Performance: Lee's Thomas Robinson

April 27, 2018

Thomas Robinson
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.)

Hastings Relays Reigns as State's Oldest Continuous Track & Field Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

April 10, 2024

Bob Branch remembers dabbling in other sports, but his first love was always running.

Mid-MichiganThe Hastings High School graduate admits he could never hit a baseball, football didn't especially appeal to him and basketball was just another way to spend time with friends. But for Branch, now 93, there was always track. That's the sport where his fondest and sharpest memories remain. And if you're talking track, many of his favorite memories come from participation in the state's oldest continuous track meet, the Hastings Relays.

Always held in early April, the meet dates back to 1937 – a bygone time that saw the first hostilities of World War II, gas at 20 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread selling for a dime.

And at a dusty old track surrounding the county fairgrounds in Hastings, a small relay event that included a scattering of participants from a dozen high schools was taking its first tentative steps.

Branch recalls a time when kids would run home after track practice because there were no buses, inexperienced young coaches had little actual knowledge of running fundamentals, and athletes looked at the sport as an afterthought after spending most of their high school days playing football and basketball.

The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago.For Branch, the relays were the ideal way to ease into the track season.

"I just liked to run," said Branch. "I remember I anchored a relay with my brother, and it always seemed cold when we had that meet. I remember teams would come from all over and you saw a lot of good athletes. Everybody seemed to have someone who was really good. Track wasn't very popular at that time, but I have a lot of good memories from running."

The Hastings Relays, which has changed formats and even names during its nearly nine-decade history, would traditionally kick off the track season. The meet was originally held at a makeshift quarter-mile track which surrounded the town's fairgrounds and was part of the city's annual Hastings Carnival – the track would become the midway during fair time.

The meet eventually moved to Johnson Field when the football field was dedicated in 1949 and ballooned to as many as 50 teams at its peak in 1957. For more than seven decades it was known as the Hastings Relays and then the Hastings Co-Ed relays before becoming the current Hastings Invitational, with the latest edition scheduled for Friday.

Johnson Field had a cinder track before it became an all-weather surface in the 1980s. During a time long before computers would be used to organize meet heats in mere minutes, Hastings coaches of all sports – defined as "volunteers" by the athletic department – would meet on the Friday before competition to hash out events.

People associated with the meet still recall the camaraderie built on those long Friday nights, followed by working what would often become 10-hour meets. Steve Hoke has been involved since watching his father, Jack, who coached teams at 15 of the meets beginning in 1951 and also had run in the first Hastings Relays. Steve Hoke later competed in the Relays as well during the early 1970s before becoming an assistant track coach, later the Hastings athletic director and now a volunteer worker.

"It was always a huge deal," said Hoke, who said the meet began as a pure relay event before transitioning to its current team format in the 1990s. "I remember we'd line the track the night before, and all the coaches would come to the house to organize everything. There was a brotherhood.”

Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s.If you quiz many of the fleet of volunteers who've worked the relays over the years, each has a different memory from the meet. While Hoke describes the brotherhood and Branch the outstanding competition, others remember weather and the time a thunderstorm wiped out the line markings on the cinder track, or waking up to find three inches of snow that caused a rare cancellation of the meet. Others recall the shock of moving from the cinder to all-weather track or using the meet as an early measuring stick of what it would take to qualify for the state meet. The real old-timers remember the meet disappearing for three years during World War II.

Hastings native and Western Michigan grad Tom Duits was the state’s first collegian to break the four-minute mile when he ran a 3:59.2 at a meet in Philadelphia in 1978. Duits, who ran in three Hastings Relays, was in line to join the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 before the United States pulled out of the games due to tension with Russia.

Duits has his own memories of the meet and the competition he faced there.

"I remember sunshine and being excited to be competing again. There were all these athletes swarming around; it was an awesome display of talent," he said. "It was always one of the best meets we'd be in. You could pretty much see the level of runners who would be at state, which made it a big deal. It was always early, but you could tell where you stood. It was great exposure."

Hastings track star Wayne Oom competed in four Hastings Relays from 1984-87. One of his sharpest memories was the difference between running on a raw cinder track versus the far more comfortable all-weather surface.

"Those cinders would grind into your skin," said Oom, part of the Hastings school record in the two-mile relay. "But I think it helped us because when we'd go to other tracks, it seemed we would run faster. I remember how competitive it was, especially in the distances. There were some great runners."

While participants have their unique memories, so do coaches. Former Saxons coach Paul Fulmer remembers 2008 when his team finished first on the boys side of the meet while his wife, Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, saw her girls team win the championship.

Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays."I knew we were one of the favorites to win because we were usually near the top of our conference and Regional," he said. "But then Katie's team was pretty good, and it was cool for them to win too."

Fulmer, who coached Hastings from 1978-81 and then 1985-2010, said at least part of the meet's popularity was derived from a unique way of scoring. Instead of individuals earning points solo, participants worked in pairs. For instance, two athletes would combine their shot put or long jump scores. New events such as the 1,500 relay and sprint medley were added.

"We had a tradition of being the state's oldest meet, and that was a big deal," Fulmer said. "And we ran a good relay; that attracted teams too. We took a lot of pride in that.

"And we'd get quite a lot of people to come to the meet. We'd set up until like 9 or 10 p.m., and then we'd have a party with all the coaches on Friday night."

While the meet has stretched 87 years, Branch said early participants and current runners have one thing in common: a drive to win. Branch ran in an era when the popularity of high school track was in its infancy. Today some of the best all-around athletes at a school are involved in the track program. The relays span the nearly nine decades in between.

"The quality of teams has gotten better and better," said Branch, the 1947 Lower Peninsula Class B Finals champ in the 220. "And this has made for a better meet. We would get guys who played football or baseball kind of drift into track, and that made the sport better. I think people began to appreciate track because we'd get teams from all over.

"We went from not really knowing what we were doing to track being a good sport. Even then, I'm not sure we appreciated what we had. We really liked the Hastings Relays and always wanted to do well there. It became popular and quite an honor to do well. Those are the kind of things I remember."

PHOTOS (Top) Racers run at the Hastings Relays, with several more awaiting their turns to compete at the longtime meet. (2) The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago. (3) Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s. (4) Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays. (Top photo by Dan Goggins, Hoke photo provided by Steve Hoke and Duits photos provided by Tom Duits.)