By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
With Gladstone’s boys track & field team set to begin competition two months ago, longtime coach Gary Whitmer described his team in a local newspaper preview as a mystery.
There were signs it could be a special spring, going back at least a year, when the Braves finished third at the Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals thanks in part to then-freshman Calvin Thibault winning both hurdles races.
Whitmer also took notice at the end of the fall when his cross country team finished third in UPD1 – one point ahead of annual distance power Marquette – with Gladstone senior Adam Bruce the individual champion.
The Upper Peninsula Track & Field Finals can be a little bit different game than the championship meets downstate. But Gladstone’s boys solved all the mysteries and played the Finals game well. The MHSAA/Applebee’s “Team of the Month” for May won league championships in both the Great Northern and Mid-Peninsula Conferences, then claimed their Division 1 Regional before winning its first Finals since 2013 on the first day of June.
The Braves won with 127 points, 30 ahead of both Ishpeming Westwood and Marquette – the runners-up in Gladstone’s league title wins. The Braves also broke a four-year Finals winning streak for Marquette, the UP’s largest school with 950 students – twice as many as Gladstone’s 460.
“Downstate, you can come (to the Finals) with 4-5 really good athletes and win it, because there are so many schools,” Whitmer said. “But up here, if you don’t have the numbers … when you get in with Marquette and the Sault and bigger schools, you have a different strategy. You’ve got to get as many kids in there as you can.”
Gladstone had 40 athletes on its boys team this spring. Just fewer than half – 18 – qualified for the Finals during the Braves’ 24-point win at their May 16 Regional. Of that 18, 15 placed among the top six to score in their events at the June 1 Finals.
While Marquette has owned UPD1 over the last decade with seven titles since 2010, Gladstone was similarly dynastic winning six straight from 2004-09 and then again in 2013. But compared to that most recent previous champ, this Braves team enjoyed an important variety of talented athletes – with a boost from a comeback by one of the program’s best all-time.
Bruce had hip surgery in January and didn’t start racing again until May. But whereas Gladstone didn’t place anyone in the 1,600 and 3,200 during the 2013 title run, Bruce won both races this time both at the Regional and Finals. He didn’t get up to speed to break his school records set in both in 2018, but still came through with 20 points at the championship meet and likely would have scored more if he’d run the 800 – the only event at this year’s Finals where Gladstone didn’t have a placer. Bruce was held out of that race to keep his still-recovering legs fresh for the others. He also didn’t run on the 3,200 relay, which without him still cut 25 seconds off its previous best to place third.
“I don’t think the kids think they could’ve done it,” Whitmer said of winning it all. “He kept encouraging them and gave them confidence there was that possibility.”
Thibault did repeat as winner in both hurdles races and took third in the 100 and second in the 200. Sophomore Blake Servant won the discus by more than five feet, and junior Luke Van Brocklin just missed breaking the school record in the 400 while finishing second in a fast, tightly-contested race. Senior hurdler/sprinter James McKnight and junior thrower Greg Chenier also placed in multiple individual events.
Also adding to the Braves’ championship score were senior Jake Strasler, juniors Louis Berube, Jarret St. John and Kyle Van Brocklin; sophomores Wyatt Madden, Lucas Hughes and Ethan Milam; and freshmen Giovanni Mathews and Hunter Potter.
Gladstone won all but one of its meets this spring – finishing behind Marquette in late April at an event that allowed unlimited entries. Sadly, the Braves had additional motivation as well this season after longtime athletic director and assistant coach Matt Houle died Nov. 9. He had coached since the mid-1980s and remained part of Whitmer’s staff since the latter took over as head coach in 2002.
Whitmer had planned to retire with Houle, but not this soon. He’s eager to continue working with the program they helped build, already excited about a strong distance runner coming up and his team’s improving field events.
“I’ll be 64 this year, my wife is a family physician up here, and all six of our kids went to Gladstone High School and graduated from here,” Whitmer said. “I’m just going to keep plugging away, and I enjoy it. We have a great bunch of kids.”
Past Teams of the Month, 2018-19
April: Garden City baseball – Read
March: Holland West Ottawa boys swimming & diving – Read
February: Lowell wrestling – Read
January: Farmington United gymnastics – Read
December: Warren Woods-Tower wrestling – Read
November: Rochester Adams girls swimming & diving – Read
October: Leland boys soccer – Read
September: Pickford football – Read
August: Northville girls golf – Read
PHOTOS: (Top) Gladstone poses with its championship trophy after winning the UPD1 Finals. (Middle) Adam Bruce finishes his title-winning run in the 3,200. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam 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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)