Fruitport's Oleen Catches Up Quickly

April 12, 2018

By Tom Kendra
Special for Second Half

Cameron Oleen first ran track his sophomore year.

As a junior last spring, he was the 400-meter champion at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals.

While pulling off that feat is certainly a testament to the Fruitport High School senior’s talent, work ethic and determination, it also illustrates Oleen’s potential as he gains more experience on the track.

“Cam is still learning – that’s the exciting part,” said 15th-year Fruitport boys track coach Chad Brandow, wearing his winter coat and gloves during a recent practice. “He is a state champion who is still very raw. To be honest with you, Cam is one of the main reasons I’m still out here. I was gonna hang it up a couple years ago, but I want to be here to see what this kid can do.”

What Oleen wants to do is add two more Finals titles before starting his collegiate running career at Michigan State University, where he has verbally committed to attend as a preferred walk-on.

He already has two titles under his belt. The first came that sophomore year, when he ran a leg on Fruitport’s winning 3,200-meter relay, teaming with Kody Brooks, Seth Glover and Noah Hendricks for a winning time of 7:54.39. Then came last year’s shocking victory in the 400, when he dove at the tape to win with a personal-best time of 49.21.

“If you asked me last year if I could win state in the 400, I would have said no way,” said Oleen, who also runs cross country and plays basketball at Fruitport. “But when we were approaching the final turn, with about 150 meters left, I realized that I could win and be a state champion. That was kind of a turning point for me.”

As is often the case for Oleen in big races, he was trailing multiple runners nearing the end, including neighboring rival Isaiah Pierce of Spring Lake. But Oleen, motivated by Fruitport’s disappointing seventh-place finish in the 3,200-meter relay earlier in the day, kicked on the after-burners and won in a photo finish.

“The last 100 meters, I couldn’t feel my legs, so I just ran with my heart the whole way,” explained Oleen.

His goal for this spring is to pull off a rare double at the MHSAA Division 2 Finals on June 2 at Zeeland - repeat as champion in the 400, then come back just two events later and win the 800.

It’s a daunting (and tiring) goal, but Brandow said if there is anyone who can do it, it’s Oleen.

“He doesn’t get tired,” said Brandow, who is in his 30th year coaching track, with previous stops at Muskegon Heights and Muskegon High. “Cam will do the sprint workouts with the sprinters and then turn around and do the distance workouts right after. He always works hard. He could pull it off.”

Both Brandow and Fruitport cross country coach Randy Johnson rave about Oleen’s God-given running ability and untapped potential, but they also emphasize that he is a great leader, role model and the ultimate teammate – even when individual opportunities might be at stake.

The best example of that came at the MHSAA LP Division 2 Cross Country Finals his junior year, when Oleen was on pace for a top-30 finish and all-state with less than a quarter-mile to go.

He stopped to help teammate Mitchell Johnson, who was struggling with exhaustion. The teammates ended up walking the final 400 meters together, with Johnson placing 46th and Oleen 47th.

“It was just a natural reaction for me to stop and see how Mitch was doing,” explained Oleen, who came back to earn all-state honors in cross country last fall with a 13th-place finish. “I would do the same thing again. Our coaches teach us that the team is everything.”

Now that he is a senior, Oleen has assumed a leadership role on the team and is trying to provide a good example like 2017 graduates Johnson and Aaron Simot and others provided for him. He even refers to his past and present Fruitport teammates as family, whom he said have helped him through so much both on and off the track.

“One thing that might surprise you about me is that I really don’t like running by myself, especially more than two miles,” said Oleen, the son of Bill and Joy Oleen, with a laugh. “But when I’m out here running with my family, it’s totally different. I forget about it. Any success I’ve had, these people out here are a big part of it.”

Oleen is determined to make the most of his final couple of months with his Fruitport track family. He just returned from a spring break trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., with 18 team members, and now the Trojans are aiming for a fifth straight Greater Muskegon Athletic Association city meet title. Then the focus will shift to Ottawa-Kent Conference Black, Regional and state goals.

Looking ahead to college, Oleen plans to major in kinesiology and become an invested part of both the cross country and track families at MSU, where he could see his main events becoming the 800 and the 1,600. Brandow sees another possibility for his star pupil’s future.

“With his athletic ability, they could put him in the steeplechase,” Brandow said.

Fruitport already has one steeplechase legend in 1995 graduate Tom Chorny, a collegiate star at Indiana University who went on to win the 2001 U.S. Championship in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Chorny, a 2017 inductee into the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame, is now the head track and cross country coach at Miami University (Ohio).

Oleen is approaching his running future with an open mind. After all, less than a year ago, he couldn’t imagine being an individual Finals champion – but that breakthrough win whetted his appetite and now his eyes are wide open.

“I need to have goals to drive me,” Oleen said. “That’s why I put it out there to try and win the 400 and 800 at state, to drive me. I’ve got a bunch of goals in my head for college, too. Then I want to shoot for the 2028 Olympic Games.”

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) Cameron Oleen hits stride during a race last season. (Middle) Oleen after winning his first individual MHSAA Finals championship in 2017. (Photos courtesy of the Fruitport athletic department.)

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.)