Hackett on Track to Roll Again with Distance Ace Among Those Leading Charge

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

March 12, 2024

KALAMAZOO — After breaking one track record as a freshman, Marek Butkiewicz already has his eyes on two more.

Southwest CorridorNot bad for a runner who did not even plan to run track during his years at Hackett Catholic Prep, a surprise to co-coach Shelly Germinder.

“I had heard plenty about him from some of the ultras (marathons) and different other races he had done,” Germinder said. "His commitment to the sport came through before we ever laid eyes on who he was. We knew he was going to be an asset to us.”

The current sophomore was not so sure.

“At the end of cross country (freshman year), I didn’t even think I wanted to do track,” Butkiewicz said. “Then I did it and it was ‘This is kind of fun.’

“I was good at it. I honestly didn’t have any desire going into (track season), and then I ran a couple fast times and I thought, ‘I can actually do this.’”

Butkiewicz said his freshman cross country season in 2022 was the first time he really took running seriously, and his interest was boosted when he ran a 17:31 at the Kalamazoo Christian Invitational.

“I was super happy to get the freshman record there,” he said.

This past season, Butkiewicz shattered Hackett’s sophomore cross country record, running a personal best 16:12.2 at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final, demolishing the record set by Bryan Martin (16:56) in 2000.

That record also has special meaning to Germinder. Martin is her brother.

Hackett track coaches Charissa Dean, left, and Shelly Germinder hold up last season’s MHSAA Finals championship trophy.The Irish finished in third place at the Final last fall, one point behind Holland Calvary Christian.

With the start of the spring sports season this week, the Hackett boys are hoping to make it three Finals track & field titles in a row and five over six years.

Last year’s boys team made it a sweep, winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference, Regionals, MHSAA Finals and Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association (MITCA) Team State Finals.

The boys and girls teams also earned MITCA Division 4 academic awards, the girls with a cumulative 3.986 GPA and the boys with a 3.909 GPA.

This year’s team has grown from a combined 54 athletes last year to 64 with 38 boys and 26 girls.

“I think the students as a whole are seeing the successes of the team, but I also think it’s some of the flexibility we have in our sport,” Germinder said. “We know there are kids who want a dual sport and want to be involved in other things, and we want that for them, too.

“In a small school, we can’t be successful if we don’t have kids involved in multiple sports because there just aren’t enough bodies.”

Co-coach Charissa Dean said this year’s boys team will have a different look.

“We lost Liam (Mann), who was a really strong sprinter, and he left some big shoes to fill,” she said. “We have a nice nest egg of freshmen and sophomores.

“We had a junior (Gabe Oeurn) last year who is coming into his own, if you look at his track record from freshman to sophomore to junior. Last year, we had Sam Finley who was a freshman, and a sophomore (Jude Coffman) who was first time out.”

Lofty goals

Butkiewicz’s goal is to break his own school 3,200-meter record plus the 1,600-meter record, currently held by Jose Garza (4:27.4 set in 1976).

He’s pursuing a 9.25 in the 3,200 and 4.20 in the 1,600, while his long-term goal is breaking four minutes, hopefully running at a Division I university.

“His dedication, his commitment,” Germinder said. “You can’t teach that. That’s something he does on his own that comes from within. Snow, rain, whatever it is, he’s out there running, no matter what.”

The sophomore said he had no clue about records when he was a freshman, but after turning in a 10:37 in his first 3,200, then 10:05 followed by a 10 flat, he realized a record was in reach.

Butkiewicz credits his dedication for his success.

“I put in hundreds of miles a month, thousands a year, just into grinding and working toward goals,” he said. “I’ll shoot for 40-45 (miles) in-season. Offseason, when I’m building my aerobic base, I want 50 and upwards.”

As a freshman, he found a running buddy in then-junior Gavin Sehy.

“He was the fastest for the past two years and I was a little ahead of him, so we just stuck with each other and trained together,” Butkiewicz said. “Over the winter we started doing a couple miles together.”

Hackett track coaches Charissa Dean, left, and Shelly Germinder hold up last season’s MHSAA Finals championship trophy. Sehy, who is headed to Southwestern Michigan College in the fall, is shooting to break the school’s 800 record plus the 3,200 running with Nick Doerr, Alex Dumont and Butkiewicz.

Sehy was also a running buddy in cross country, finishing second on the team at 16:21.

