Preview: History Awaits Next Contenders

June 2, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Hundreds of Michigan's top high school athletes will compete Saturday at seven MHSAA Track & Field championship meets taking place either in the Grand Rapids area or Kingsford in the Upper Peninsula. 

While some of the favorites in the boys meets are familiar past stars, many more contenders than in recent years will be attempting to write their championship stories for the first time. 

See below for some of the teams and individuals who should be among those in the championship mix at Saturday's boys meets. Click for meet information including all qualifiers and come back Saturday night for results as they come in, and check out MHSAA.TV for live streaming of running events from both peninsulas, available with subscription.

LP Division 1 at Hudsonville Baldwin Middle School

Top Regional scores: Rockford 165½, Macomb Dakota 148½, East Kentwood 140.

Rockford: If the Rams are going to improve from 32nd last season and win their first MHSAA title, the points will come from a solid pair of distance runners in sophomore Cole Johnson – seeded first in the 1,600 (4:17.59) and second in the 800 (1:55.20) – and senior Isaac Harding, who is seeded second in the 3,200 (9:18.54). Those two also run on the fifth-seeded 3,200 relay (7:58.07), and Rockford also could get a nice points boost from senior pole vaulter Jonny De Haan (14-0).

Macomb Dakota: The Cougars also are seeking their first MHSAA title and tied for 44th a year ago, but should get a jump on the pack in field events with junior pole vaulter Cale Snyder (14-0) and senior long jumper De’Shon Collier (21-10½) in the mix for top places. Collier also is a contender in the 100 (10.96) and 200 (22.21) and as part of the fifth-seeded 400 relay (42.86).

East Kentwood: The Falcons fell back to second place last season but have won this meet five of the last seven and are the likely favorite again. Junior Khance Meyers ran the fastest 100 (10.58) at any Division 1 Regional by 15 hundredths of a second and has the fourth-fastest seed time in the 200 (21.69) and third-fastest in the 400 (49.32). He also runs on the top-seeded 800 relay (1:27.40). Junior Andre Welch is another contender, entering with the fourth-best Regional long jump (22-4½), and senior Isaiah Ledesma is in the mix for a high place in shot put (50-7¾).

Oxford’s Connor Bandel: The reigning shot put and discus champion should make a run at all-Finals records in both throws (64-½ in shot put and 210-1 in discus); he’s thrown 67 and 204, respectively.  

Wayne Memorial’s Montel Hood: He finished fourth in the 400 as a junior but enters Saturday with the top seed in that race (47.42) with a time only 42 hundredths of a second off the LP Division 1 record of 47.0 run by East Kentwood’s Ricco Hall in 2011.  

Jackson’s Anthony Owens: He missed the championship in long jump as a junior last season by four inches, but his Regional leap of 24 feet was the best in LP Division 1 by nearly a foot and only an inch shy of the all-Finals record of 24-1 jumped by Flushing’s Jeff Kline in 2009 – and Owens has gone 24-8.

East Lansing’s Kentre Patterson: The Trojans’ junior has launched into the elite this spring, posting the top Regional times in the 110 hurdles (13.94) and 300 hurdles (38.68).

Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Terius Wheatley: The son of Dearborn Heights Robichaud legend Tyrone can finish his high school career on the MHSAA champions list as well, entering with the top seed in high jump (6-8) and second (23-½) in long jump.

Southfield’s Delan Wynn: The Bluejays’ senior had a nice meet in 2015 with an eighth place in the 300 hurdles and a third as part of the 400 relay, but enters this weekend with the top seed in the 200 (21.49) and second in the 300 (38.84). 

LP Division 2 at Zeeland

Top Regional scores: Orchard Lake St. Mary’s 172, Grand Rapids Christian 152 2/3, Chelsea 150.

