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.)

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)