Zingsheim's Story an Award-Winner

May 31, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Zack Zingsheim’s career highlight is an easy pick.

It was just a few months ago, at Michigan International Speedway, when he stunned even himself by winning the MHSAA Division 3 cross country championship.

He can describe in vivid detail being the last to come out of the chute at the finish, looking into the grandstand and telling himself to always remember the moment. He can see again his teammates further down the chute, chanting his name. The goose bumps he felt. How they jumped the fence, lifted him to their shoulders and carried him off the course.

It was the greatest day he could remember. And it ended with a pie in the face.

“I remember how surreal the moment was,” he said. “Since I was a little kid, I thought it would be so cool to win the state meet for cross country; the atmosphere is so amazing.”

Nearly as amazing is he doesn’t remember the flavor of the pie.

Zingsheim tells a story with the best of them – thanks in part  to a keen photographic memory and attention to detail.

But he gets a Second Half High 5 this week because of his status as one of the state’s top high school runners – and what a tale he’s spun over the last year.

Zingsheim has the top-seeded Division 3 time in the 800 meters (1:55.30) heading into Saturday’s Finals at Comstock High School, and also runs on the top-seeded 800, 1,600 and 3,200 relays. He and his teammates won the 800 relay at last season’s Finals, and he has or is part of school records in all four of those races, plus the 400. He’s also the fastest in Cougars cross country history.

Another of his favorite stories to tell explains why.

Diamond in the rough

He remembers seeing the Corunna baseball diamond in the distance. That’s key to this story.

Zingsheim was a freshman in 2009, running the second leg of the 800 relay, and had just taken the baton. His right hip had been feeling tight and then painful over the previous couple of weeks, but he felt great at that point as he glanced ahead and saw the baseball field.

The next step, he felt like he got hit with a baseball square in the right hip. But there was no baseball.

He tried to bring the leg forward, and couldn’t. He dragged his leg the next 100 meters to complete his handoff, and then collapsed.

Zingsheim did see a “flabby piece of bone just laying there.” He started crying. His parents immediately drove him to the hospital as he screamed the lyrics to whatever was on the radio to try to forget the pain. (And yes, he remembered one off the songs: “Boom Boom Pow” by the Black Eyed Peas.)

The flexor muscle that connected his hamstring to his pelvis had torn and taken the top of that part of his pelvic bone with it.

Next came months of therapy and changes. He’d started on the freshman basketball team, but decided to stop that sport and focus on running. Still, he couldn’t get in shape that summer because he couldn’t put in the miles, and his sophomore cross country season wasn’t what he’d wanted – until he ran a personal best late in the season and got a needed confidence boost.

“There’s something so special about being able to run so hard and seeing hard work come to fruition on the course or the track,” Zingsheim said. “And especially, seeing how far I had to come. I wanted to see what kind of runner I could become if I put all that work in.”

His 1,600 relay finished eighth at the 2010 Division 3 Finals, another turning point. A year later, Lansing Catholic coach Tim Simpson needed a fill-in on the 800 relay. The date was April 13, 2011 – a day shy of two years since he’d suffered the pelvic break. “I’ve never been so nervous for another race,” he said. But the Cougars set a school record, and he’s been on that relay since.

A long road traveled

“He’s come a long way, but he’s always had that ability,” Simpson said. “He ran 50-70 miles a week during the summer. He reads about the top runners, follows it, so he know what they’re doing, what you’re supposed to do if you’re going to be good.”

There’s always an eye on the details; Zingsheim’s got a reputation among his classmates as the guy who always is last to turn in his tests. He gets done quickly, but spends the rest of the period double and triple-checking his answers to make sure everything is right.

There are plenty of other stories, of course. Like how he and his talented classmates – Lansing Catholic’s senior boys also played in the Division 5 Football Final in the fall – split up during middle school into football teams that stayed the same for months and turned into fierce rivalries. (He played receiver.)

He’s earned the story-teller role in his family too; at gatherings he’s often the go-to guy for a “quirky” or “goofy” family tale.

But the stories he’ll be most proud to be part of are those that get passed down to Lansing Catholic runners after him.

Zingsheim was in first grade when his brother Brandon was a senior on the cross country and track teams and began the Cougars’ tradition of saying a “Hail Mary” and chanting “Hey Cougars, what we going to do?” Zack is among those who now lead that rally.

Lansing Catholic had outstanding runners before Zingsheim. But with him and a strong group of individuals including distance seniors Jimmy Hicks (who will walk-on at the University of Georgia), Austin Winter and Joe Marrah, they could cap their careers with the team’s first MHSAA championship.

“What I really wanted to do by the time my tenure was done was lay a foundation. Build the program; do things the right way,” Zingsheim said. “I wanted to teach guys what it means to be an LCC runner.

“The last four years, we’ve really been able to build that program. … And I’m so excited to see where the program is going the next couple of years.”

Click to read more about Zingsheim's inspirations and aspirations.

PHOTO: Lansing Catholic's Zack Zingsheim was part of the championship-winning 800 relay at last season's Division 3 Final. 

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

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 pamkzoo@aol.com 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.)