No Track, No Problem for Champion Dux
June 9, 2014
By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Phil Hoover is looking forward to returning to Zeeland’s renovated stadium for the 2015 track and field season.
But his Zeeland West boys team – which shares the stadium each spring with neighboring Zeeland East and one of the district’s middle schools – might be hesitant to switch things up.
It’s tough to question the methods that led the Dux to win their first MHSAA championship June 7 – despite having no track or field to practice on and no home meets during the regular season.
In fact, West finished this season perfect, winning its league, Regional and the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final and all 16 of its events this spring – despite traveling for every single one.
The track surface showed signs it needed replacing during last fall’s football season, but the football team was on its way to winning the MHSAA Division 3 championship. Demolition was put off until after football season ended, and reconstruction continued through last week.
“We as coaches agreed that we didn't want to make a big deal out of it,” Hoover said. “We went with the status quo. I don’t think they were stressed about it. The kids were great; they were never like, ‘Why don’t we have a track?’ They adapted quickly.”
And who needs a track when you've got a gym and hallways?
Coaches split with groups of athletes (the team had 65 total) to practice throughout the school – high jump in the gym, sprinters on the carpeted hallways, more events in other areas of the building.
Hoover, who has coached the team since the school opened in fall 2005, spent 3-4 hours every Sunday mapping where and what his athletes would practice over the following week.
Of course there were challenges. Tracks are curved and school hallways generally are not – so runners took off down a hall and had to make two 90-degree turns to run back.
And there had to be some break from tradition, like the usual Monday meeting spot at the track where the team would hash out its training schedule.
The Dux were able to use three lanes to the side of the track to work on hurdles and getting out of starting blocks, and also traveled to Hope College for a few practices.
There wasn't any kind of “us against the world” mentality Hoover could've conjured up as extra motivation for his team without a track. But he did say the all-road show might’ve benefited his athletes at the end of the season when they traveled for the spring’s most important meets.
It also surely helped to have a skilled and knowledgeable senior class that had been part of two MHSAA football championships and won the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association team state title in 2013 (the Dux ended up winning that event this spring as well). “We came into this year pretty focused to accomplish some things,” Hoover said. “We laid out the possibility of winning the state meet and focused on that.”
Zeeland West placed in seven events at the LP Division 2 Final at Houseman Stadium, with senior Jason Tran in the 300 hurdles its only individual champion. But the mix of points coming from sprints, hurdles and middle distance helped the Dux outpace runner-up Auburn Hills Avondale by 10.
Hoover said he missed this spring the daily scene at Zeeland’s staditum, where practices usually included 400 athletes mixing together from all three schools. But his Dux proved practice can make perfect – even if that practice comes in an unconventional setting.
“It’s strange here. The kids come to practice, and they really trust us,” Hoover said. “We feel we put out good training for them, and there’s not ever a question."
Good news for MHSAA hockey
A revised schedule coming this fall from the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association should provide a big boost to high school hockey in this state – and open up opportunities for athletes to play fall high school sports as well.
MAHA will this fall add an early season for its Midget A and AA teams – made up of high school-age players – allowing those players the opportunity to play both travel hockey in the fall and then high school hockey in the winter after that “early” travel season ends Nov. 8. MAHA also will play a "late" travel season – beginning Dec. 1 – which will allow travel hockey players the opportunity to play fall high school sports before hockey season in the winter.
Previously, the travel season began at the start of fall and concluded at the end of winter with MAHA’s state tournament. MAHA teams will still be able to play that traditional full season – but the MAHA state championship tournament in March will feature the top teams from the “early” and “late” seasons facing off after the MHSAA tournament is complete.
“The current system creates a lot of uncertainty and stress on the players who want to play high school hockey,” said Don Wright, MAHA high school hockey director, in a press release. “They have to gamble on which team they might make and hope they gamble correctly so they have a place to play come November. These expanded opportunities will also allow for increased skill development of these players prior to the start of the MHSAA season.”
The MAHA “late” season teams will hold tryouts after MHSAA hockey season practice has begun, allowing athletes who did not make their high school teams an opportunity to return to travel hockey for the winter.
Check out this Saginaw News story we came across leading up to the MHSAA Track and Field Finals on May 31.
Hugh Bernreuter tells of Saginaw Nouvel parent Celia Sullivan, who did not expect to see her son graduate as she suffered liver failure two years ago – but got that opportunity this spring thanks to another football mom, Sue Joynt, who donated 60 percent of her liver to Sullivan.
One of Sullivan’s thoughts that stuck most:
"I'm a bit of a control freak. I didn't need a transplant. I can go on. I thought I could beat it, but finally the doctors got through to me. This is something you don't beat. You cannot wait. You will die."
Click to read the entire piece.
PHOTO: Zeeland West's Jason Tran runs the 300 hurdles at this season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals at Houseman Stadium.
