HUDSONVILLE —For the first time in school history, the Carson City-Crystal Eagles boys track & field team has claimed the title of state champion.
Carson City-Crystal finished Saturday’s Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals with 68.5 points, 10.5 more than the closest competitor. The Eagles did it with a small group – only eight athletes travelled to Hudsonville to compete. But by the end of the day, all of them had earned the title of all-state athlete.
Junior Zane Forist got the day started off on the right foot in the field events. He won the discus with a throw of 196-5, nearly 60 feet more than the second-place finisher. He also won the shot put with a hurl of 62-4, over 14 feet more than anybody else.
Both were meet records – the discus toss breaking the 190-0 throw by Litchfield’s Jacob Patrick in 2012. The shot put bested the former LPD4 record of 58-5.25 by Ottawa Lake Whiteford’s George Flanner in 2007. And together gave Carson City-Crystal a comfortable lead heading into the track finals, helping alleviate the pressure on the rest of the team.
“When you have the number one thrower, that kind of helps,” said Eagles coach Grant Woodman. “The field events set the tone, and then we let our distance guys ease into it and it just works out for us.”
The distance runners did what they had to do to get the job done. Senior Coleman Clark earned second place in the 1,600 and the top spot in the 3,200. Those points helped keep Saugatuck at bay and put the Eagles firmly atop the podium.
Clark said that in other years, he focused on his individual performance. But this time around, he knew he wanted to give it his all for the overall team victory.
“This year, going into the season knowing we would have a top team, I knew I was going to be team-focused,” Clark said. “It feels so good to hit that top goal as a team. We knew we could do it.”
Jaylin Townsend from Flint Beecher set the standard in sprint events. He came away with an individual title in the 100 with a personal record time of 10.98 and edged Saugatuck’s Benny Diaz for first in the 200 with a time of 22.75. Townsend also helped lead the Buccaneers to a title in the 800 relay with a school record of 1:30.59.
The sophomore said that when he crossed the finish line as a Finals champion for the first time, he got excited realizing he was among the elite of the elite runners in Michigan.
“It feels great,” Townsend said. “I’m always thinking that I have to win, I have to win. … The excitement through my head is just so crazy. Only a couple people can really be state champions, and I’m one of them.”
Diaz earned two individual titles himself, in the 110 hurdles with a time of 14.77 and in the 300 hurdles, crossing the line in 39.59.
While all the excitement was taking place on the track, Wyoming Potter’s House Christian junior Jok Nhial finished first in the long jump with an incredible leap of 21-09.50, a personal record. He shattered his previous PR by seven inches, something he wasn’t expecting to do Saturday.
“It feels amazing that I’m able to do this at the state championship,” Nhial said. “I didn’t expect to make a PR today, or even break our school record. It was a great moment. I’ve worked so hard and for this to be the outcome, it feels great.”
But the true triumph of the day belonged to Carson City-Crystal. The eight athletes and the coaching staff were able to put together a season that none of them will soon forget.
“Everybody stepped up and did their part,” Forist said. “It really is a team thing. It wasn’t just a one-man show. Everybody did their thing. It’s so awesome.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Carson City-Crystal celebrates its first MHSAA Finals championship in track & field. (Middle) Flint Beecher's Jaylin Townsend, right, races Saugatuck's Benny Diaz. (Below) The Eagles' Coleman Clark races in the 3,200. (Photos by Will Kennedy.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
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@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)