Frankenmuth Takes Championship Surge Through Final Race

June 5, 2021

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.

Fremont track“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.

Flint Powers Catholic trackHudsonville 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.

Click for full results.

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/

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for

March 14, 2023

KALAMAZOO — Harrison Wheeler has not been a pole vaulter for very long – two weeks to be exact – but he already has some lofty goals.

Southwest CorridorThe sophomore is aiming for the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep record board and, if he makes it, he will be in good company.

Coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder, a 2001 Hackett graduate, still holds the girls record of 10 feet, 2½ inches.

“I’m hoping to have my name next to hers (on the record board),” Wheeler said.

The sophomore has a few feet to go before surpassing current record holder Brian Kucinich, who vaulted 12 feet, 6 inches in 1992.

Wheeler’s unofficial best is 9 feet; officially it is 8 feet, 6 inches.

“That is going to be a very big jump in my pole vaulting career,” he said.

Wheeler is one of 42 athletes on the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion boys team, which includes 12 seniors and 13 juniors. Besides Wheeler, the team has six sophomores and 10 freshmen.

One of the returners is senior Liam Mann, who helped lead the Irish to the Finals title last year.

Mann, Andrew Finley, Evan Wurtz and Isaac Backman won the 800-meter relay with a time of 1:31.55 last season, setting a school record as well.

While he lost his relay mates, Mann said there are good runners to replace them.

“(Senior) Brice Brown is coming out to do track, and I’ve been working with him this winter,” Mann said. “Jude Coffman, who is a sophomore, is coming out this year. I think he’s going to be a good addition to our 4-by-1.

“(Junior) Gabe Oeurn, last year he was running solid times, but this year he’s been putting in the work and I think he’ll be able to break that 12-second barrier.”

Mann, who will attend Ashland (Ohio) University on a track scholarship in the fall, also added gold in the 200-meter dash (22.82) last season.

“Last year, I played basketball and was able to lift to keep in shape,” he said. “This year, I wanted to focus all my time on track, so I’ve been doing indoor track, practicing once a week and going to meets on weekends.”

He continued to put his skills on display as a running back during football season with Kalamazoo United, ending the fall with 1,413 rushing yards on 177 carries and 267 receiving yards on 10 catches.

Opportunities & possibilities

The biggest group of competitors impacted by graduation are the sprinters, coach Charissa Dean said.

“Hackett’s been really big on sprinting talent in general,” she said. “But track has 17 events, and only two of them are open sprint events and two are relays.

Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. “The other 13 are wide open for possibilities, and there’s a lot of younger talent that’s coming back this year. While they didn’t go to the state meet, they are the next generation of athletes coming up.”

Among that next generation are freshmen Marek Butkiewicz and Sean Siems, who “are incredibly talented athletes,” Dean said.

“(Junior) Gavin Sehy figured out how to do the distance thing this year in cross country.”

Sehy said he wanted to run track, but wasn’t sure where he fit.

“I thought I was mid-distance when I was younger, but my dad forced me to do cross country my sixth-grade year and it turned out I was decent at it so I kept doing (long distance) in track,” he said.

“It’s kind of brutal at times to train for long distance, mentally and physically, because you have to go on long runs, but I have fun with it. At the cross country state finals, I hit an 11 flat split at the two-mile, which beat my 3,200 best from last season, so we have yet to see my best times.”

Butkiewicz and Sehy have been running consistently six days a week all winter to prepare for their first meet, March 22.

“I’ve never done track,” the freshman said. “I know I can perform well. I know my times compared to other people.”

A sophomore this year, Alex Dumont had a 400-meter time that “came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “Toward the end of the season we recruited him to do the 4x8, so an 800-meter runner. That kid came through.

‘We actually took him to the state meet in the 4x8. He did the lead leg, and I clocked him at a 2:07. He was sprinting. It was an amazing leg in that relay.”

Seeing potential

It was Germinder who converted Wheeler to the pole vault last year.

“Harrison’s a strong athlete, and just the way his mind works in that he asks questions and he wants to learn and he wants to improve,” she said.

“He wants to work hard, and he wants to put in the time. That’s something you need for that, along with the athletic component.”

The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. Wheeler, who said he was shocked at being successful right away, competed for two weeks last season before a foot injury suffered on a vault sidelined him.

“It took her a whole season to finally convince me to do it,” he said. “I grabbed a pole one day and ended up being really good at it. Ever since, I’ve had a love of it.

“The feeling I have once I get in the air is almost like I’m just floating. When you get really good vaults and you get that nice height and good form, you get what we call a ‘stall.’ You just feel like you’re sitting up in the air for a second. It’s gotta be the coolest thing ever.”

Germinder has the background to help the Irish vaulters.

While at Hackett, she competed in the AAU National Championships and said she learned from the best, Oran Mitchell, a noted pole vaulting coach.

Her own coaching style revolves around the safety of the athletes.

“You can teach a lot of people to grab hold of a pole and pop yourself over,” she said. “But I want to make sure my athletes are safe. That’s really, really important to me, and that’s something that was instilled in me.

“When you’re jumping 6 to 16 feet, that’s a long way to fall. Safety is very important to me. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then I’m not the coach for you.”

Germinder said one of the foundations on which the team is built is leadership, which was instilled in the younger athletes by last year’s seniors.

“That’s one of the things our program is built on,” she said. “If you’re there because you want to get ready for the next sports season, we’ll coach you for that.

“If you want to be a state champion, we’ll coach you for that. That’s the really unique thing about track. There’s something for everyone, whatever that might be.”

As for the girls team, numbers are steadily climbing.

Five years ago, the team had just two girls. This year, 25 girls are on the team.

No matter girls or boys, track or field events, one thing is common for all the athletes.

“We pray before every meet, we put God first, and all those pieces have fallen into place for us.” Germinder said.

“I really believe that foundation is what is going to be our success this year. It’s there, it’s just a different team.”

Pam ShebestPam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Hackett's Harrison Wheeler points to the pole vaulting record he hopes to break this season, while pole vaulting coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder points to the record she still holds at the school. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. (Below) The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. (Top photo and head shots by Pam Shebest; team photo courtesy of Hackett track & field.)