“(Sehy) always had the potential, but it wasn’t until Marek came along that he started doing that training in the summer,” Dean said. “It has made a massive difference.”

Sehy and Butkiewicz competed in two ultramarathons (more than 26.2 miles) over the summer.

“I had never ran a marathon before, but somehow Marek convinced me to run 38 miles at Kettle Moraine State Forest (Wisconsin),” Sehy said. “And I did. Later in the summer, I ran 50 in Holly, Michigan.”

In the Wisconsin ultra, Butkiewicz was trying to finish the 100-mile run with Sehy pacing him for about 40 miles.

“I ended dropping at mile 75 because of some hip issues but he kept going and finished it,” Butkiewicz said. “The second one in Holly, I was doing 100 miles and he was doing 50, so we pretty much ran together for the first 50.”

Sehy said the two share the same mentality, which makes it easy to have a training buddy.

“We both really want it so bad, and we’re not afraid to do crazy things to get it,” he said. “Last year, during track, we needed to get some more miles in but just ran out of time during the week, so Sunday night we were out running 18 miles until after the sun went down out in the forest.”

Germinder said Sehy has noted he needs to have another runner to really push him.

“That’s one of the really beautiful things about the relationship they have,” she said. “It’s a healthy competition between them, but they want what’s best for each other, too.”

Butkiewicz lives near a land preserve where the two do much of their training, no matter what the weather, and they make it fun, jumping icy puddles and eating berries along the way.

“The coldest day of the year we ran with no shirts just because we could,” Sehy laughed.

When Sehy isn’t available to train, “I’ve been training a lot with Sean Siems; he’s a sophomore, a huge rising talent,” Butkiewicz said.

New year, new leaders

This year’s team will have a different look.

“We lost Liam and Bryce Brown and Nathan Buchmann (discus and only individual Finals champ),” Sehy said. “It’s tough to lose your best guys, but I think we have so much depth on this team, I think we’ll be all right.”

Just two weeks into the young season, Hackett will be on spring break, so many of the athletes pushed the coaches to schedule a meet before then.

The Hackett 3,200 relay, from left: Gavin Sehy, Alex Dumont, Nick Doerr and Butkiewicz.They found one in the Onsted Early Bird Meet on March 20.

“They want to see where they are going into spring break to know, is there extra work we need to do during spring break,” Germinder said. “Having a competition will tell them where they’re at.

“If you do nothing (over spring break), then you’re starting all over again. I think a lot of our athletes recognize that and know they have to work a little more.”

Besides Butkiewicz and Sehy, leaders on the team include pole vaulters/sprinters Jack Prom and Lauren Wild.

“Keegan Gallagher is our biggest cheerleader and keeps the team in good spirits,” Germinder added. “He brings something that isn’t just on the track.”

With such large numbers, “If they’re not competing, we like to take them with us on the bus anyway,” Dean said. “They can help support their teammates, they can run a stopwatch, they can take video of the relay handoffs so we can go back and look at it later.”

In spite of the success on the track or in the field, Germinder said she is most proud of the athletes as people.

“With that leadership comes responsibility of good sportsmanship, how they’re interacting with other teams on the line,” she said. “I love watching our boys praying together with other teams before they’re getting ready to run. Or shaking hands before or after, especially sprinting events. It says a lot about who we are.”

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) Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep’s Marek Butkiewicz rounds a curve during a race last season. (2) Butkiewicz shows the school record board, including his 3,200 entry earned last season. (3) Hackett track coaches Charissa Dean, left, and Shelly Germinder hold up last season’s MHSAA Finals championship trophy. (4) The Hackett 3,200 relay, from left: Gavin Sehy, Alex Dumont, Nick Doerr and Butkiewicz. (Action, coaches and relay photos courtesy of the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep boys track & field program; record board photo by Pam Shebest.)

Hackett Catholic Prep's Baldwin Carrying Hopes from Home to Paris

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

July 12, 2024

KALAMAZOO — Heath Baldwin studied Spanish at Hackett Catholic Prep, but he will need to brush up on some French as he heads to Paris to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The recent Michigan State University grad, who earned a master’s degree in marketing and research analytics, will compete in the decathlon, a two-day event Aug. 2-3 at the Stade de France.

While the Olympics will be televised in the United States, because of the time difference, Baldwin’s events will take place locally during the early morning hours.

