Ruddy Brothers Return to Track, Help Lift Whiteford to Regional Title

By Doug Donnelly
Special for

May 23, 2023

OTTAWA LAKE – Shea and Ryin Ruddy are the answer to everyone who ever wondered if being fast in one or two other sports translates to being fast on the track.

Southeast & BorderIt does, and what they've accomplished this spring is more than enough proof.

In March, the Ruddy brothers came out for track for the first time since middle school for Ottawa Lake Whiteford after the district loosened the rules on athletes wanting to participate in multiple sports during the same season. About seven weeks later, the duo has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals in four events each and will lead a contingent of 10 Bobcats to Kent City next week.

“What they are doing on the track is amazing,” said Whiteford track & field coach Jay Yockey. “Really, when you look at it, they’ve only lost a couple of races here and there. They aren’t finishing second. They are going out and winning races, winning meets. It is not a small feat at all.”

Shea, a senior, was a four-year starting quarterback for Whiteford who led the Bobcats to the Division 8 championship last fall, scoring the game-winning touchdown on an unforgettable, 17-play fourth-quarter drive. Since his freshman season, he’s also played basketball in the winter and baseball in the spring.

Ryin, a junior, was also a starter on the Bobcats football team and followed in his older brother’s footsteps with basketball and baseball. 

This year, however, they went to Whiteford athletic director Jeremy Simmons to inquire about also running track. 

“I had each athlete attend a meeting with both coaches and their parents where we went over the rules,” Simmons said. “We made sure everyone was on the same page and answered questions that they had. Everything is outlined.”

Yockey found out early on what kind of athletes both were. 

“They are confident in their abilities but aren’t arrogant and boastful,” Yockey said. “For what they have accomplished this year is truly outstanding – and I understand they are doing pretty well in baseball, too.”

Saturday’s Division 3 Regional at Adrian Madison was a milestone day for both. 

Shea won the 400 and was on the 1,600 relay unit that finished first. He also was second in the 100 and part of the 400 relay that came in second.

Ryin was part of both of those relays, plus the 800 relay that placed second – and was Regional champion in the 300 hurdles.

Together, they helped the Bobcats to the team title.

“Ryin’s 300 race really sticks out to me as he is such a competitor and driven to win,” Yockey said.

 The 1,600 relay of Shea Ruddy, Dylan Anderson, Ryin Ruddy and Jake Iott show off their latest trophy with Whiteford coach Jay Yockey after the Bobcats claimed their first Regional track & field team title since 2007. (Ryin took to the hurdles quickly.

“He’s really done quite well with working his hurdle form, attacking each race and winning,” Yockey said. “He currently is seeded seventh in the state in an event that usually takes a season or two to perfect.”

Ryin last ran track in the seventh grade. Shea ran that season as well, which was his eighth-grade year.

“We had high expectations, but I think we exceeded what we thought we would do,” Shea said of this spring. “It was really tough to start, but it’s gotten a lot easier as I’ve gotten into the routine. I think it’s benefited me for both sports.” 

Shea started out the season competing in the high jump. About two weeks ago he gave the 400 a shot. He ended up winning the Regional in the event and is seeded second going into the Finals. 

The Hillsdale College football signee credits Coach Yockey with helping him get up to speed on what to do and not do on the track. 

“Coach Yockey helped me a lot. He got me into shape and told me where I needed to be with my times,” Ruddy said. “I kind of wish I would have done it in the past, but it’s all right. I think the years of experience would have paid off.”

Shea is the anchor on the 400 relay and leads off the 1,600 relay. The 1,600 unit holds the school record and had the fastest time of any 1,600 relay in Division 3 earlier this season.

“I knew adding Shea and Ryin would be a benefit for us,” said Yockey. “But, to go in and win a Regional title … that’s always the dream. The fact that we won a Regional title and will go to states with 12 scoring opportunities is definitely exciting. It exceeds my expectations from the start of the season.”

Whiteford had two other Regional champions Saturday – Keegan Masters won both the 1,600 and 3,200 and Stepan Masserant won the Pole Vault. The Regional title was Whiteford’s first since 2007, the same year the Bobcats won the school’s only track & field state championship.

It also comes just a year after Whiteford christened its new track and hosted its first home meet in more than a decade. Yockey said the new track helped ignite interest in the sport.

“Having a new track is huge,” he said. “Kids want to be a part of something they can be proud of, and kids weren’t proud of our track facility. I still hear upperclassmen joke about the gravel lane they had before I got here. 

“I think being able to host home meets, and a beautiful facility definitely helps in having kids come out and participate in track & field.”

Shea said he’s not surprised about the rapid rise of the Whiteford boys track & field team this season.

“I’m not shocked,” he said. “I knew we had the talent. We had to put it together, of course, and we’ve done that. I’m satisfied. I’m going to the states in four events. I can’t be disappointed with that.”

Doug DonnellyDoug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Shea Ruddy (far left) takes the baton from brother Ryin during a relay this season. (Middle) The 1,600 relay of Shea Ruddy, Dylan Anderson, Ryin Ruddy and Jake Iott show off their latest trophy with Whiteford coach Jay Yockey after the Bobcats claimed their first Regional track & field team title since 2007. (Top photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; middle photo courtesy of the Whiteford boys track & field program.)

