Lober Begins 50th Year On Track at TC Central

March 29, 2019

By Chris Dobrowolski
Special for Second Half

Traverse City Central boys track & field coach John Lober has a seemingly endless number of stories about athletes he convinced to come out for the sport.

The collection of pictures from teams of the past and championship trophies that adorn his office deep in the recesses of Central High School are just as impressive as the anecdotes. All are the byproduct of a legendary career coaching track that has spanned 55 years.

Lober is adding yet another milestone to his legacy this spring as he has started his 50th season of coaching at Central — a half-century of impacting runners and churning out successful teams at the school.

“If you would’ve told me I was going to be some place for 50 years when I started out here (I wouldn’t have believed it),” said Lober. “Nobody does that. I just feel very blessed that I’ve been able to do now what I’ve been doing all these years.”

Lober has maintained the same formula for coaching his teams — work hard, be responsible, do the right thing and treat others with kindness — principles he learned at a young age and the basic tenets for how he’s lived his life.

“I told the kids, ‘We don’t have any rules,’” he explains. “We could have 10 pages of rules, but I’m not going to do that, so we don’t have any rules. We have expectations, though. If you can’t meet those expectations this is the wrong place to spend your afternoons.

“Everything is a choice in life. You choose to be here, you choose how hard you work, you choose your attitude when you get up in the morning.”

The results have been unmistakable. One MHSAA Finals championship in 1992, 10 times finishing in the top 10, 11 Regional championships, 15 Big North Conference titles — including a current streak of 10 in a row — and five Lake Michigan Athletic Conference crowns. He has coached 54 athletes who reached an all-state level and 10 who were state champions. Six state record holders have come from Lober’s program.

Lober joined Joe Neihardt’s staff in 1969 at Traverse City High School after stints at Bellaire and in Sylvania, Ohio. He took over as head coach in 1977 and has been a fixture in the position. His focus has always been on the track & field teams at Central, but he’s been a major proponent for the sport no matter the school. He takes pride in the running successes of the athletes and coaches at the other high schools in Traverse City — Lober was right there when Central and West split into two schools in 1997 — and around the northern Michigan region.

“I’ve advocated for the sport and the student,” said Lober. “This isn’t about me. It’s about kids walking off that stage with an experience. It’s a positive experience, and we’re using our sport to educate.”

Lober has certainly done his share of work to generate increased participation in track & field. The Trojans regularly have 100-plus members, a reflection of the time he spends recruiting students to the team.

Traverse City Central junior Nathan Hullman had never run track before this season, but he had friends on the team and elected to join the program after Lober showed up in the weight room one day and started detailing all the benefits of the sport. Hullman will be a sprinter for the Trojans.

“He’s been doing it for 50 years. He seems like he knows a lot. He sounds like he’s coached a lot of good teams. I have faith in him,” said Hullman. “I hope to just learn how to run better, to get faster.”

Lober retired from teaching in 2000, but he is a familiar face around school and at sporting events. His affable personality and longevity as a coach have made him a popular icon in the community.

“He was the first person to call me when I took the job,” said Central athletic director Zac Stevenson, who came to the school in October from Battle Creek Lakeview and is the ninth AD since Lober started at Central. “The principal asked if she could share my information with everyone. Then within minutes he reached out to me via text message and welcomed me to the community, introducing himself. He is so super supportive. I have seen him at home games — boys basketball, girls basketball, wrestling meets. He’s there supporting kids and supporting staff all the time. It’s so exciting to watch.”

Lober coached cross country at Central for 28 years, too, but retired from that position two years ago. That freed him up to spend more time golfing, or watch his grandsons play football. He thought he was going to hang it up as a track & field coach last season as well, even telling then-athletic director Mark Mattson that 2018 was going to be his last year. But one day in his office, as he watched his veteran coaching staff of Don Lukens, Chris Ludka, Konrad Visser, Tim Donahey, John Piatek, Bryan Burns and Tony Moreno get ready for practice, he realized he wasn’t ready to give it up.

“I was sitting down here and the coaches are all down here and I’m seeing them talking back and forth and I thought, ‘I’m not ready to give this up,’” said Lober. “I can’t get that anywhere else in my life. If I didn’t have these guys, who are all veteran coaches, it would be hard for me to come back. We’ve had a lot of talks about that. They know what to expect from me. I know what my expectations are for them.”

The students also brought Lober back. He likes the group he has, and he looks forward to seeing how the 2019 season transpires. He likens this time of year to holding a ball of clay, then molding it into a cohesive unit that comes together and competes at a high level at meets.

Last year’s finished the season tied for seventh at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals, with then-senior Cassidy Henshaw winning the high jump.

“I really like taking a group of guys, bringing them together, teaching them all something and they all have their jobs, so to speak,” said Lober. “You go into a meet, and when it’s all done, we’ll see how we did. As we get into the championship part of the schedule, the first three weeks of May, let’s see where we are. Let’s see where the chips fall.”

