Performance: Houghton's Clayton Sayen

May 14, 2018

Clayton Sayen
Houghton senior – Track & Field

Sayen added another night of highlights to an incredible senior campaign, winning a rare race combination of the 100, 400 and 3,200 meters at the Ontonagon Invitational on May 4 to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week” for April 30-May 6. He ran the 100 meters in 11.14 seconds to set a school record and the 400 in 49.76 to break another record he already held; Sayen also owns school records in the 200 (22.63) and 800 (1:56.83) and as part of the 1,600 and 3,200 relays.

Also a standout runner in the fall, Sayen capped his final high school cross country season by leading his team to the Upper Peninsula Division 1 championship and claiming the individual title by a tenth of a second with a time of 16:25.7 – the fourth fastest in U.P. Division 1 Finals history. During the winter, he moved on to hockey and helped the Gremlins to a No. 3 ranking in Division 3 during the regular season. He entered this spring as a three-time U.P. Track & Field Finals individual champion coming off last year’s wins in the 200 and 400 and as part of the 3,200 relay. He’s broken his two goals for this season – to go under 50 seconds in the 400 and 1:57.5 in the 800 – and the fastest meets are coming up with his Regional on Thursday at Negaunee and the Finals on June 2. This season also has provided a chance for Sayen to run with his brother Tyler, a freshman on the team.

Clayton carries a 3.9 grade-point average and will be sticking close to home after this spring, studying and running track and cross country at Michigan Tech. He plans to pursue a degree in engineering management, diving into his interests in science and also business, as he’d like to follow some of the footsteps of his father, a local business owner. But for a few more weeks of high school, Sayen will continue setting the pace – with his trademark headband and sunglasses he’s become known for around the U.P., and also with the speed that should put him in line to contend for a few more championships.

Coach Daniel Junttila said: “I’ve been coaching 38 years and I’m an outgoing guy, and you meet hundreds of coaches and you talk – and I’ve never spoken to anyone, let alone seen it where somebody will run the 3,200 that well, be a Division 1 champion (and then the 100) … that range of athleticism blows me away. And he just keeps bringing it. … I coached him in eighth grade football, so I knew him really well. He’s a special athlete with such will and drive. I could tell honestly when I saw him in eighth grade, and then I watched him in middle school track, and already as a freshman he was doing things that were very uncommon.”

Performance Point: “My primary focus for the day was the 100,” Sayen said of the Ontonagon meet. “I wanted to break our school record in the 100, which was an 11.23. I ended up getting it with an 11.14, and that was my first real event of the day; I ran the (3,200) relay at the beginning, but that was kinda just a cruise. There wasn’t a whole lot of competition there, so I used that as my warm-up. The 100 was to get the day going … and I won, and I was like, ‘Cool, I got the school record. That’s what I was going for today. So mission accomplished.’ It was a nice day overall, and I decided my next event the 400, I was going to push that one too because it was my goal sometime this season to go sub-50. At 49.76 I ran sub-50 and I met that goal, so the day was just excellent as it was. (Then) I’ve got the 2-mile left, so I’m going to see what I have left. I went out and I pushed myself in that one – not a phenomenal time, but I ended up winning. And it was just cool to have a meet under my belt where I won the shortest and the longest events.”

Run ’em all: When I first started in middle school, I was a distance runner. But growing up, I’ve always been a pretty fast sprinter. Way back in elementary school I was always the fastest kid in my class. It wasn’t until this year where I started doing them both, distance and sprints. My freshman year of high school, I was a strict 2-mile, 1-mile guy. And now I’m more of a 200, 400, 800 kind of guy. So I’ve kinda worked my way around the whole spectrum a little bit. This year I’m going to just try to combine the two and have a little fun with it. Because that was my main goal for the season, to have as much fun as I can.”

What a finish: “Cross Country was unbelievable – U.P. champions, I was the Division 1 individual winner. Cross country was so much fun, everything about it. I had a lot of fun in hockey too. We had a pretty successful season, had a lot of highlights there. And to wrap it up with track, how this season is going … senior year, athletically, it would be hard to beat.”

Brotherly bond: Having (Tyler) on the team with me, it’s a lot of fun. He’s a 400/800 runner, just like me, so before he runs I give him my strategy. He’ll go out and do the best he can – he’s a freshman, so he’s not going to put down some crazy times. … Having him on the team with me, it’s good bonding between the two of us.”

Signature style: “The headband, it started back about eighth grade with my buddy Seth (Helman) one day in practice. In middle school, my hair was kinda long, kinda in my eyes, so I told him, ‘I’m going to wear a headband.’ It just carried through high school, and then I decided to grow my hair really long. It’s not anymore; it’s short now. (But) as the years have gone on, the two of us, the headband has become our thing. That’s what we’re known for – head bands and sunglasses – that’s a thing we do together.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2017-18 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2017-18 honorees:
May 3: Autumn Roberts, Traverse City Central tennis - Read
April 26: Thomas Robinson, Wyoming Lee track & field - Read
March 29: Carlos Johnson, Benton Harbor basketball - Read
March 22: Shine Strickland-Gills, Saginaw Heritage basketball - Read
March 15: Skyler Cook-Weeks, Holland Christian swimming - Read
March 8: Dakota Greer, Howard City Tri-County wrestling - Read
March 1: Camree' Clegg, Wayne Memorial basketball - Read
February 23: Aliah Robertson, Sault Ste. Marie swimming - Read
February 16: Austin O'Hearon, Eaton Rapids wrestling - Read
February 9: Sophia Wiard, Muskegon Oakridge basketball - Read
February 2: Brenden Tulpa, Hartland hockey - Read
January 25: Brandon Whitman, Dundee wrestling - Read
January 18: Derek Maas, Holland West Ottawa swimming - Read
January 11: Lexi Niepoth, Bellaire basketball - Read
November 30: La'Darius Jefferson, Muskegon football - Read
November 23: Ashley Turak, Farmington Hills Harrison swimming - Read
November 16: Bryce Veasley, West Bloomfield football - Read 
November 9: Jose Penaloza, Holland soccer - Read
November 2: Karenna Duffey, Macomb L'Anse Creuse North cross country - Read
October 26: Anika Dy, Traverse City West golf - Read
October 19: Andrew Zhang, Bloomfield Hills tennis - Read
October 12: Nolan Fugate, Grand Rapids Catholic Central football - Read
October 5: Marissa Ackerman, Munising tennis - Read
September 28: Minh Le, Portage Central soccer - Read
September 21: Olivia Theis, Lansing Catholic cross country - Read
September 14: Maddy Chinn, Pontiac Notre Dame Prep volleyball - Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Houghton’s Clayton Sayen carries the baton down the stretch during a relay this season. (Middle) Sayen, right, and teammate Seth Helman lead the pack during the U.P. Division 1 Cross Country Final last fall. (Top photo courtesy of the Houghton track & field program; middle photo by Kara Camps.)

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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 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.)