By Tom Kendra
Special to Second Half
KENTWOOD – Devin McKinney and his East Kentwood teammates had a plan going into Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 1 Final.
“We knew that if we won our two relays, that we would win the meet,” explained McKinney, a star junior sprinter and hurdler for East Kentwood.
The host Falcons executed that plan to perfection and won the MHSAA team championship for the fourth time in the past five years – previously winning in 2009, 2010 and 2011, before placing eighth last spring.
East Kentwood did not have any individual event champions, but coach Dave Emeott’s team did have place-winners all over the board and then dominated the sprint relays to take the title with 43 points.
Grand Blanc was second with 32 points. The Bobcats were led by sophomore Grant Fisher, who won the 3,200-meter run and took second in the 1,600 meters, missing out on a double win by six thousandths of a second.
Lake Orion, paced by senior 1,600-meter champion T.J. Carey, placed third with 29 points, followed by Walled Lake Central (27) and Davison (24).
McKinney ran the anchor leg of East Kentwood’s winning 400-meter relay team (42.41) and ran the second leg on the winning 800-meter relay team (1:27.72). He also was third in the 110-meter high hurdles.
“I just wanted to bring it for my team,” McKinney said. “We really wanted to get that state championship back.”
McKinney was joined by Justin Harris, Onrekus Carter and Kewon Getter on the winning 400-meter relay team and Getter, Houston Glass and Kevin Smith on the 800-meter relay team.
The threat of rain and possibly thunderstorms never materialized, but competitors had to deal with a steady wind throughout the day. The wind was blowing into the runners’ faces as they headed toward the finish line, resulting in higher-than-expected times in many events, particularly the sprints.
One athlete who said that going against the wind actually helped his performance was Walled Lake Central senior Cullen Prena.
Prena was the only boys athlete to win two individual events, even though he delivered an amazing end to his high school career away from the grandstands, in the throwing area.
Prena came in seeded second in the shot put, but overcame top-seeded Kevin Weiler of Swartz Creek with a winning throw of 60-11. But he was just getting warmed up. Prena hurled the discus more than 200 feet three times, including his final throw of 210 feet, 1 inch, which broke the old Division 1 Final record by more than 12 feet.
Afterward, Prena launched into an impromptu physics lesson to explain how throwing into the wind helped him.
“It was a perfect wind for the discus,” said Prena, who will compete in several major national events this summer, including the Chicago Throws Challenge and the New Balance Outdoor Nationals later this month before competing at the University of Oregon next year.
“A headwind is better because it gets under the disc and lifts it up. I felt great coming into today, and that wind just got me going even more.”
The discus win avenged his second-place finish in the event a year ago, when it was won by Matt Costello of Bay City Western, the Mr. Basketball winner who now plays for Tom Izzo at Michigan State.
While Prena was a shocking 34 feet further than the second-place thrower, most of the events were much closer.
Surprisingly, the closest race of the day was not in the 100-meter dash or a sprint relay. On a day when all eyes were on three of the top girls distance runners in the country in the 1,600-meter run, it was actually the boys’ 1,600-meter run which produced the day’s tightest finish.
Carey, a senior at Lake Orion, edged out Grand Blanc’s Fisher by the narrowest of margins, after the fans cheered both of them on as they ran neck-and-neck down the stretch. The final times showed Carey in first at 4:15.763 and Fisher second at 4:15.769 – a scant six thousandths of a second difference, which wasn’t official until a photo finish was used.
“I’m known for my kick and I needed every single bit of it today,” said Carey, a University of Missouri commit, with a grin. “It was the closest finish I’ve ever had, but I had a feeling that I got him right at the end.”
Fisher responded from that heartbreaking finish to capture the 3,200 meter title later in the meet.
Davison senior Gabe Hodge was a dual winner, capturing the 400-meter dash and then anchoring his team’s win in the meet’s final event, the 1,600-meter relay.
Saline captured the 3,200-meter relay title.
Other individual champions were Ato Condelee of Holland West Ottawa (long jump), Robert Atwater of Lincoln Park (high jump), Dylan Kole of Grand Rapids Kenowa Hills (pole vault), Freddie Crittenden of Utica (110-meter hurdles), Joshuwa Holloman of Auburn Hills Avondale (100 meters), Ross Williams of Birmingham Groves (300-meter hurdles), Andrew Middleton of Holt (800 meters) and Brandon Wilks of Southfield Lathrup (200 meters).
PHOTO: (Top) The East Kentwood boys track and field team poses on the medal stand after claiming the LP Division 1 championship. (Middle) Grant Fisher won the 3,200 in leading Grand Blanc to the team runner-up finish. (Photos by John Brabbs. Click to see more photo coverage from RunMichigan.com.)
Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.
Richards, 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.)