Saugatuck Speedster Aiming for Historic Performance

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for MHSAA.com

May 12, 2021

SAUGATUCK -- Saugatuck boys track & field coach Rick Bauer frequently tosses out a nickname for one of his elite runners.

Benny “The Jet” Diaz, a junior sprinter, has definitely lived up to the moniker.

“I don’t remember who gave me that nickname, but coach Bauer uses it a lot,” Diaz said. “I don’t mind it, and it refers to Benny and the Jets or from the movie Sandlot.”

Wherever it came from, it fits, as Diaz has turned up the jets this spring on the track and blossomed into one of the fastest runners and hurdlers in the state.

Whether it’s in the sprints (100, 200 or 400 meters) or the hurdles (110 and 300), Diaz possesses blazing speed and athleticism. 

“He’s fast, and he was born with some talent for sprinting, but his real talent is just how hard he works at it,” Bauer said. “I don’t think people understand that this is a 365-day thing for Benny and his dad working on speed.”

As a freshman, Diaz placed third in the 300 hurdles at the MHSAA Division 4 Finals and helped his team place second overall. 

He worked hard for another opportunity to shine in his sophomore season, but it was wiped out due to COVID-19.

“It was pretty tough, and just not being able to compete was not fun,” Diaz said. 

Diaz would have to wait another year, and now his training and intense drive to succeed is coming to fruition.

Entering this week, Diaz has posted the fifth-fastest time in the state in the 100 after running a personal-best 10.85 seconds at last week’s Shepherd Invitational.

He’s ranked No. 2 in the 110 hurdles (14.86) and in the top 20 in the 200 dash and 300 hurdles. 

For Diaz, who also excels in football and baseball, track was somewhat of an afterthought before learning of his potential.

“In sixth grade it was something to fill my time and get faster for football and baseball,” he said. “But once I was in middle school, I started seeing results and it just became more fun and I was getting better every meet.

“I started doing indoor track and competed in the winter and spring and started getting a lot better. It’s become a job a little bit to try and get myself faster, stronger and better throughout the season.”

Diaz’s dad, Mario, has been instrumental in his son’s success. He also serves as the team’s sprint coach.

Saugatuck boys track & field“He’s definitely helped by pushing me, and we study some things together,” Diaz said. “How to get a better block start, and how to strengthen my legs to get quicker and explosive. He spends a lot of his time with me working on those kinds of things, so I’m pretty appreciative of him.”

Diaz also travels outside of the area and state to compete in various events.

He thrives off the challenges he faces from racing against runners with similar abilities.  

“It’s been fun going up against better competition,” Diaz said. “I run faster with competition because sometimes always winning isn’t too fun. Competition is always fun, even if you lose sometimes, and it’s just still fun going up against people who are the same or better.”

While Diaz simply enjoys competing, some events stand out from the others.

“The 200 is fun because I can come off the curve and just run people down,” he said. “I go past them and then separate on the straightaway. The 100 has been good to me, running under 11 (seconds), and the 400 is fun, but it hurts.”

Diaz has lofty goals for this year’s Finals, which will take place June 5 in Hudsonville.

The only decision now is deciding which events he’s going to run.

“It’s no secret what we’re going after,” Bauer said. “He wants to win four individual events, and that’s what we’re going to try and do.

“It’s just a matter of which events he’s going to do. Everyone has their own opinions, but we’re getting there. It’s a major goal to try and win four, so let’s do something that very few have done.”

Only eight athletes – and only two from the Lower Peninsula – have won four individual events at an MHSAA Boys Track & Field Finals.

Said Diaz: “I want to win all four of my events, and we will try to figure out what’s best to get all 40 points and get the best times I can before summer track.”

Dean Holzwarth has covered primarily high school sports for Grand Rapids-based WOOD-TV for four years after serving at the Grand Rapids Press and MLive for 16 years along with shorter stints at the Ionia Sentinel and WZZM. Contact him at dream100@comcast.net with story ideas for Allegan, Kent and Ottawa counties. 

PHOTOS: (Top) Saugatuck's Benny Diaz outpaces the competition in a sprint during a recent meet. (Middle) Diaz also excels at both hurdles races. (Photos by Dean Holzwarth.)

Lawrence's Schuman Sets Example for Well-Rounded Success

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

December 14, 2022

LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.

Southwest Corridor“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.

John GuilleanGuillean 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.”

Great anticipation

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.

Derek GriblerGribler 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 ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.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.)