Performance: Lee's Thomas Robinson
April 27, 2018
Wyoming Lee senior – Track & Field
Robinson, a four-time MHSAA Finals sprints champion, is off to another fast start. He swept the 100 and 200 championships at Saturday’s Fred Solis Invitational with two of the fastest times statewide this season to earn the Michigan Army National Guard’s “Performance of the Week.”
The two-time reigning Lower Peninsula Division 3 champ in both races, Robinson ran an 11-second flat 100 and 22.14-second 200 on Saturday and also helped Lee’s 400 and 800 relays to runner-up finishes. The 200 time ranks as the state’s fastest across all divisions this spring, and his 100 time is tied for fourth; he then ran the 100 in a hand-timed 10.84 seconds Tuesday. Over his first two seasons and the first month of this one, Robinson has won all but four of his 100 and 200-meter races – and his only finish lower than second came in a preliminary where he came back to win an MHSAA championship.
Robinson set the LPD3 Finals record with a 21.76 in the 200 last season. His 21.74 in that race is a school record, and is his best of 10.74 in the 100 – both broke previous records set in 1976 – and he also set a school record of 43.97 with the 400 relay team including Tino Savala, Aridel Torres and Gio Santiago. Robinson’s first MHSAA title in 2016 was the program’s first in the sport since 2006, and he also was a receiver and defensive back on a football team that finished 3-6 in the fall – tying its best record since 2007 with more wins than the previous four seasons combined. Robinson carries a 3.38 grade-point average – he earned academic all-state in track last year – and has accepted a full scholarship to Michigan State University, where he’s interested in studying computer, mechanical or electrical engineering. It’s been quite a rise – he didn’t run track for the first time until his sophomore year.
Lee sprints and football coach Tom DeGennaro said: “(Thomas) was always a good student. He is naturally fast. When he was a sophomore, I was coaching at Kelloggsville High School and watched him run in our conference meets. His first race he did not even know how to use blocks and was very raw. I came here last year, and we worked on simple things like arm placement and running form – spent a ton of time on block work and attended track camps. He can go faster with some additional form clean up. … Thomas is a natural talent who works hard in the weight room in the offseason. He squats close to 500 pounds, which is a lot considering he only weighs 180 pounds.”
Performance Point: “Usually for me, I don't really run (early in the season) what I expect to run. I really expect to run 10s (10 seconds in the 100) but I haven't really been trying to hit a 10 this season yet. I expect to hit a 10 later on this season when the weather gets warmer. (I) just keep going to practice every day, just keep doing every drill 100 percent. … I just want to get faster and (personal record) in all my events. In the 100, I want to run at least a 10.4 and the 200 at least the low 21s.”
Putting Lee on the map: “People, when they look at Lee, they don't see (success) like that coming from here, so it means a lot that I can be that successful at Lee. People always say that everyone who goes there is bad at sports and stuff. I want to show them that's not true. … I always hear teachers and staff (saying) congrats on my races, and just a lot of support from everyone and my athletic director.”
Catching up: “I was just a stay-at-home kid playing video games. I kinda (knew I was fast), but I never really took it seriously. ... The way I started getting into sports is we got a new football coach (former coach Carlton Brewster). He's all like (talking about my) potential and challenging me. He just told me to do football. I was decent at it my freshman year. And then the second year I got a lot better, and after that season was over he was like, 'You should run track.' I didn't really want to at first – I was like, ‘Nah, I don't want to do it.’ I look at it now; I thank him for making me do it because I've had a lot of success in it.”
Setting an example: “Before, no one really cared about me. But now everyone's looking up to me, like little kids look up to me – 'Oh, you're that really fast kid. I want to be like you when I'm older' – stuff like that. It makes me feel good because I'm a role model for them. Little kids say they want to be like me, my little brother (in eighth grade) too because he just started track this season.”
Following another GR-area star: “Khance Meyers (four-time individual LPD1 champ for East Kentwood, now at Hinds Community College in Mississippi) – I want to follow his steps because he’s really successful in track right now in college. He won a national title for the 200 meters already his first year as a freshman. (He taught me) to just always work hard and stuff like that – set your mind to it, and it will happen.”
- 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:
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) Wyoming Lee’s Thomas Robinson (far left) leads on the way to winning the 100-meter championship in Lower Peninsula Division 3 last spring. (Middle) Robinson crosses the finish line in the 200 championship race last year well ahead of the pack. (Click for more from RunMichigan.com.)
Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
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.
The 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.
“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.”
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.”
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 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) 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.)