ZEELAND – The Frankenmuth boys track & field team knew it had a chance Saturday to win its first MHSAA Finals championship since 2011 – but only if everything went right.
Not everything did – but plenty went better than planned as the Eagles won for the first time in Lower Peninsula Division 2, outpacing runner-up Flint Powers Catholic by 3¾ points to add a third championship to those won in Division 3 in 2005 and 2011.
Frankenmuth’s power in relays paid off in the final event, as the Eagles finished second in the 1,600 relay to Yale, scoring eight points while Powers came in eighth to add only one point to its team total.
That runner-up finish matched another in the 800 relay, and Frankenmuth also won the 400 relay with senior Daniel Barger joining junior Ian Stephens and sophomores Sam Barger and Andrew Braman. Those four ran the 800 together as well, with senior Ryan Brenner and junior Seth Malmo joining Sam Barger and Stephens on the 1,600.
“We knew it came down to the mile relay, and I was pretty easy going the entire time – and then the mile relay hits and we knew Powers had to do something and we knew we had to do something, and I had to be alone for a little while,” Frankenmuth coach Luke Sheppard said. “I just had to sit and soak it all in, but it was a lot of fun – it’s a lot of fun to watch these kids run. They always compete. They always do what they’re supposed to.”
The Eagles’ lone win came in the 400 relay, but they picked up other points throughout the day in the 100 and 200 dashes, 300 hurdles, high jump and discus.
Powers, meanwhile, got a first in the 100 and third in the 200 from junior Austin Hamlin and placed in all four relays among a variety of scoring performances.
Powers had entered seeded first in the 400 relay and Frankenmuth third based on Regional times, but the Eagles crossed the finish line 41 hundredths of a second faster than the runner-up Chargers.
“We always know coming into meets we’ve got to up-seed – be better than what we’re seeded, be better than what we’ve been doing,” said Brenner, who in addition to his 1,600 relay leg contributed a sixth place in the 300 hurdles and seventh in high jump. “That was our mindset through this whole meet, knowing we had to perform at the best of our capabilities to do what we just did.”
Motivation was not in short supply anywhere this weekend, or throughout the season, after COVID-19 led to 2020 spring sports being canceled.
Fremont senior Nathan Walker capped his senior year Saturday by adding wins in the 1,600 (4:16.12) and 3,200 (9:34.30) to the cross country championship he earned in the fall. Edwardsburg junior Luke Stowasser also was a double champion in Division 2, claiming the long jump in 21-10 and high jump in 6-6 after also winning the former two years ago as a freshman.
Hudsonville junior Ryan Shinabery edged Monroe Jefferson junior Alex Mansfield by 15 inches to win the discus with a toss of 163-7, but Mansfield won the shot put by more than eight feet ahead of the field with a toss of 59-2½. Allendale junior Cam Battjes rounded out the field event champions with a pole vault of 14-4.
Romulus junior Troy Cranford won the 200 in 22.84, pacing a race where the top three finishers were separated by a tenth of a second – after he was third and Berrien Springs junior Jamal Hailey second to Hamlin in a 100 decided by less than two hundredths of a second between those three. Orchard Lake St. Mary’s senior Edward Watkins won the 400 in 49.1 seconds, and Marysville senior Evan Woodard won the 800 in 1:55.25. Allendale junior Patrick Adams won the 110 hurdles in 15.19 seconds, then finished second in the 300 as Vicksburg senior Levi Thomas edged him in 40.10.
Fruitport won the 800 relay in 1:29.64, while Yale won the 1,600 in 3:25.85 and Holland Christian won the 3,200 relay by less than a second, in 8:01.26.
PHOTOS: (Top) Frankenmuth’s Daniel Barger, middle, crosses first in a close 400 relay finish Saturday. (Middle) Fremont’s Nathan Walker finishes one of his two championship runs. (Below) Flint Powers Catholic’s Austin Hamlin, middle, edges Jamal Hailey of Berrien Springs (far left) and Romulus’ Troy Cranford in the 100. (Photos by Dave McCauley/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.)