Parchment Enjoys Exchange of Experiences

By Pam Shebest
Special for

May 23, 2016

PARCHMENT — Pecan pie and snow are just two surprises Khaled Bukhamseen found as an exchange student at Parchment High School.

“Pies are not as famous back home,” he said. “I actually learned how to make them so I can do that back home.

“My favorite is pecan pie. Oh my gosh.”

The Dammam, Saudi Arabia, native, who played soccer in the fall and competed on the track & field team this spring, had never seen snow.

“It was pretty sweet the first couple times, but then I got sick of it,” he said, grinning. “It was like, ‘OK, we had fun, you can leave now.’

“I had to buy actual winter clothes.”

Another surprise was organized sports.

When Bukhamseen decided to try out for the Parchment track team, he figured he would just drop in for practice whenever he felt like exercising.

He got a reality check when he realized what a commitment he had to make.

“They told me about track and the activities you can do, like races,” he said. “I thought I would give it a try. I was pretty sure I would like it because I’m fast.

“I like the competition. Sometimes you do so good and you get first place and you feel like you’re the best on the team. That’s the good part about it.”

Parchment’s track season is over for all but the six individuals who qualified last week for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. The exchange student is not one of them – but will finish his year in the United States with an experience valuable not only to him but his teammates and coaches as well.

The only high school sports at Bukhamseen’s school in Dammam are in physical education classes.

“I played soccer, but it was just a PE class where they try to vary the sports,” he said. “That was pretty much the only thing I did, and it was like once a week for 45 minutes.”

Once Bukhamseen showed interest in joining the track team, coach Matt Hodgson evaluated him for his strengths and weaknesses along with what the team needed.

“Khaled appeared to us to be stronger in the sprints than long distance,” Hodgson said. “I don’t think running five miles a day out on the road is something that interested him.”

The coach also made sure the sprinter knew what was expected.

“Organized athletics (in Saudi Arabia) are not like they are in America,” Hodgson said. “In fact, one day we talked about it and he said when he first came out for track he thought it was something you kinda showed up for and practiced when you wanted to and made a meet when you wanted to. 

“He said, ‘You don’t allow that, coach, do you?’ I said no; when you commit, you commit and you’re expected to be here every day.”

Bukhamseen competed in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, 400 relay and long jump.

Hodgson said Bukhamseen brought a lot of energy to the team.

“We always expect something quite hilarious to come out of his mouth daily,” the coach said. “He’s a good teammate who has really bonded with a lot of the kids on the team.

“Because he’s not used to this organization of athletics, he’s oftentimes running around saying ‘Coach, when’s my event, what am I doing?’ We always expect him to be a little frazzled at times at meets, and it’s quite comical.”

Bukhamseen wasn’t the only one benefiting from the exchange program. Members of the track team did, too.

He’s given us a different perspective on the world, and he’s told us about the people of Saudi Arabia,” said Donavan Hodgson, the coach’s son, who runs anchor on the 400 relay team. He’s a really funny guy and a really cool guy, too.”

Students also are getting a lesson in culture.

“I think in the United States, especially, there’s a really bad rap on Muslims and people from those areas,” Donavan Hodgson said. “Khaled’s the exact opposite of what (some may) think. He’s the most passive-aggressive guy ever. He’s a really good guy.”

Bukhamseen started the school year with the Kellay Fall and Bill Evans family and for the last few months has lived with the Kira and Franz Griggs family.

Kira Griggs was an exchange student in Paraguay when she was 15 years old and sees hosting a student as paying it forward.

“They really integrate into your family much more than you think,” she said. “You adapt to each other; he’s just another family member.

“He’s a typical teenager; always on his phone, out with friends. His English is so perfect. He’s a great kid, a great student. He has a lot of friends.”

Bukhamseen said it is not unusual for Saudis to study in the United States, especially for college, and his two brothers are currently studying in Seattle.

Although his native language is Arabic, Bukhamseen speaks excellent English.

“In Saudi Arabia it’s mandatory to learn English in first grade,” he said. “My dad has kept it up with me. My dad went to Houston to college.”

Bukhamseen takes most of his class notes in English, but, “If I have a note to the side, I’d write it in Arabic quick, especially a vocab test every Friday,” he said. “I would write the equivalent of the word in Arabic so I wouldn’t forget it.”

Track wasn’t his only sport at Parchment. 

When he first came to the United States in August, he integrated himself by joining the soccer team.

That also was an awakening.

“Having a team and a coach and practices, it’s way different than having it just once a week,” he said.

“I had to work out a little extra. They started earlier than me because I came a little late (August) to start the season.”

Soccer coach Matt Streitel has had exchange students on his teams before and said that each boy brings something different to the team.

“It’s cool,” he said. “You get that culture you might not get from other students.

“Khaled had a little bit of skill and was excited to be there.”

Bukhamseen had to go through a rigorous workshop before being accepted into the AFS Intercultural Program.

“Khaled has a great sense of humor,” said David Person, co-coordinator for the West Michigan chapter. “He had to go to Riyadh for orientation and he said it was from 7 to 8, so he thought he’d be in and out in an hour but it was a 13-hour orientation.

“What he had to go through to get here was very stringent. He’s the cream of the crop.”

Bukhamseen is also part of the YES Program, a government-sponsored youth exchange and study, Person said. 

“He’s here under U.S. government scholarship,” he said. “They go out and choose the best students ever, the future leaders.

“The YES Program works with programs that have large Muslim populations. He’s one of three YES students in this (southwest Michigan) area.” 

The others are at Kalamazoo Central and Battle Creek Central.

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 protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Khaled Bukhamseen rounds a turn during a recent Parchment track practice. (Middle top) Bukhamseen, Parchment coach Matt Hodgson, teammate Donavan Hodgson. (Middle below) Bukhamseen trains in the long jump. (Below) David Person, Kira Griggs. (Photos by Pam Shebest.)

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

By John Vrancic
Special for

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.)