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.
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 RunMichigan.com. Photo by Janina Pollatz.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.)