Saginaw's Martin Leaps Into All-Time Elite
By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com
May 1, 2019
Sometimes greatness can come from random circumstance.
One spring day after having their basketball taken away during lunch, then-Saginaw High sophomore Tony Martin and his friends improvised by playing the game without a ball. With one of his track coaches looking on, Martin received a “pass” from a teammate, ran to the free-throw line and took off, touching the rim before returning to the ground.
“You’re long jumping at our next meet,” the coach said, introducing a new event to the sprint specialist, and a star was born.
In the two years since that fake basketball game, Martin has become arguably the best long jumper in Michigan history. He recently leapt 26 feet, 6 inches, which according to michtrack.org smashed the previous record by a Michigan high schooler of 25-2½, set by Lansing Everett’s Marcel Richardson in 1988.
“I felt it when I hit the board, and when I was in the air, because I had more time in the air to move my legs and reach,” said Martin of his record-breaking jump, which he achieved April 25 in a home dual meet against Saginaw Arthur Hill. “I had more of a fold in my legs when I was landing. I felt it in my spine when I was stretching. My reaction was, I looked at it and it said 26-6, and I had to look again because it’s an unbelievable jump. I had to look at it again and again when they marked it.”
Martin, who opened his senior season at Saginaw by breaking the school’s 45-year-old long jump record, came into the year looking to set school and state records. As the calendar turns to May, he’s setting his sights farther.
“Right now, it would have to be me breaking the national record,” Martin said. “It has to be the national one now, because really there’s no other one. The only other thing I could think about is actually hitting the Olympic standard.”
The national high school record as regarded by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is 26-4¾, jumped by Tulane Union, California’s James Stallworth in 1989. Others consider the national record to be 26-10, set in 2009 by current San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Marquise Goodwin while a high schooler at a USA Track & Field junior championships meet. The Olympic standard is 8.22 meters, which is a little more than 26-11½.
The MHSAA record book includes only Finals performances, and the MHSAA generally confirms records to the National Federation record committee that have occurred only during Finals, where officials are on hand to certify results and conditions including wind speed. (The MHSAA Finals record of 24-2¾ was set in 2017 at the Lower Peninsula Division 1 meet by Salem’s Mason Phillips.) However, an official will be on hand at Friday’s Bay City Western Invitational to monitor the long jump and certify the national record if Martin breaks it.
Martin’s 26-6 would tie for seventh all-time nationally, with only four people ever jumping farther at the high school level. Among them is United States Track & Field legend Carl Lewis, who had an official high school best of 26-8¼.
“I’ve watched him jump against Mike Powell every day,” Martin said of the epic 1991 showdown between Powell and Lewis at the 1991 World Championships, where Powell broke the world record. “That’s what I study, that video of Mike Powell breaking the record. That’s like my favorite track video ever (along with) videos of Usain Bolt. It’s definitely an honor joining somebody that I’ve watched.”
Saginaw coach DeEddie Sanders believes Martin can reach those goals.
“He’s got the potential, if he keeps working hard, to make the Olympic team,” Sanders said. “That’s what he wants, and I know he’s going to keep working hard.”
Martin, who has signed to compete for Michigan State University, came into this season plenty accomplished. He is the reigning Division 2 MHSAA Finals champion in the long jump, and a returning state placer in the 100 (fourth) and 200 (third) meters. He was also part of Saginaw’s fifth-place 400 relay team.
Last season’s Finals were a high point for his career, but also something he saw as just the beginning.
“It was pretty exciting,” Martin said. “It was emotional, because I was really tired at the state meet my sophomore year from jumping. I was not ready for the state meet at all (as a sophomore), so I had to win something (as a junior). That’s my goal (this year); I have to win all three for me to be satisfied, really. That is my goal, and I feel like I really have a chance this year.”
Martin has official personal bests of 10.71 seconds in the 100 and 21.71 in the 200, although he’s been hand-timed at 10.25 and 21.5. He said his goal is to get under 10.5 and 21 officially (fully automatic time), which would certainly put him in the running for a sprint double at this year’s Finals.