Schools Come Together to Help Coleman Trio Complete Dream Weekend
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
June 8, 2023
After teaming up to win a softball District title and an all-state track medal over a two-day stretch, Coleman juniors Madison Miller, Nevaeh Chaffee and Ava Gross had earned some time to relax.
“I was definitely relieved,” Chaffee said. “It felt good to be leaving the track meet with a medal, regardless of what place it was. But I definitely came home and took a fat nap.”
The trio was instrumental in leading the Comets to a Division 4 District softball title Friday, as they knocked off Farwell and Beal City.
A day later, they joined senior teammate Amber Nehrig to take fifth in the 400-meter relay at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Track & Field Finals in Hudsonville.
‘It was fun just to be able to do both,” Gross said. “We worked so hard to play in both.”
All that hard work was almost for naught, and not because of anything any of the athletes had done. It took a lot of work behind the scenes from participating athletic departments and school districts to move the District softball tournament. And that wasn’t confirmed until eight days before it was played.
The tournament was originally scheduled for Saturday, and Coleman softball coach Chad Kopf had alerted his athletic director early that he would like it to be moved to avoid a conflict with the track Finals.
However, host Beal City had to work through multiple issues to make it work. Friday was the final day of exam prep for Beal City students, so administrators did not want to have them miss any of the school day. It was also field day for the elementary school, which was going to make parking at the school even more chaotic. On top of that, Beal City softball coach Jason Johnston is the elementary principal, meaning he would have to be present at the field day.
Athletic directors and superintendents were all involved to make it work, and eventually, a compromise was found. Coleman had offered to bus in all its fans to cut down on parking, and to swap the order of games, so Beal City and Marion – which also had a Finals-bound track athlete – could play the later game.
It all added up to Miller, Chaffee and Gross – Coleman’s 1, 2 and 3 hitters, as well as its pitcher, shortstop and centerfielder – not having to choose between major events.
“It makes you feel good,” Kopf said. “Coming off of COVID a couple years ago, you’re still in that mindset of, ‘Is everything that’s done right for the kids?’ (The collaborative effort to move the District) made it feel like we’re in it for the right reasons. Knowing that they made these exceptions, almost solely for us, that’s a lot of selflessness on the part of Beal City. It was great sportsmanship.”
The effort that went into moving the District wasn’t lost on the athletes, either.
“I was happy to know that people were actually trying to get us to do both, because obviously it’s an amazing experience,” Gross said. “Knowing they were putting in the work, that was really nice and thoughtful of them.”
There was, unfortunately, one more bump in the road – getting Gross and Chaffee healthy enough to compete.
Right before the decision to move the District was made, and just 10 days before it was contested, Chaffee took a thrown ball off the kneecap. A day later, Gross injured her ankle and foot long jumping. Neither was cleared until the day before the District tournament.
“We’ve been nursing injuries, nursing arms for about the last month,” said Kopf, who has just 11 players on his roster. “Once we knew we were out of the conference race, we had to save some bodies and be smart with how we practiced. Coming into Thursday, we were still waiting to hear if Nevaeh and Ava were going to be able to play. Both got cleared Thursday, and when (we) got on the bus Friday, that was probably the most focused group I’ve seen.”
Miller pitched a pair of complete games for the Comets in the District, getting a shutout against Farwell and striking out a total of 17 batters over the two games. She also had five hits. Gross had four hits on the day.
“It was very, very special,” Miller said. “Going into it, I wasn’t able to pitch more than one game. My arm had kind of let go, and I didn’t have anything left. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to get us to where we needed to be. In the past couple years, I’ve noticed I throw a lot better in the heat, and we hadn’t really had many hot-weather games.”
The next day, the trio was on the track in Hudsonville. In addition to their relay, Miller competed in the long jump and the pole vault, while Chafee ran the 100 meters. She had qualified for the 200, but scratched to save herself for the relay.
They teamed with Nehrig to run a season-best time of 52.62 seconds in the second-to-last heat. They had to watch the final heat to see if they’d place.
“That heat was insane,” Miller said. “It was very insane. They had live timing and live results, so as soon as that heat was done we knew. It was almost immediate.”
Now, the girls can focus solely on softball as the Comets prepare for a Regional Semifinal on Saturday against Alcona at Carson City-Crystal.
But they hope that this weekend’s experience wasn’t once-in-a-lifetime, and they can repeat it a year from now. Without all the nervous moments beforehand, of course.
“I look forward to it, actually,” Chaffee said.
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) From left, Coleman’s Nevaeh Chaffee, Madison Miller and Ava Gross show their team’s District softball trophy won Friday at Beal City. (Middle) From left, Chaffee, Gross, Amber Nehrig and Miller take a relay photo together Saturday at the LP Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville’s Baldwin Middle School. (Photos courtesy of the Coleman athletic department.)