Small-School Powers Tie for LPD4 Title

May 30, 2015

By Dean Holzwarth
Special for Second Half

HUDSONVILLE – The Saugatuck boys track and field team believed it had to settle for another second-place finish at Saturday’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Final at Hudsonville’s Baldwin Middle School.

A late scoring change created hysteria among the squad.

After originally thinking it had fallen one point shy, a correction was made in the final 1,600 relay results that created a tie at the top between Saugatuck and defending champion Concord.

Both teams wound up finishing with 40 points, thus sharing the MHSAA Final crown. Muskegon West Michigan Christian placed third with 39 points.

“We saw coach Bauer run out of the tent holding up the No. 1 finger and everybody just exploded,” said Saugatuck sophomore Blake Dunn, who anchored the winning 1,600 relay team. “It was so sweet, and I’ve never had a feeling like that before. It was amazing.”

The Indians finished a distant second to Concord a year ago. They won the MHSAA Final in 2013.

“We got second last year and we were so down about it,” said Dunn, who also won the 300 hurdles in a time of 39.31 seconds. “There is such a difference between second and first, and when he came out of the tent it was the greatest feeling ever.

“I ran pretty well, but it comes down to the whole team thing. Without my teammates running as well as they did, then we don’t get first place. It’s not all me, and every point matters.”

Saugatuck coach Rick Bauer became emotional after learning his team had won after an official inadvertently forgot to factor in the results of another heat.

“We put so much into this, and this is our life,” Bauer said. “And to see their reaction after they found out they won, that’s really what it is about. It’s a big relief, and it’s like a weight getting lifted off your shoulders.

“Now they get to shave my head. I told them if they won then they could shave my head, and it’s the best haircut you could ever get.”

Concord used a balanced effort to share the crown and repeat.

“That was really exciting,” Concord coach Mark Hersha said. “A lot of teams had a chance, so we knew we had to perform really well to give ourselves the best chance. Our kids responded pretty well, and we had a lot of kids scoring and a lot of kids performing really well.”

Concord graduated seven from last season, but Hersha said a group of young kids stepped up and filled those shoes.

Veteran leadership also factored in as senior Jesse Hersha won the 3,200 (9:39.87) and finished runner-up in the 1,600.

“I’m really happy for our team,” Jesse Hersha said. “It wasn’t as deep as last year, but we put in the work and we had a lot of guys step up when we needed it. I was happy to be a part of it and earn some points for my team today.

Harbor Springs senior Luke Anderson wrapped up a stellar career with a pair of victories. He claimed top honors in the 800 (1:57.31) and repeated in the 1,600 (4:17.77).

Anderson also took third in the 3,200.

“The only better way to cap it off would have been to run a second faster in that 1,600, but God was good to me today; I will tell you that,” Anderson said. “My goal was to help my team do well, and I wanted to run a season-best in the mile. I did that, and my goal for the 800 was to win it. Not time or anything else, just win it. I couldn’t be happier.”

Another multi-winner was Union City senior Austin Watson, who blazed to wins in the 100 (10.96) and 200 (22.33).

He also anchored the winning 400 relay team, which clocked a 44.30.

“I’ve kind of had an injury-riddled season, so it was really good to end it like this on a positive note,” said Watson, who won the 100 in LP Division 3 last season.

“I pulled my groin during indoor season, but it feels great because this is just what I worked for, and I got it. I knew our team had a shot to win the 400 relay, and we went out there and did that.”

Southfield Christian’s Blake Washington established a new LP Division 4 Final record in the 400. The senior speedster clocked a 49.34, eclipsing the old mark of 49.43 set in 2005.

“I can only thank God because he got me through this race,” said Washington, who will run at the University of Michigan in the fall. “I’ve been battling injuries, and it was cold, but God pulled me through.”

Washington, who also placed runner-up in the 200, was diagnosed with a rare condition when he was young that prevented him from walking or hearing.

“For me to actually run at all is a blessing, and for me to do what I did today is just a miracle,” Washington said. 

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Saugatuck's Blake Dunn clears a hurdle Saturday in helping his team claim a shared LP Division 4 championship with Concord. (Middle) Concord's Jesse Hersha capped his high school career with a championship in the 3,200 to go with the team title. (Click to see more from Photo by Janina Pollatz.)

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for

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.

Southwest CorridorThe 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.

Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. “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.”

Seeing potential

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.”

The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. 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 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 [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.)