He should be a heavy favorite in the long jump, of course, and a lot of that can be attributed to taking a longer approach. After lining up about 80 feet from the pit in past years, Martin was urged to move backward to about 100 feet by the coaches he spoke with on his college visits. That allows him to build up more speed before takeoff.
“Ever since I changed my mark from indoor to outdoor, because I got faster, every time I jump is a (personal record), or over my best from last year,” Martin said.
In his first meet of the season, Martin showed that off, jumping 24-¼ to eclipse his previous best of 23-4¾, and the Saginaw High record of 23-7¾ set by Larry Foster in 1974.
“That was something that I cherished for a long time,” said Foster, who went on to play football and basketball at Northern Illinois, and now lives in Atlanta. “I’m glad I was alive to see him break it. I didn’t think it was going to last 45 years. I thought maybe in the 80s or 90s, somebody would break it. But my daughter, she was born in ‘74, and when she turned 45, I realized that was a long time. I’m so proud of that young guy. He did a fantastic job.”
Foster, who said he went to school with Martin’s grandmother, said he was able to speak with Martin and congratulate him after the record was broken.
“In a way, I was hoping it would (last) a little longer,” Foster said. “But 45 years, that’s long enough for me. When he goes to college, I’m going to follow him. I’m very proud of him.”
What Foster will be following is an athlete who believes he can further tap into his potential at MSU – a potential that even amazes Martin himself.
“To me, it’s unbelievable, because I’m only in high school and I’ve only been jumping since my sophomore year,” Martin said. “I’m kind of surprising myself every meet. It’s kind of unreal.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) Saginaw High sprinter and long jumper Tony Martin prepares to launch. (Middle) Martin is taking aim this spring at MHSAA Finals and national records. (Photos by Scott Keyes.)
Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season
By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com
March 14, 2023
KALAMAZOO — Harrison Wheeler has not been a pole vaulter for very long – two weeks to be exact – but he already has some lofty goals.
The sophomore is aiming for the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep record board and, if he makes it, he will be in good company.
Coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder, a 2001 Hackett graduate, still holds the girls record of 10 feet, 2½ inches.
“I’m hoping to have my name next to hers (on the record board),” Wheeler said.
The sophomore has a few feet to go before surpassing current record holder Brian Kucinich, who vaulted 12 feet, 6 inches in 1992.
Wheeler’s unofficial best is 9 feet; officially it is 8 feet, 6 inches.
“That is going to be a very big jump in my pole vaulting career,” he said.
Wheeler is one of 42 athletes on the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion boys team, which includes 12 seniors and 13 juniors. Besides Wheeler, the team has six sophomores and 10 freshmen.
One of the returners is senior Liam Mann, who helped lead the Irish to the Finals title last year.
Mann, Andrew Finley, Evan Wurtz and Isaac Backman won the 800-meter relay with a time of 1:31.55 last season, setting a school record as well.
While he lost his relay mates, Mann said there are good runners to replace them.
“(Senior) Brice Brown is coming out to do track, and I’ve been working with him this winter,” Mann said. “Jude Coffman, who is a sophomore, is coming out this year. I think he’s going to be a good addition to our 4-by-1.
“(Junior) Gabe Oeurn, last year he was running solid times, but this year he’s been putting in the work and I think he’ll be able to break that 12-second barrier.”
Mann, who will attend Ashland (Ohio) University on a track scholarship in the fall, also added gold in the 200-meter dash (22.82) last season.
“Last year, I played basketball and was able to lift to keep in shape,” he said. “This year, I wanted to focus all my time on track, so I’ve been doing indoor track, practicing once a week and going to meets on weekends.”
He continued to put his skills on display as a running back during football season with Kalamazoo United, ending the fall with 1,413 rushing yards on 177 carries and 267 receiving yards on 10 catches.