Wishing him a Bon Voyage, more than 200 former classmates, friends, family and well-wishers plus six television crews congregated Thursday for an impressive sendoff, starting with the Hackett “Summer Ensemble” playing the school fight song.

A 2019 Hackett grad, Baldwin led the track & field team to three Regional championships, two MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 titles, was an individual five-time Finals champion, holds four school records and was named track & field Athlete of the Year for all divisions his senior season by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association.

“I went through a lot at Hackett, obviously, with my dad (Roger)  passing away (in 2016) and I always had a great support system of people who took care of my family and made sure we were doing good,” Baldwin said. “They’ve stuck with me through college, too, following me in all my events and to this point, so it’s cool that I’m doing well now and they’re along for the ride.”

Hackett clears a hurdle during the 2019 MHSAA Finals.The ride will begin Tuesday when Baldwin travels to Germany to train before heading to Paris.

“Everything’s starting to feel more real,” he said. “I think once I get to Germany and start to train with other people, we’ll be able to get a little competitive. I think it will be fun training in Paris.”

Facing a huge crowd in Paris should not be a problem, he said.

“The more people will only help me. I’m a big adrenalin guy. I feel like I get more nervous talking at an event like this than I do for the Olympic Games.

“Once I get out on the track, everything just feels natural to me.”

Naturally a no-brainer

Baldwin’s Finals championships for Hackett had come in high jump, long jump and both hurdles races. Tackling the grueling decathlon was a no-brainer.

“I was good at the hurdles, high jump, long jump, which are three very technical events in the decathlon, so if you’re good at those three, you usually can pick up the other ones pretty easily is what they say,” he said.

“Also, I played baseball as a pitcher, so that correlated with the javelin. A lot of college coaches recruited me off that, I think.”

Baldwin said knew 2024 was an Olympic year, “so I thought it was something I maybe could do. After last year, when I scored above 8,000 points (in the decathlon) for the first time and came in sixth at the USAs, it became a little more realistic for me.”

The personable athlete not only qualified for the Olympics at this year’s U.S. Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., but won the decathlon with a personal best 8,625 points.

He finished first in the shot put (54 feet, 2½ inches), high jump (6-11¾), 110 hurdles (13.77 seconds) and javelin throw (218-9). 

MHSAA trophies Baldwin helped win decorated the stage for his sendoff.Other decathlon events are the 100 dash, long jump, 400 run, discus, pole vault and 1,500 run.

Baldwin earned Great Lakes Region Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year honors and was named first team Academic All-American with a 3.8 GPA.

"We were awestruck at his athletic achievements (at Hackett),” said Judge Paul Bridenstine, the “Voice of the Irish.” 

“While he continued to play football, basketball, baseball exceptionally at Hackett, his athletic life was transformed when he was introduced to (former HCP track & field coach Simon Cholometes).”

Cholometes said Baldwin’s success is something that didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Heath put the wheels in motion a long time ago and worked harder than most people can even fathom,” he said. “I can remember 5:40 in the morning, Heath running sprints up that hill over there,” he said, pointing. “A foot of snow, running sprints up that tall hill.

“In college, he’s a Big 10 champ, three-time All-American, Great Lakes Region Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year, MSU’s Athlete of the Year twice, holds five school records plus Big 10 records in heptathlon and decathlon.”

Family won't be far

Baldwin plans to be in Paris for the opening ceremonies and will be cheered on by his mom Suzann, sister Hope and brothers Aiden and Gowan.

The Olympian also will have a remembrance of his late father with him. He has a tattoo of his dad’s signature on the inside of his upper left arm.

A hurdle that was gifted to Baldwin on Thursday.Losing his father “was a big part of my life and obviously changed my perspective in the way I train and the way I live in a way he’d be proud of,” Baldwin said.

“We set some big goals going into this year and it’s been a dream. I love representing the Kalamazoo community and Michigan, Hackett and Michigan State.

“I like to remember everybody I compete for, and I think that gives you a bigger purpose when you go out there. That’s definitely something I’ll be doing at the Olympics in Paris. I’m excited to represent there and hopefully go for a medal.”

PHOTOS (Top) Health Baldwin, seated, signs a hat during his sendoff Thursday at Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep. (2) Baldwin clears a hurdle during the 2019 MHSAA Finals. (3) A hurdle was gifted to Baldwin on Thursday. (4) MHSAA trophies Baldwin helped win decorated the stage for his sendoff. (Sendoff photo by Pam Shebest.)