Preview: Past Champs Return to UP Boys Track & Field Finals

By Geoff Kimmerly
MHSAA.com senior editor

June 4, 2021

Nearly two calendar years have passed the last Upper Peninsula Boys Track & Field Finals.

But three past individual champions will return Saturday with opportunities to add to career achievements first built up before COVID-19 led to the cancelation of last season.

Gladstone’s Blake Servant and Calvin Thibault and Gwinn’s David Duvall all have won at least one Finals title and will be among those to watch as all three divisions again will be competed at Kingsford High School.

Events begin at 10 a.m. (EDT) and tickets to attend can be purchased online only at GoFan. The meets also will be broadcast on MHSAA.tv and viewable with subscription.

Below is a glance at team contenders and individuals to watch in all three divisions.

Division 1

Top Regional scores: Marquette 71, Houghton 70, Gladstone 60.

Team forecast: Gladstone is the reigning champion after a 2019 run where it broke Marquette’s previous four-year hold on the Division 1 title. But Marquette may be the team to chase again with top seeds in two relays, four individual races and shot put. Houghton was runner-up in 2018 and 2016 and is seeking its first championship since 1992. The Gremlins got three individual championships and a leg of a relay winner from junior Eric Weiss at their Regional, and he could be important stacking up in the distance races. Gladstone’s star hurdlers also should factor into the team title mix.

Derek Douglas, Escanaba: The now-senior was fourth in the 800 and ran on three relays at the 2019 Final, and at this year’s Regional he won the 800 (2:01.73) by more than a second and was second in the 400. 

Brady Schultz, Menominee: The Maroons junior high-jumped 6-foot-6 at his Regional to win by two inches, and a repeat of that jump would set the UPD1 Finals record by an inch.

Blake Servant, Gladstone: The discus champion as a sophomore in 2019, he may be in line for much more after outpacing two-time reigning Finals champ and teammate Calvin Thibault (see below) in the 110 (15.98) and 300 hurdles (41.9) at the Regional in addition to winning discus (136-9) and long jump (20-8).

Calvin Thibault, Gladstone: Now a senior, Thibault won the 110 and 300 hurdles Finals championships as both a freshman and sophomore, and in addition to Regional runner-up finishes in those races two weeks ago also took third in the 200 and fourth in the 100.

Carson & Colin Vanderschaaf, Marquette: After finishing third and fifth, respectively, in UPD1 cross country in the fall, Marquette’s sophomore distance standouts could be climbing the podium. Carson has the fastest seed times in the 3,200 (10:14.24) and as part of the 3,200 relay (8:45.36). Colin also runs on that 3,200 relay and is seeded first in the 1,600 (4:38.98).

Division 2

Top Regional scores: Iron Mountain 63, Norway 53½, Ishpeming 39.

Team forecast: Ishpeming won back-to-back team championships in 2018 and 2019 and has earned five over the last six seasons, but that streak could be coming to an end as Iron Mountain seeks its first title since 2000 and Norway its first since 2005. Norway could be in line for some big points with the top seeds in two field events, two relays and two individual races. Iron Mountain, however, has an advantage on depth with all four relays and 17 individual entries competing. Ishpeming is right behind with all four relays and 14 individual entries.

Silas Broberg, Ishpeming: The Division 2 cross country champion in the fall will attempt to cap his high school career with another title or more, entering as the top seed in the 3,200 (11:23.9) by 18 seconds while also running the 800, 1,600 and on the 3,200 relay.

Houghton trackAdam Cavagnetto, Norway: The junior distance standout enters the weekend as the top-seeded contender in both the 800 (2:10.85) and 1,600 (4:46.47).

David Duvall, Gwinn: He was one of the most impressive performers as a sophomore in 2019, winning the 110 hurdles and finishing runner-up in the 300 and long jump. He’ll be a contender in those three events and as part of the 400 relay, with his 18.16 seed time in the 110 pacing the field.

Christian Koiveniemi, St. Ignace: After running two Finals relays as a freshman in 2019, he’s back as a junior with the top seeds in the 100 (12.08) and 200 (24.77) and also the high jump (5-6).

Landon Sudelius, West Iron County: He took sixth in both hurdles races two years ago as a freshman, but enters this weekend seeded first in the 300 (45.36) and second in the 110.

Division 3

Top Regional scores: Pickford 73, Stephenson 65, Rapid River 64.

Team forecast: Rapid River has had the most recent success of the teams listed above, with two titles and two runner-up finishes between 2015-18 and a fourth place in 2019. Dominant field events would be the Rockets’ ticket this time, while Pickford has some likely high scorers throughout the lineup. Stephenson could be in line for its first team title since 2007 with 23 individual entries and all four relays running including two that are top-seeded. Powers North Central finished only three points behind Stephenson at their Regional and also has some interesting high-scoring possibilities.

Cameron Hoornstra, Brimley: After running the 800 and 1,600 two years ago as a sophomore, Hoornstra has found his stride in the sprints and enters this weekend with the top seed in the 100 (12.0) and fourth in the 200, and he’ll also run the 400 and is fourth-seeded in the long jump.

Kolson Kytta, Chassell: The Division 3 cross country runner-up in the fall could end his Chassell career as a champion entering this weekend with the top seeds in the 1,600 (4:39.17) and 3,200 (10:36.52).

Conner LeClaire, Dollar Bay: He got on the board with a fifth-place finish in the 300 hurdles in 2019 and returns as a senior with the top seed time in that race (43.85) and third-fastest in the 110.

Ben & Max Lenaker, Rapid River: The senior twins both are top seeds in field events, with Ben’s 20-9 pacing long jump and Max’s 6-0 tops in high jump. Ben also is top-seeded in the 400 (52.80) by more than a second.

PHOTOS: (Top) Gladstone's Blake Servant earns one of his four championships during the Mid-Peninsula Conference meet May 24 in Negaunee. (Middle) Houghton's Eric Weiss wins the 3,200 at the Mid-Peninsula finals with Ishpeming's Silas Broberg taking second. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

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.)