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."
PHOTO: Zeeland West's Jason Tran runs the 300 hurdles at this season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals at Houseman Stadium.
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam 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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)