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.)

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)