Heritage Sprinter Off to Stunning Start

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 2, 2018

When Marcus Montgomery took the advice of his good friend Juwan Roberts and joined the Saginaw Heritage track team prior to the 2017 season, he did it with the simple expectation of having fun.

He never imagined where he would be a year later – among the top 400-meter runners in the state and starting to see interest from Division I colleges. Montgomery’s personal best 400 time of 48.81 seconds, in a race he didn’t run competitively until this past winter, ranks third in the state this season in all divisions.

It’s an emergence longtime Heritage boys track coach Gary Loubert called “nothing short of stunning.”

“I wouldn’t have believed (this was possible),” the Heritage senior said. “Last year, at the beginning of the season, (Heritage girls track coach Ricky Flowers) did say that he was going to get me to states, but that was for the 100. But now, he’s got me somewhere I never thought I would be in a whole different event.”

As a junior, Montgomery started as a jumper, and eventually moved to sprints, where he was solid in the 100 and 200. While his times didn’t scream championship runner, the raw ability he showed while running at least gave a hint it could be pulled out of him. At 6-foot-4, Montgomery had the stride length – he just needed to learn how to use it.

Enter Flowers, a former World Class sprinter who ran at Michigan State University. Flowers, who coaches sprinters for both Heritage teams, took Montgomery under his wing, and even through the disappointment of him being academically ineligible to run in the 2017 Regional meet, he stuck with the talented youngster, encouraging him to work on the sport in the offseason.

“I just saw the length that he had and how he ran, and I said, ‘This kid probably could do something with some teaching,’” Flowers said. “I started giving him workouts and teaching him just how to run. This fall, I put it out to some of the kids to join my track club … long story short, Marcus ran indoors, he ran a 48. He came to all my practices, he got a taste of winning and learning how to run and finish races. Now we can’t keep him off the track. The best is yet to come.”

Montgomery’s first 400-meter run was more of a learning experience than a triumph. He finished it in about 54 seconds after running with no plan in place.

“For my first time, I did not have a strategy at all,” he said. “I full-on sprinted. I’m not going to lie, I was winded halfway through it. I honestly didn’t think (it would be my race) because of how winded I was, but just kept working at it.”

He ran at the Michigan Indoor Track Series meet in Saginaw and placed fourth with a time of 49.39 seconds, and won the Saginaw Valley State University Division 1 Indoor Invitational with a time of 49.2. He also qualified for the national competition in New York, but did not make the trip.

Now, even though the weather has been less than ideal for displays of speed, he’s carried that momentum over into his outdoor season, where he’s yet to be defeated in the 400. His success on the track has led to more focus off it, as Montgomery has put more focus on his school work.

“The success Marcus has been enjoying is transformative on so many other levels,” Loubert said. “He has grown in wonderful ways with a confident, but courteous attitude. He is extremely outgoing and a pure joy to coach. His teammates have really enjoyed watching the growth, too. He has definitely become a lead-by-example athlete. They are inspired by his progress and admire how smooth he runs. A little hard work and a growing positive attitude have been a catalyst for not only Marcus, but others are noticing and buying in. He is writing a story that will help strengthen our culture as a program.”

The prospect of running collegiately is a major motivator for Montgomery, who realizes that listening to his friend and coming out for track a year ago could very well have changed his life. He said the possibility has made him want to become a better student, as well as a better athlete.

But on the track, the future isn’t his concern.

“Coach has talked to me about that, about the things I can do and the things I have possibly in the future,” Montgomery said. “Myself, I’m more concentrated on right now. I’m sure when that time comes, it will hit me and my mind will be blown.”

Montgomery is worrying about being the best 400-meter runner he can be. Being the best 400-meter runner in Heritage history (the school record is within sight at 48.1), and the best 400-meter runner in the state.

“I want to be one of those guys that brings back a state championship for Heritage,” he said. “Most of this I’m doing not only for myself, but for my family and my school in general. I want to make everyone proud.”

Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Marcus Montgomery (196) charges through a turn during the 400 at the MITS state meet in February at Saginaw Valley State University. (Middle) Montgomery sprints the final stretch during a race this spring. (Top photo by RunMichigan.com; bottom photo courtesy of Marcus Montgomery.)

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

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)