Orchard Lake St. Mary’s: The reigning champion is loaded with sprint speed; junior Kahlee Hamler has the top seed in the 100 (10.78) and junior Richard Bowens ranks third in that race (10.95) and fourth in the 300 hurdles (39.29). Junior Shermond Dabney is seeded third in the 300 (39.24) and second in the 110 hurdles (14.55), and senior Tyler Cochran is fifth in the 400 (50.06). Hamler is part of the top-seeded 400 relay (43.41) and with Bowens on the top-seeded 800 relay (1:28.67), and Bowens and Cochran are on the fourth-seeded 1,600 relay (3:26.03). Bowens won the 300 hurdles last season.

Chelsea: Senior Bailey Edwards is seeded among the top four in both the 100 (10.98) and 200 (21.91 – seeded first), and senior Noah Van Reesema is seeded among the top eight in both hurdles races including second in the 300 (38.45). Sophomore Tom Oates should also score coming in fifth in the 1,600 (4:24.60), and all four relays qualified led by the sixth-seeded 400, eighth-seeded 1,600 and second-seeded 800 (1:29.72).  

Zeeland East: The Chix, last season’s runners-up, should contend again with plenty of scoring power and after also winning a Regional. Junior thrower Jonathan Berghorst is seeded among the top seven in both discus and shot put, while sophomore Corbin DeJonge could reach the podium in both hurdles races. Junior John Groendyk and sophomore Dan Cramer give East two contenders in the 800, and both join DeJonge and Khylin Barton on the top-seeded 1,600 relay (3:23.61). Barton, Cramer and Groendyk also run on the fifth-seeded 3,200 relay (8:10.34).  

Algonac’s Morgan Beadlescomb: The senior distance star is expected to add at least one more MHSAA title to the 1,600 championship won last season; Beadlescomb is seeded first in both the 1,600 (4:13.12) and 3,200 (9:25.54).

Lake Odessa Lakewood’s Noah Caudy: The reigning champion in the 110 hurdles, now a junior, is seeded sixth in that race (14.7) and the 300 (39.67).

Corunna’s Noah Jacobs: The Cavaliers’ junior is coming off the 3,200 championship in 2015 and has the second seed to Beadlescomb in that race (9:30.77) and third seed in the 1,600 (4:21.72).

St. Johns’ Steven Linton: After winning the 400 last season, the Redwings senior is pursuing two more titles seeded fifth in the 100 (11.01) and sixth in the 200 (22.40) to go with his top seed in the 400 (49.69).

Mason’s Justin Scavarda: The Bulldogs senior thrower won discus a year ago and was third in shot put, and comes in with the longest Regional tosses in both this time at 180-3 and 61-8, respectively.

Freeland’s Nathan Whitting: The reigning high jump champion tied for the third longest Regional jump, 6-5, and also runs on a relay.

Fruitport’s 3,200 relay: Seniors Kody Brooks, Seth Glover and Noah Hendricks and sophomore Cameron Oleen ran a Regional time of 7:56.24, which was more than nine seconds faster than the rest of the division and only six seconds off the meet record run by Zeeland East last season.  

LP Division 3 at Comstock Park

Top Regional scores: Frankenmuth 145½, Clinton Township Clintondale 144, Dundee 143½.

Frankenmuth: The champion as recently as 2011, Frankenmuth tied for 29th a year ago but could have enough individual contenders to make a run led by junior Dan Stone, seeded second in discus (160-10) and third in shot put (55-2). Junior Grant Bronner also will need to be significant; he’s tied for fourth in the high jump (6-4), seeded 10th in the 110 hurdles (15.53) and 13th in the 300 hurdles (41.8), one spot behind senior teammate Jonathan Worden (41.5)

Hillsdale: The Hornets, runners-up last season, also had one of the top Regional winning scores two weeks ago and have competitors in 12 events. Among those who could be key are sophomore Devin Van Dusen, who is seeded fourth in the 100 (11.1) and 200 (22.6), and senior Brock Eves, who is fifth in the 1,600 (4:24.03) and also qualified in the 3,200. Van Dusen also runs on the third-seeded 1,600 relay (3:29.32).