Track Gaining Speed Toward Future with Electronic Starting Devices

By Steve Vedder
Special for

May 23, 2023

Aubrey Greenfield thinks it might be the perfect time to reevaluate 130 years of tradition.

For a number of reasons, from technical to personal, the Oxford senior sprinter believes it makes sense for the crack of a starting pistol to be eliminated from high school track meets.

Because track meets would benefit in various ways from lowering costs to easier setup at meets to the human factor of competitors not having to flinch at the crack of a pistol shot, Greenfield believes the sport has a chance to embrace new technology – electronic starting devices (ESD).

In essence, an ESD replaces the starting pistol with a light flash, tone sound or both to begin a race.

"High school sports should put the athlete first," Greenfield said. "We should promote sports, and eliminating starting pistols promotes health in terms of PTSD or trauma for athletes and spectators and that would be good. I would like to think people would say that's a good idea."

In fact, Greenfield would go as far as to say if there was not an implementation of electronic starting devices, many of her teammates would have considered giving up the sport.

"If it's something that helps us compete safely, we're all for it," she said.

Greenfield's opinion apparently is spreading. Michigan High School Athletic Association senior assistant director Cody Inglis said the use of ESD makes it both affordable for meet starters and sensible for athletes and fans to rethink the use of starting pistols. While the MHSAA is not mandating electronic starting devices, it does promote the use of what Inglis calls "emerging technology." He notes that ESD are becoming the norm for organizations such as USA Track & Field, the NCAA and an increasing number of high schools.

An electronic starting device provided by Vs Athletics was used to start races at the 2022 LPD1 Finals."I think we have to embrace new technology, and we think this will be something that takes hold," Inglis said.

A key part of embracing ESD is the human element. The tragic Oxford High School shooting Nov. 30, 2021, that took the lives of four students while injuring seven others should not be relived even for a fleeting instance at a high school sporting event. Oxford athletic director Tony DeMare said the school began using ESD at every meet, including the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals last June. He said that decision was embraced by virtually all schools Oxford encountered.

"We were very convinced that the alternative (of ESD) would promote a healthy attitude," DeMare said. "We were overwhelmed with the positive response. If a school was on the fence about it or might not be for it, I think we've started to see the tide turn in favor of people willing to listen and learn about electronic starting devices."

Inglis said the MHSAA is acutely aware of what the crack of a starting pistol can mean to athletes and fans.

"It's unimaginable what Oxford went through, and this is a small way we can help," he said. "We look at a (starting pistol) and think, ‘Could we do something else?’ It's a way of helping to solve a problem."

Over the last several years, the MHSAA has embraced finding an alternative to starting pistols. Inglis noted the discussion started with the cost and diminishing availability of 32-caliber ammunition that meet starters use. A box of ammunition, if it can be found, is around $75 a box.

In addition to cost, there is potential damage from excessive exposure to 150-plus decibels of sound generated by the traditional 32-caliber blanks. Medical studies show damage to ears caused by decibel levels above 120 dB.

The tragedy at Oxford accelerated the conversation.

Inglis said the cost of ESD can be likened to a school sinking money into artificial surfaces at football fields. Yes, there is a great cost at first, but over time money is ultimately saved. An ESD system itself ranges between $200 and $500. Speakers also may need to be purchased, but with ESD starting events like the 800 and 1,600-meter relays positioned near the outside lanes 8, 7, 6 and 5 would result in improved hearing by athletes at the start of a race.

There is one challenge with ESD that track administrators are working to overcome – lighting conditions that lessen the ability to see the ESD’s LED light or strobe when the button is pressed by a starter to begin a race. But that vision difficulty resulting from clear blue skies and backgrounds of setting suns can be substantially improved by incorporating a black background with an ESD – something as simple as a starter holding up black cardboard behind the lighting mechanism at the start of an event.

Inglis said when all factors are considered, the use of ESD makes sense.

An MHSAA official prepares to start a race at the LPD1 Finals last spring. "With the climate we live in nowadays, no lookalike guns is good," he said. "We're not mandating this. But people are saying this is affordable."

While switching to ESD would break 130 years of tradition, the timing could be a step forward, said Jeff Hollobaugh, co-author of the book "The Fleet Feet of Spring: Michigan's High School State Championships in Track & Field." He said while no definitive answer is possible, it's likely starting pistols were used at the inaugural state meet at the Jackson Fairgounds in 1895. The meet, which included events like tossing a 16-pound shot put, bike races and a 100-meter sprint, was sponsored by the Michigan Interscholastic Athletic Association (a predecessor to the MHSAA) and comprised mostly of the state's larger schools.

Hollobaugh's sentiments echo what many involved in today's high school track & field believe in terms of making a transition from starting pistols to electronic starting devices.

"It's a change, not necessarily good or bad, just different," he said. "It's not a drastic change, but it will take some getting used to. But it is the future. In the end, we'll all be fine."

DeMare believes the future of high school track will definitely include ESD.

"Our desire is that the practicality and sensibility of this will overcome the alternative," he said. "I think we'll see the automation and electronics taking hold of certain elements in track, and people will embrace it."

PHOTOS (Top) Runners watch official Bertha Smiley as they prepare to begin a race during last season's Lower Peninsula Division 1 Finals at Rockford. (Middle) An electronic starting device provided by VS Athletics was used to start those races. (Below) Smiley sets to begin an event. (Photos provided by David Kuderka/VS Athletics.)