By Butch Harmon
Special to Second Half
COMSTOCK PARK – The Sanford Meridian baseball team was down a man Saturday as it worked its way to a District title.
Senior Jacob Wenzlick was busy on the other side of the state, helping the Sanford-Meridian boys track and field team win the championship at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals.
Wenzlick was a member of three winning relay teams for the victorious Mustangs. He also is a member of the Mustangs baseball team and had a pair of hits in the District opener earlier in the week.
But the lure of a lofty finish at the Track and Field Finals had him on the track Saturday afternoon.
“This was just nuts,” Wenzlick said. “We didn't even win our conference or our Regional. To win a state championship is incredible.”
That Sanford-Meridian was in a position to win was pretty incredible.
Wenzlick was not the only assist the Mustangs’ track team received from the baseball team. Senior Dan Johnson, who played baseball last season, broke his wrist before the season this spring. Unable to play baseball, he decided to come out for the track team.
On Saturday, Johnson found himself running a leg on the 1,600 relay team that not only won but set a meet record in the process.
“This is my first year of running track, and it was awesome,” Johnson said.
The track team received an even bigger assist from the Sanford-Meridian basketball team. Seniors Kevin Scheibert and Jacob Ham are first-year runners and members of the basketball team. They were busy in previous springs playing travel basketball together to prepare for the next season.
But with their high school basketball careers finished, the duo was talked into coming out for the track team by Sanford-Meridian coach Dave Pettyplace.
Scheibert and Wenzlick stepped in to open vacancies on the 400, 800 and 1,600 relay teams and helped all three squads win championships Saturday.
“We had three guys who were in their first year running track,” Pettyplace said. “They were part of three relay teams that took first place and that was a big key.”
Another big key was a fifth-place performance from Ham in the 200-meter run. Seeded eighth, Ham told a teammate he was going to take it easy in the 200 to save himself for the 1,600 relay at the end. His teammate let him know that those points in the 200 would be key for the team, and Ham changed his game plan.
“Those points were pretty important,” Ham said. “I had the mile relay after that and I wasn’t going to try very hard, but when I was told we needed those points, I ran as hard as I could.”
A feeling he and Scheibert would not have enjoyed had it not been for his coaches’ recruiting efforts.
“Coach has always talked to me about coming out for track,” Ham said.
“I’m at a loss for words,” Scheibert said. “This was the first year for the two of us. We just came out for the fun of it never realizing we would get in this position.”
For New Haven junior Josh Harris, the Finals were a very special occasion. Not only did Harris win the 110 hurdles in a personal-best time of 14.96, but he also celebrated his 17th birthday.
“This has been a goal of mine since my freshman year,” Harris said. “I also made a promise to my deceased coach, coach Rob who coached me as a freshman, that I would do this for him. Doing this on my birthday just adds the icing on the cake.”
Harris just missed qualifying as a freshman and last season he did not run track as he played travel basketball instead.
“Once the race began I felt very loose and confident, “Harris said. “I had no nervousness at all.”
Union City junior Aaron Watson also missed out on the Finals last year. Watson suffered a torn hamstring early last season and was never at full strength.
Healthy this year, Watson not only made it but won the 100 dash in a personal-best time of 10.9.
“As a freshman I made it to state but I was knocked out in the prelims,” Watson said. “Last year in the first meet of the season I tore my hamstring. At the beginning of this season my goal was just to qualify for state. As the season went on I started setting my goals higher and higher.
“I came out of the blocks real good. The leaders kind of bunched up in the middle of the race, but then I pulled away at the end. I started strong and finished strong today.”
Thanks to some help from his teammate, Niles Brandywine senior Andrew Duckett came away with a championship in the 300 hurdles. Duckett turned in a winning time of 39.1 while his teammate, senior Nathan Anders, placed third.
“Finishing in the top three together is a big deal for us,” Duckett said. “It is so helpful having a teammate like Nathan. He pushes me in practice every day. Most teams don’t have that luxury.”
Almont sophomore Jacob Battani picked a good time to make a big improvement. Battani won the pole vault with a vault of 13-9, a nine-inch improvement over his previous personal record.
“I had a better invert today, and that was something I was working on all week in practice,” Battani said. “I’m really excited and happy. I was just hoping to make it to state this year. I was not expecting to finish first.”
Hopkins junior high jumper Quincy Collings went out for track for the first time last season. One year later he not only made it to the Finals but he won the high jump with a leap of 6-9, three inches better than his previous record.
“I’ve been working on my technique a lot lately,” Collings said. “I was told to back up when the height goes up to get over the bar, and I’m happy with the result. My goal was to clear 6-8 and finish in the top three.”
PHOTO: Sanford Meridian's Jacob Wenzlick carries the baton for one of his team's relays. (Click to see more from RunMichigan.com.)
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 email@example.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.)