Sanford Meridian: The 2014 champion was fourth last year and should be able to score in bunches led by Christian Petre, who is seeded second in the 100 (11.06) and first in the 200 (22.40) and runs on the top-seeded 400 relay (43.79) and third-seeded 800 relay (1:31.67). He’s the reigning champ in the 100. Senior Monte Petre also has top-10 seeds in the sprints and runs on the eighth-seeded 1,600 relay.

Grand Rapids West Catholic’s Carl Myers: The reigning shot put champion is seeded first in both throws as a senior with a 164-6 in the discus and 61-8½ in the shot put; he could approach the meet record in the shot put of 63-9½ set by Allendale’s Zach Hill in 2009.  

Hesperia’s Nate McKeown: The reigning champion in the high jump went 6-10 at his Regional and could take a shot at the meet record of 7-0 set by Frankenmuth’s Andrew Dodson in 2005; McKeown also has the top seed in the long jump at 21-3 after finishing fifth in that event last season.

Reed City’s Nate Fasbender: After winning pole vault last season as a junior at 14-0, Fasbender went 15-0 at his Regional, three inches higher than the next best competitor in the division.

St. Louis’ Evan Goodell: He placed eighth in the 3,200  a year ago, but enters with the fastest Regional times in that race (9:36.87) and the 1,600 (4:19.86).

Macomb Lutheran North’s Zach Stadnika: The reigning 110 hurdles champion placed in three events in 2015 and will compete in a different combination of three Saturday; he’s seeded ninth in the 110 (14.83) and first in the long jump (22-3) and also will compete in high jump.

Grandville Calvin Christian’s Abe Visser: The reigning 3,200 champ is seeded third both in that race (9:44.46) and the 1,600 (4:21.22).

LP Division 4 at Grand Rapids Houseman Stadium

Top Regional scores: Saugatuck 215, Ubly 155, Marcellus 153.

Saugatuck: The Indians are going for their second straight title and third in four seasons after tying with Concord for first in 2015. Junior Blake Dunn is one of the top all-around athletes in Michigan and a reigning champion in the 300 hurdles; he’s seeded first in that race (39.49) as well as the 110 (14.94) and runs on two relays. Junior Xavier Cardona has top-seven seeds in both throws, and a strong group of distance runners should help carry the load. Freshman Corey Gorgas, sophomore Keegan Seifert and junior Zachary Pettinga have the second, third and fourth seeds, respectively, in the 3,200, and Pettinga also is seeded sixth in the 1,600. The 3,200 relay is seeded fourth.

Concord: The other reigning co-champion has competitors in nine events, led by junior Montez Brewer; he’s seeded first in the 100 (10.98) and runs on top-five-seeded 400 and 800 relays. Senior Chase Hinkle is seeded ninth in the 200, and senior Kamron McDonald and junior Jacob Randall are both tied for fourth in the high jump (6-1).   

Saginaw Nouvel: After tying for 40th in Division 3 last season, Nouvel could make a move on its first boys track & field title since 1989. Senior Jacob Gray is seeded fourth in discus (139-1) and seventh in shot put (47-4½), and junior Robi Stuart is second in shot put (52-3½). Junior Matt Bartels also could pick up some points, seeded third in the 1,600 (4:36.95) and fifth in the 3,200 (10:15.47). The 400 and 800 relays are seeded fourth and eighth, respectively.

Merrill's Jacob Kulhanek: The reigning pole vault champion, now a senior, qualified with a 13-3, fifth highest in Division 4 but only three inches below four competitors tied for the top height.

Evart’s Santana Scott: He was sixth in the 1,600 and second in the 3,200 as a junior, and both races will have new champions Saturday; he has the top seeds in both at 4:27.93 and 9:59.92, respectively.