Opportunities & possibilities
The biggest group of competitors impacted by graduation are the sprinters, coach Charissa Dean said.
“Hackett’s been really big on sprinting talent in general,” she said. “But track has 17 events, and only two of them are open sprint events and two are relays.
“The other 13 are wide open for possibilities, and there’s a lot of younger talent that’s coming back this year. While they didn’t go to the state meet, they are the next generation of athletes coming up.”
Among that next generation are freshmen Marek Butkiewicz and Sean Siems, who “are incredibly talented athletes,” Dean said.
“(Junior) Gavin Sehy figured out how to do the distance thing this year in cross country.”
Sehy said he wanted to run track, but wasn’t sure where he fit.
“I thought I was mid-distance when I was younger, but my dad forced me to do cross country my sixth-grade year and it turned out I was decent at it so I kept doing (long distance) in track,” he said.
“It’s kind of brutal at times to train for long distance, mentally and physically, because you have to go on long runs, but I have fun with it. At the cross country state finals, I hit an 11 flat split at the two-mile, which beat my 3,200 best from last season, so we have yet to see my best times.”
Butkiewicz and Sehy have been running consistently six days a week all winter to prepare for their first meet, March 22.
“I’ve never done track,” the freshman said. “I know I can perform well. I know my times compared to other people.”
A sophomore this year, Alex Dumont had a 400-meter time that “came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “Toward the end of the season we recruited him to do the 4x8, so an 800-meter runner. That kid came through.
‘We actually took him to the state meet in the 4x8. He did the lead leg, and I clocked him at a 2:07. He was sprinting. It was an amazing leg in that relay.”
It was Germinder who converted Wheeler to the pole vault last year.
“Harrison’s a strong athlete, and just the way his mind works in that he asks questions and he wants to learn and he wants to improve,” she said.
“He wants to work hard, and he wants to put in the time. That’s something you need for that, along with the athletic component.”
Wheeler, who said he was shocked at being successful right away, competed for two weeks last season before a foot injury suffered on a vault sidelined him.
“It took her a whole season to finally convince me to do it,” he said. “I grabbed a pole one day and ended up being really good at it. Ever since, I’ve had a love of it.
“The feeling I have once I get in the air is almost like I’m just floating. When you get really good vaults and you get that nice height and good form, you get what we call a ‘stall.’ You just feel like you’re sitting up in the air for a second. It’s gotta be the coolest thing ever.”
Germinder has the background to help the Irish vaulters.
While at Hackett, she competed in the AAU National Championships and said she learned from the best, Oran Mitchell, a noted pole vaulting coach.
Her own coaching style revolves around the safety of the athletes.
“You can teach a lot of people to grab hold of a pole and pop yourself over,” she said. “But I want to make sure my athletes are safe. That’s really, really important to me, and that’s something that was instilled in me.
“When you’re jumping 6 to 16 feet, that’s a long way to fall. Safety is very important to me. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then I’m not the coach for you.”
Germinder said one of the foundations on which the team is built is leadership, which was instilled in the younger athletes by last year’s seniors.
“That’s one of the things our program is built on,” she said. “If you’re there because you want to get ready for the next sports season, we’ll coach you for that.
“If you want to be a state champion, we’ll coach you for that. That’s the really unique thing about track. There’s something for everyone, whatever that might be.”
As for the girls team, numbers are steadily climbing.
Five years ago, the team had just two girls. This year, 25 girls are on the team.
No matter girls or boys, track or field events, one thing is common for all the athletes.
“We pray before every meet, we put God first, and all those pieces have fallen into place for us.” Germinder said.
“I really believe that foundation is what is going to be our success this year. It’s there, it’s just a different team.”
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 protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Hackett's Harrison Wheeler points to the pole vaulting record he hopes to break this season, while pole vaulting coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder points to the record she still holds at the school. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. (Below) The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. (Top photo and head shots by Pam Shebest; team photo courtesy of Hackett track & field.)