division 4 as a freshman and won the title in Division 4 as a sophomore.

Allen gained some payback by taking first in the 3,200 run with a time of 9:19.70.

Ready after the delay

Sal Tranchida of Marine City showed patience throughout the day. With the rain causing a wet surface as he approached the bar in the high jump, he just waited for his opportunity.

“It was weird,” he said. “I was jumping 5-9, 6-1, then the long delay happened. Then after the (second) delay the track was better and I got to 6-3 and higher. I saw the other guys jumping 6-5 and it got me going.”

Tranchida won the high jump with a leap of 6 feet, 7 inches, two inches higher than second-place Sam Spaulding of Berrien Springs.

“I told my coach before the meet,” Tranchida said. “I knew I was ranked high, and I was going to try to win it.”

His jump also was a personal best.

Close call

In one of the more closely-contested Finals, Ithaca won the team title with 45 points, one more than runners-up Pewamo-Westphalia and Saugatuck. Harbor Springs placed fourth with 43 points and New Lothrop and Kent City each had 33 to finish in a tie for fifth.

Ithaca did not score any points in the meet’s final event, the 1,600 relay. Harbor Springs won that event to garner the 10 points and make a final move up the standings. Pewamo-Westphalia placed third in the 1,600 relay and missed an opportunity to win the team competition. Had the Pirates placed second, they would have earned eight points and won the title by one over Ithaca.

In addition to Allen’s fine finishes in the two distance races, Ithaca received valuable points in the field events. Alex VanDeWeghe won the shot put at 59 feet, 7 inches, and placed fifth in the discus. Ithaca’s Baylee Chaffin placed second in the discus with a throw of 161 feet, 1 inch.

Winners all

Detroit Edison senior Brian Taylor and Morley Stanwood junior Aiden McLaughlin earned championships in the 400 and 800, respectively. Harrison also anchored New Lothrop's winning 400 relay. 

Warren Michigan Collegiate won the 800 relay, and Harbor Springs took the 1,600 and 3,200 relays with Kloss leading off the former and anchoring the latter. 

Constantine junior Wyatt Alwine won the pole vault, and Pewamo-Westphalia junior Nathan Spitzley claimed the discus title.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Saugatuck's Brad Dunn stretches across the finish line in winning the 110 hurdles Saturday at Jenison. (Middle) Ransom Allen scored big points to help Ithaca to the team title. (Photos by Annette Tipton. Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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 first 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.)