Klay Grant’s strategy going into last week’s Greater Muskegon Athletic Association city track meet seemed, at first, counterintuitive.
“My plan was to try and run each event as slow as possible,” said Grant, a junior at Muskegon Reeths-Puffer, before adding:
“And still win.”
His plan to conserve energy – essentially sacrificing fast times for himself to try and gather as many points as possible for his team – worked to perfection as Grant became the first athlete in the 65-year history of the GMAA meet to take first place in the four longest events.
Grant’s “Ironman” performance and four first-place finishes accounted for 40 of his team’s 132 points, helping the Rockets edge six-time reigning champion Fruitport and win the meet for the first time since 2006.
Grant started his record-breaking night by running the anchor leg on R-P’s winning 3,200-meter relay team (8:40.84), then followed with wins in the open 1,600 (4:42.94), 800 (2:07.25) and 3,200 (10:29.69).
“Klay is all about the team,” explained Reeths-Puffer boys track coach Don Ketner, who is in his 15th year. “He’s the kind of kid that would give the shirt off of his back for you, and that’s basically what we asked him to do on Friday night.”
The GMAA Meet, known locally simply as the “City Meet,” dates back to the 1950s, and during its long history many male and female athletes have won four events. However, that feat normally happens with sprinters in short events and relays or with an athlete who picks up a win or two in the field events before the running finals begin.
Grant was the first to capture all four of the longest running events, but he said that individual feat was secondary. He said the best part was helping to deliver a memorable night for Reeths-Puffer, as his family is heavily invested in the Muskegon County school district and its track & field and cross country programs.
Both of his parents, Darren and Angie Grant, are Reeths-Puffer graduates and runners who went on to run in college at Indiana Wesleyan and now teach and coach in the R-P district. Darren Grant, who teaches fifth grade, is the Rockets’ head cross country coach and assistant boys track coach. Angie Grant teaches special education at the middle school and is the head girls track coach.
“It was fun to be a part of such a great night,” said Grant, 17, who plans to go into the ministry and pursue Biblical studies in college. “Faith encompasses everything that I do, so it felt great to use my gifts to help out my teammates and coaches.”
Grant, who is also laser-focused in the classroom with a gaudy 4.333 GPA, is the third of four children. His older siblings are Cole and Kenna, and younger brother Kye is a talented runner on the Reeths-Puffer middle school team.
While running has always been a part of his life because of his parents, his primary sport growing up was soccer. In fact, it wasn’t until last year that he focused exclusively on track and cross country, which is why he believes he can greatly improve his times.
Perhaps the key race of the entire GMAA meet last week was the opening 3,200-meter relay, which Fruitport was favored to win. Ketner gambled that by putting Grant on the anchor leg, he might be able to catch up and pass Fruitport.
As it turned out, strong performances on the first three legs by freshmen Jackson Allen and Tate Bradley and senior Caden Tufts had the Rockets in the lead when Grant got the baton – allowing him to cruise to the tape and make a major statement in the process.
Grant then had a nice stretch of time to rest before his next race, the 1,600, but that was the first of three long races over a short period of time.
After pulling away from Jackson Helmer of Mona Shores in the 1,600, Grant had just three events of rest before getting back on the track for the 800 – the event he will likely focus on for the upcoming Ottawa-Kent Conference Green meet May 13 and the Division 2 Regional on May 20.
Then came the shortest turnaround of the night, with just the quick 200-meter run coming between the 800 and the 3,200.
Grant knew he could empty the tank in the 3,200, and it didn’t take long for Grant and his senior teammate and training partner Brett Schlaff to separate themselves from the rest of the field. With those two running 1-2 ahead of the pack, it was clear that the Rockets would pick up 18 points in that event and clinch the meet title.
The only drama remaining was whether Grant would make history or if the fresher Schlaff would prevail.
“With about 300 meters to go they were still close and I said out loud: ‘Klay is so nice, he’s going to let Brett win,’” said Ketner.
Grant ended up pulling away over the final 200 meters to win the race and make history. Schlaff took a strong second, and the Rockets were on top of the Muskegon city track world for the first time in 15 years.
“My times were nothing special that night, that’s for sure,” said Grant. “But this meet wasn’t about me. This meet was all about the team.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Klay Grant (1) competes in the 800-meter run at the Rocket Invitational on April 16 at Reeths-Puffer. Grant won the race. (Middle) Grant cruises to victory in the 1,600-meter run at the GMAA city meet. (Photos by Payden Challinor.)
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.)