UP Division 1 at Kingsford

Top Regional scores: Marquette 93, Houghton 73, Negaunee 44.

Marquette: The Redmen returned to the top last season with their fourth title in six seasons but after two without finishing first. They have to be the favorite again paced by reigning 1,600 and 3,200 champion Lance Rambo; he’s seeded first in the 1,600 (4:23.42), 3,200 (10:03.46) and 800 (1:59.90). Senior Patrick Burmeister is seeded first in the 100 (11.51) and second in the 200 (23.48), and senior Payton Muljo is first in the shot put (48-7). Marquette’s 1,600 relay (3:37.64) and 3,200 relay (8:21.47) also carry top seeds. Muljo won shot put last season.

Houghton: The top-seeded 800 relay (1:34.81) and strong field events should put Houghton into the mix. Senior Brad Ohtonen is seeded first in the discus (129-1¾) and second in shot put (44-7), and senior Hunter Richards is tied for first in high jump (6-0) and fourth in long jump (19-1½). Junior Casey Lentowich in the 110 hurdles (16.30) and sophomore Clayton Sayen in the 400 (52.21) also bring top seeds. Ohtonen won discus last season.

Kingsford’s Trevor Roberts: The standout junior won the long jump and 100 last year; he’s seeded fourth in the 100 (11.68), sixth in the 200 (32.91) and runs on two seeded relays including the favored 400 relay (45.49).

Kingsford’s Brandon Kowalkowski: Last season’s high jump champion is two inches off the top Regional performers at 5-10 and also runs on the 400 and 800 relays.

UP Division 2 at Kingsford

Top Regional scores: Ishpeming 97½, Iron Mountain 56, Iron River West Iron County 48.

Ishpeming: The Hematites have competitors in 16 events, including top-seeded senior Andrew Poirier in the 300 hurdles (46.61) and the top-seeded 800 relay (1:38.72). The 3,200 relay (9:46.91), 400 relay (47.36) and 1,600 relay (3:49.72) all are seeded second, as are senior Nick Coment in long jump (18-6½), junior Isaac Olson in the 200 (24.72) and junior Daren Guichin in the 1,600 (4:53.86).

Iron Mountain: Senior Nate Carey could lead the Mountaineers to their first title since 2000; he’s part of the top-seeded 3,200 relay (9:19.39) and is top-seeded in the 1,600 (4:52.88) and 3,200 (10:47.2). Junior Aaron Bolo had the top Regional high jump at 5-11, and senior Tanner Huotari has the top seed in the 800 (2:11.7).

Ironwood’s Isaac Aukee: The reigning pole vault champion, now a senior, comes in at 8-6 but went 11-6 last season. 

UP Division 3 at Kingsford

Top Regional scores: Rapid River 76, Powers North Central 71, Pickford 67.

Powers North Central: The Jets look like a possibility for a first title since 2005 with a number of top seeds; senior Brendan Gatien is tops in shot put (47-2) as is senior Morgan Cox in the high jump (6-0, tied) and both the 400 (46.91) and 1,600 relays (3:40.73). Senior Bryce Holle, the reigning champion in the 400, is seeded second in that race (52.65) and also qualified in the 800.

Rapid River: The reigning runner-up has competitors in 14 events and enough high seeds to make a run at a first title since 2003. Senior Dan Blair is top-seeded in both the 800 (2:07.24) and 1,600 (4:37.24).

Munising’s Brett Hannah: One of two who starred in leading Munising to the title last year, Hannah is the reigning champ in the 800, 1,600 and 3,200. He will run all three plus the 400 (52.44), the only race in which he’s seeded first.  

Crystal Falls Forest Park’s Billy Ragio: Last season’s pole vault champion set the meet record at 13-3½ as a junior and two weeks ago had the top Regional vault in the division at 12-6; he’ll also run the 100.

PHOTO: Orchard Lake St. Mary's celebrates its championship last season in Lower Peninsula Division 2.

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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 second 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.)