The Throws of a Record-Setting Season

May 3, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

While other kids have basketball hoops in their driveways, Cullen Prena and his sisters have a discus ring.

“I wish,” Cullen said Wednesday when asked if it was so.

You won’t find shot put craters in the family's lawn either.

But drive past the Prenas’ home when his sisters are home from college, and there’s a chance you’ll catch the Walled Lake Central junior and his Big Ten thrower siblings, Kari (University of Michigan) and Kelsey (Michigan State), talking over their craft.

“My sisters got me into it,” Cullen said. “It was a random summer day, and they were going to Central to throw. They asked me if I wanted to go with, and I said ‘Sure.’

“Ever since then I’ve been all into it. It’s basically taken over my life.”

Those first tosses came in the summer before Prena entered seventh grade. Five years later, he’s making a bid to go down as Michigan’s top high school thrower of all-time.

The fifth-place finisher in discus at last season’s MHSAA Division 1 Final Meet, Prena quickly has established himself as a heavy favorite this spring. He receives a Second Half High 5 this week after throwing an incredible 187 feet, 7 inches to win discus at Saturday’s Oxford Invitational, on top of also winning the shot put with a toss of 52-1.

Earlier in April, Prena topped 180 feet in discus two more times, in the process breaking both his school and then the Oakland County records that had both stood for at least 29 years according to a report by the Oakland Press.

And here’s the kicker: Prena’s top discus throw last season was a solid – but compared to now, mere – 159-9.

“His increase over the course of time, the average spectator can’t see it. But from sixth grade, he’s been training,” said Walled Lake Central boys track coach Nebojsa Stojkovic, who also works with the team’s throwers.

“You know how to gauge kids based on worth ethic and what their bodies are able to do. When freshman year he threw 144 feet, I knew the talent that was coming up.He’s got God-given ability that’s different from everyone else.”

That combination has made Prena something to behold this season.

His work ethic has benefited him with an increase in strength, evidenced by 30-40 percent improvements in all of his weight room lifts over the last year. Prena formerly played football, basketball and baseball, but decided to focus solely on weight training for track this school year in part after tearing a meniscus during his sophomore football season.

And then there’s two natural gifts for a thrower – Prena is double-jointed, allowing him increased flexibility for a stronger whip motion on his discus tosses. He also gets additional power from a wingspan that measures longer than his 6-foot-2 height.

He threw well at indoor competitions during the winter, and was tossing the discus consistently in the 170s when outdoor practice began this spring. In his team’s first meet, against White Lake Lakeland, he threw the discus 177 and then a best of 184-7, and also tossed the shot put 52-10 – more than three feet better than his previous outdoor personal-best in the latter event.

“It was hard to sleep (at night) after a meet when you throw a great throw like that,” Prena said.

Aside from some tires during workouts, Prena hasn’t tried tossing other heavy objects. “Other than my parents and my sisters; that’s about it,” he said, joking, of course.

But he's in serious pursuit of the MHSAA Finals record for discus. Prena’s best toss this season would’ve won every MHSAA Final dating back to 2003 and all seven of last season’s Finals (four Lower Peninsula, three Upper) by at least a foot.  

That Finals record of 197-11 belongs to former Portage Northern standout Joey Sarantos, who set it in 2001. Prena must improve another 11 feet – which seems like a logical next step after this spring's gigantic 28-foot jump.

“Last year’s state meet ... didn’t quite go the way I wanted it to, and it’s been in the back of my mind since then,” Prena said. “Coming off of weight training, I kinda expected (the improvement). But you don’t know until you see the stuff. And then I started realizing it, and it was setting in that this is real. This is ridiculous."

PHOTOS: (Top) Walled Lake Central's Cullen Prena warms up before the discus throw that would break the Oakland County record. (Middle) Prena surveys the scene before another discus toss. His best this season is 187-7. (Photos courtesy of Walled Lake Central and David Mexicotte.)

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 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.)