By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
In Randy Hunt’s mind, there was no way Richland Gull Lake’s cross country teams weren’t going to continuing their Homecoming tradition this fall – no matter how much farther they had to run.
Every year since 1993, Gull Lake’s runners have carried a game ball from their football opponent’s school to the Blue Devils’ stadium in advance of the Homecoming game. Previously, the longest trip was 72 miles from Niles.
But this fall, Gull Lake’s varsity didn’t have an opponent lined up for Homecoming until picking up Detroit Country Day – 138 miles to the east.
No problem. Over Thursday and Friday last week, past Farmington Hills, Ann Arbor, Jackson, Battle Creek and more, the Blue Devils again delivered the game ball.
“Our runners are amazing and up to any challenge,” Gull Lake girls coach Robin Blackburn said. “We originally heard that our opponent this year was Detroit Country Day; we thought our athletic director was joking! No joke, she was serious.
“Next thought, how are we going to make this happen? We had lots of crazy ideas. My favorite was putting a treadmill on a flatbed truck and having them run. Obviously we couldn’t do that, but we knew we had to do this over two days. Once we started planning and mapping the course, everything fell into place.”
Runners filled out cards with whom, when and how far they wanted to run, and then Blackburn and Hunt, the boys coach, built the plan. The first shift left Gull Lake for Country Day at 5:30 a.m. Thursday. Makenzie Wank, Betsy Martens, Sarah Grimes, Kayla Eklund, Grace Foster and Abby Bell – running in pairs in 4-mile increments – tackled the first 35 miles west.
The next shift left from Gull Lake at 10 a.m. headed for Northfield Township, north of Ann Arbor. Joel Blackburn, Nick Dawson, Koby Fraaza, Read Knapp, Nate Krawczyk and Nate Alpers – running 5-mile increments – tackled the next 45-mile leg of the relay and even were questioned by a local police officer as to what they were up to in the middle of nowhere on dirt road.
“Usually we like the ball to be continuous, but obviously with such a distance and safety concerns, we split this one up,” Hunt said. “The kids were excited to do it, and as coaches we knew it would create an awesome memory/story.
“I think the kids liked it because it got them out of school but also for the team bonding. I was impressed with their commitment to the tradition.”
Freshmen Kristian Shyiak and Cameron Perkins took Friday’s first leg from Jackson, a 6.4 mile stretch, followed by 10 more shifts – all planned to exact distance and arrival time, while parents joined in to taxi groups to their starting points and back to the school.
The plan was to finish with nearly a full lap at the track at 6:30 p.m., with the teams’ seniors then delivering the ball to the football officials at the 50-yard line. But with time getting short, the last group of four had to adjust, with each athlete running one mile as hard as he could to get the ball to the stadium and into the officials’ hands by 6:50 – and they made it with time to spare. “It was amazing to see the kids work so hard and do it gratefully,” Hunt said.
Others who took part in the relay were Lainie Scott, Lauren Adams, Sarah Donovan, Ashley Randall, Kaylie Murphy, Luke Larson, Zach Zahrt, Neil Gleason, Simon Hakman, Lilly Weigt, Jayne Flynn, Rachel Grimes, Justin Walker, John Porter, Tyler Ford, David Larson, Ruby Risser, Lija Krasts, Nick Martens, Elly Whitfield, Aelita Klausmeier, Lorelei Hess and Oliver Harnden.
“Cross Country doesn’t get a lot of coverage, but this even got the community involved and following our updates on Facebook and Instagram,” Blackburn said.
“We are about being a family. We do a lot outside of practice to build our unity. This was a special moment in our family – one none of us will forget.”
PHOTOS: (Top) Starting top left at Detroit Country Day, groups of Gull Lake cross country runners take turns carrying the game ball during their nearly 140-mile trek to Richland last week. (Middle) Blue Devils runners take their turn on a country road. (Below) All of the runners join together for the final stretch on Gull Lake’s track. (Photos courtesy of the Gull Lake cross country program.)
BROOKLYN — On the same day Rockford’s Dathan Ritzenhein set a course record at Michigan International Speedway that has never been approached, Kurtis Marlowe of Richland Gull Lake had a performance that was overshadowed.
But Marlowe’s winning time of 15:02.5 in the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in 2000 also stood the test of time.
Freeland junior TJ Hansen eclipsed the Division 2 record with his winning time of 14:52.8. Runner-up Solomon Kwartowitz of Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood also nearly broke the previous record, finishing in 15:03.3.
Even though it was apparent from earlier races Saturday that perfect conditions made fast times possible, Hansen didn’t set out to break Marlowe’s record.
“No, my goal was to go out and win,” he said. “Play strategy from the front, let others do the work, then just push it. Whatever time I got, I was gonna get. I knew it was going to take a time like that to win it today.
“I usually run close to a (personal record) every year at this meet. It’s one of my favorite courses. It’s definitely unique here at the speedway, so I really like the course, I really like to run it.”
Hansen went through the mile mark tied for 11th in 4:54.3, but you could’ve thrown a blanket over the top 12 runners at that point.
It was a three-man race between Hansen, Kwartowitz and 2022 champion Connell Alford of Chelsea when they reached the two-mile mark in 9:46.
Hansen made sure there would be no drama coming down the stretch.
“I was just trying to stay calm, let them do the work, just sit back,” he said. “When I needed to go, I was gonna go. My goal was to stay relaxed.”
Kwartowitz had no complaints with his race.
“It felt really smooth,” he said. “It was great. I didn’t get a chance to race these guys a bunch this year. I did at Spartan (Invitational, in September). I was really hoping to end it with a victory.”
The boys Division 2 team championship was a toss-up between four teams for the second year in a row, with Ada Forest Hills Eastern coming out on top with 134 points. Pinckney was second with 156, East Grand Rapids third with 175 and Allendale fourth with 176.
Last year, 32 points separated the top four teams.
Junior Henry Dixon led Forest Hills Eastern, placing sixth in 15:16.0. Senior Liam Hinman was 29th, senior Brendan Hoving was 30th, senior Cooper Jacobsen was 38th and junior Tyler Endres was 82nd.
It was the first MHSAA championship for Forest Hills Eastern, which had a program-best finish of fourth in 2007.
PHOTOS (Top) Freeland's TJ Hansen approaches the finish of his record run Saturday at MIS. (Middle) Henry Dixon sets the pace for Forest Hills Eastern's first team championship. (Photos by Dave McCauley/RunMichigan.com.)