ADA – If Michael Wright was a baseball player, he probably would've been called out on strikes a year ago.
Instead, the Vicksburg senior can celebrate after winning the 200 at Saturday's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Track & Field Finals at Forest Hills Eastern.
The road to the championship in the 200, via a time of 21.72, was anything but a straight line for Wright. An aspiring baseball player, he was cut from the Vicksburg squad as a freshman. His football career, by Wright's own admission, was "on and off." And then a year ago in his first track meet, Wright suffered a leg injury that virtually ended his season. He did return to finish fifth in the 200 at Finals while helping the 400 relay team to a 16th place.
So there is nothing to realistically explain how Wright found himself in the position Saturday at sweltering Forest Hills Eastern to win a championship. Except for returning this season to break the school record in the 200 four times in two months. Well, that and willpower and simple desire.
"I knew I could finish high, maybe in the top five. But this is better," said Wright, who credits drinking large quantities of milk for his resurgence. "I looked to football because I didn't think I could bounce back for track. But I overcame the bumps, the obstacles."
While Wright was jump-starting his track career, Corunna won the team title with 41 points. Mason and Forest Hills Eastern tied for second with 35. Whitehall was fourth with 33 points, and Frankenmuth fifth with 29 points.
Corunna coach Jeff Sawyer, who had never won a Finals title in 37 years coaching at Owosso and three more at Corunna, said the championship came after little fanfare during the season. Virtually right up until the time Corunna hauled off its first-place trophy, Sawyer said it was never really on his team's mind. The title came after the team managed only a runner-up finish at the Regional.
"We kind of low-keyed it," he said. "We knew scoring 40 points was possible. We lost to Frankenmuth by one point at the Regional. … We were a little disappointed we didn't win, but we had some good times today. We knew it was possible.
"Every day we just come and do what we do. We talk about getting better every day with PRs (personal records). And we're still getting better because we have some tough guys. Just competitive, tough kids. But we were the underdogs."
Corunna had only two firsts on Saturday, in the 400 relay (42.63) and Wyatt Bower in the long jump (22-8½).
Among the individual highlights was Frankenmuth senior Dalton DeBeau, who successfully defended his Finals title in the discus (171-6). He was fifth in that event as a sophomore and after winning a year ago, was considered a good bet to repeat.
"I kind of expected it," said DeBeau, who will compete at Michigan State next spring. "There wasn't a lot of pressure. I knew what had to be done. I threw 160 feet on my first throw to get in the finals, and that helped right away. I knew I could go all out."
Berrien Springs' Jake Machiniak won the 100 (10.54) while the team also captured the 800 relay (1:28.18). Machiniak said his season hasn't been without its share of difficulties. There was a time when he couldn't seem to come out of the starting blocks smoothly. But beginning with the conference meet where he ran school record 10:73, Machiniak felt himself back on course.
"There were ups and downs. I struggled in the middle of the season," he said. "But my teammates helped me through some difficulties. I came here to finish the job; I knew I could do something here."
Mason's Tyler Baker won the 100 hurdles (14.63) to complete a long journey that included finishing just ninth in last year's prelims. The success was as simple as putting in loads of offseason work.
"I practiced and did stuff about every day," he said. "I might not be the fastest, but I make up for that in form. It's a fine-tuning thing. Everyone wants to be faster."
Mason also got a championship from A.J. Mantel, who captured the 300 hurdles (38.90).
Among other highlights was Forest Hills Eastern senior Aiden Sullivan successfully defending a 2022 title on his own home turf. He won Saturday's 800 (1:53.92).
Adrian won the 3,200 relay (7:39.77), while Grand Rapids Christian took the 1,600 (3:24.49).
Alma had two individual winners in Michael Howey in the shot (55-08) and Jacob Dunlap in the high jump (6-7).
The other champs were Kyle Eberhard of Linden in the 1,600 (4:14.79), Whitehall's Trannon Ayler in the 400 (48.83), Freeland's T.J. Hansen in the 3,200 (9:11.56) and Sam Vesperman of Grosse Ile in the pole vault (15.01). Chelsea senior Jacob Nelson competed in the adaptive 100 (27.28), 200 (57.71) and shot put (6-6).
PHOTOS (Top) Vicksburg's Michael Wright celebrates after winning the 200 on Saturday. (Middle) Corunna's Tarick Bower enjoys a moment after anchoring the winning 400 relay. (Below) Mason's Tyler Baker, center, works to stay ahead in the 110 hurdles. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)
Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.
Richards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.
He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.
While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.
Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.
This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”
The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.
“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.
One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.
Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.
“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.
“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”
True to his school
One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.
“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.
Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.
The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.
That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.
Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.
Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.
Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.
Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.
“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”
Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.
The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.
“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”
The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.
Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.
The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.
McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).
“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”
Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.
Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.
“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.
Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.
“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.
That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)
Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.
“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”
Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.
The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.
Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.
Only after all of that will it be college decision time.
“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)