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.)

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)