Chris Dobrowolski has covered northern Lower Peninsula sports since 1999 at the Ogemaw County Herald, Alpena News, Traverse City Record-Eagle and currently as sports editor at the Antrim Kalkaska Review since 2016. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Traverse City Central boys track & field coach John Lober talks things over during a practice last spring. (Middle) Lober keeps an eye on his watch during a race. (Photos courtesy of WPBN.)

Chippewa Valley's Heard Has Big Plans to Add to All-Time Sprint Legacy

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

May 10, 2024

CLINTON TOWNSHIP — Clinton Township Chippewa Valley senior Shamar Heard admits he’s thought about it, and for good reason.

Greater DetroitAfter all, why not at least entertain the thought of doing something unprecedented in state history when it comes to track & field?

Two years ago as a sophomore, Heard achieved the double in the fastest races, winning both the 100 and 200-meter dashes at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals. 

Last year, Heard completed the trifecta when it came to sprint state titles, focusing solely on the 400 dash and winning that event in 47.78 seconds while also running on first and third-place relays.

So, how about trying to train for and win all three events this year as a senior? Who in the state would be able to stop him? 

“I definitely have been thinking about it,” Heard said. “Because why not? It probably hasn’t been done in a long time, if ever.”

But while the thought has crossed his mind, it won’t happen. It’s a little much on the body — in particular running the 100-meter dash — to try and do all three at once. 

However, Heard in the coming weeks is still in a good position to cement what already is a place among the greatest sprinters to come through the state of Michigan. 

First, he has big things in mind for his specialty race, the 400 meters. He has won two consecutive AAU national titles in that event in addition to the Finals title he won last year, but is craving more.

“I want to be at 45 seconds for the state meet,” Heard said noting the June 1 Finals at East Kentwood. 

In addition, Heard plans on competing in the 200 meters at East Kentwood. He also is a part of Chippewa Valley’s 800 relay team that won last year in 1:26.41. He’s expected to qualify for all three at the Regional on May 17 at Romeo.

Heard prepares to run the winning 400 at last season’s championship meet.When Heard is done with high school, he will continue running track at Tennessee. 

It’s all mighty impressive for a speedster that Chippewa Valley head coach Terry Wilson said hates lifting weights and is “barely above 150 pounds.”

“He doesn’t weigh a whole lot, but he generates a lot of power,” Wilson said. “His strength-to-weight ratio has to be astronomical. He’s just gotten better with his form.”

Throughout his entire life, Heard said he’s simply loved racing. When he was a kid, he would constantly pick out a stop sign on a street or another spot in a yard and race others to the finish, often beating them with ease. 

When he was 10 years old, he was invited by a friend to come out for a track team, and he proceeded to beat others in races continuously. 

As he got a little older, Heard discovered how gifted he was running the 400 meters and started to focus more on that event. 

Heard said he loves the 400 meters so much mostly because he loves embracing a challenge many sprinters don’t want to face. 

“I like that not many people want to go through that pain,” he said. “I take it as a compliment when people look at (the 400) and they say, ‘Hey, people are crazy for doing that.’ That makes me motivated to do it.”

Wilson admits there doesn’t have to be much coaching done with Heard. It’s just simply a matter of getting together before races to discuss how he feels and what his body can do that day. 

“He understands his body a little bit better every year,” Wilson said. “He understands what he needs to get done in races. He’ll run the 200 in practice and I’ll have a stopwatch on him, and he’ll say, ‘That felt like a 24 (seconds). I look at my stopwatch and it’s a 24.2. He has that ability to gauge how fast he’s going. It’s just different with him.” 

Heard also was a football player at Chippewa Valley, but gave the sport up before last fall to focus solely on his track career. 

“I was just looking at the bigger picture,” Heard said. “I was more consistent in one sport than I was the other.”

He will run the 400 meters at Tennessee, and then the sky could be the limit given what he’s accomplished already on a national level.

Until then though, Heard will spend the rest of his high school career trying to win more hardware and leave a mark that might be impossible for future sprinters in Michigan to surpass. 

“I want to give everyone a senior year that they will remember,” Heard said. “I want to go out with one of the most memorable years of a high school athlete.” 

Keith DunlapKeith Dunlap has served in Detroit-area sports media for more than two decades, including as a sportswriter at the Oakland Press from 2001-16 primarily covering high school sports but also college and professional teams. His bylines also have appeared in USA Today, the Washington Post, the Detroit Free Press, the Houston Chronicle and the Boston Globe. He served as the administrator for the Oakland Activities Association’s website from 2017-2020. Contact him at [email protected] with story ideas for Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Chippewa Valley’s Shamar Heard crosses the finish line while anchoring the winning 800 relay at last year’s LPD1 Finals. (Middle) Heard prepares to run the winning 400 at last season’s championship meet. (Click for more from Jamie McNinch/RunMichigan.com.)