Jackson's Janke Recalled as 'Larger than Life,' Always Willing to Help

By Doug Donnelly
Special for MHSAA.com

January 26, 2022

JACKSON – A few days before Christmas, Jackson boys track & field head coach Corey Pryor was called to meet with Charles Janke, the longtime former Jackson coach and teacher. 

Janke was very ill and in the final days of his life. Janke, it turns out, wasn’t leaving anything to chance.

“He asked me if the stadium was ready for our big track meet, the one named after him,” Pryor said. “Believe it or not, that’s what he asked. He was always so organized and meticulous. He wanted to make sure everything was always on schedule.

“I am grateful for getting the chance to spend a few more moments with him.”

Janke, 85, died Dec. 30 at Henry Ford Allegiance Hospice Home in Jackson.

Janke was a track and cross country coach for Jackson who was recognized statewide for his commitment to high school athletics, student athletes and the two sports he loved the most. Although he retired from coaching nearly two decades ago, he remained very involved in high school sports. He was a leader in both sports across the state, a giant in the high school running community.

A Detroit native who went to Central Michigan University to play football, Janke had short stints at Southfield and Milford schools before moving to Jackson where he taught history and physical education. Although he got his start as a football coach, at Jackson he took over the track and cross country programs in 1966. He pulled double duty for years before stepping down as track coach in 1990, but he continued with cross country through 2003 while helping coach the distance runners in track for several more years.

If it involved track & field or cross country in Michigan, Janke was probably involved. He was an early pioneer in the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association, the first statewide sports-specific association for coaches in the state. He founded several events, including the first countywide cross country meet in Jackson. He hosted, organized and gave presentations at coaching clinics for years and in the early 1970s helped organize indoor track & field meets through MITCA by contacting colleges across the state to see if they were interested in hosting events. He also was the first to publish a MITCA newsletter.

In cross country, he was among those who played a role in bringing all four classes together for a Lower Peninsula championship meet at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn. He helped with the event long after coaching. He also served as head field events judge at Big Ten Indoor Championships and became a high school official after retiring as head coach.

His passion for the sport was evident.

“He had a genuine love for the sport,” Pryor said. “He always had his way of doing things. He was a special kind of guy.”

When Pryor was a high school sprinter at Jackson, Janke was an assistant coach who mainly worked with long distance runners. 

“He coached hard,” Pryor said, adding that he never fully appreciated Coach Janke until later in life and especially after he became track coach. Pryor found pages and pages of handwritten notes with dates, times and athletes’ names.

“He even wrote down the weather,” Pryor said.

He and Janke had a lot of discussions, often over breakfast, about track events.

“He would be at almost all of the meets,” Pryor said. “He learned every kid by name. He told them he wanted to see them at the state meet. I welcomed him with open arms. When I began to see just what he meant to our state, I realized this guy was a diamond.

“I was blessed to see him behind the curtain. I saw he was the type of guy who really cared about people and wanted to see them succeed. He was more than a coach.”

Vandercook Lake cross country coach Dan Roggenbaum is one of several from the Jackson area who would seek out Janke for advice and mentorship. He said Janke approached officiating with the same rigor and commitment he did coaching.

“Charlie was always willing to help me out with any questions I ever had,” he said. “He was larger than life to me and most other coaches in our county. He was always willing to help and give advice to any of us who were a lot newer to the cross country and track & field scene.”

Two things Janke was most proud of was Withington Stadium in Jackson and the cross country course at Ella Sharp Park named after him.

“I always admired his love and passion for cross country, track & field,” said Ben Pack, now a coach and administrator at Manchester, but once a shot and discus thrower for Janke. “On days of track meets he would have the track set up before the school day started, with the blocks at the starting line, the hurdles stacked along the track to be placed for the first hurdle race, and the throws event areas lined.  Every detail for the practices and meets were paid attention to. 

“He didn’t do this because he had to do it; he did it because he loved doing it. He always wanted everything to be first class.”

Janke was admittedly a tough coach.

In winning the Al Cotton Award for his dedication to Jackson athletics, the Jackson Citizen-Patriot wrote this about Janke in 2003: “One does not need to talk to many of Janke's athletes or listen very long to get a clear picture of the type of coach he was. He was intense. He was in charge. He demanded respect and he expected the best, and he received a huge measure of both from those who followed his regimen.”

Janke was inducted into both the Michigan High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame and the MITCA Hall of Fame. 

Pack said, “During high school we had a sign that read, ‘The mind controls the body.’ In PE strength class we often did exercises that helped us understand how much more we could push ourselves if we fought off the pain of the exercise. Without question, this built mental toughness. He taught kids how to set goals, and the step-by-step process to get to the goal.”

All told, Janke spent more than 60 years involved in track and cross country. His impact will roll on in both sports. A number of former athletes have gone on to become teachers and coaches themselves, like Pack, who not only was an athlete for Janke but coached alongside him. Pack served as Jackson’s varsity football coach from 1987-2002 and again in 2012.

“As peers we often would guide kids to each other’s sports,” Pack said. “Kids that I felt would be better at running cross country, I sent to him. Kids that he felt would be good football players he sent to me. Working together was an honor.”

Jim Martin ran for Janke at Jackson in the 1970s. He’s now in his 36th year coaching track and cross country, the last 26 at Sault Ste. Marie High School. He said he’s a coach today because of the impact Janke had on him.

“At a time in my life that I needed structure and guidance, he was the rock,” Martin said. “He was always there. There's no way I'm in this (coaching) 35 years without him. He was my role model. He cannot be replaced.”

Last fall, Martin took his Sault Ste. Marie team to Jackson for the Charles Janke Invitational. His Blue Devils team won. Going into the meet, he didn’t think that was possible.

“For the life of me I couldn’t figure out how we won that,” Martin said. “We were good, but not Jackson good. … That was the last time Coach Janke saw my team. Now I know why.”

A Celebration of Life service will be held at 2 p.m. on June 12, 2022, at, appropriately, Withington Stadium.

Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTO: Charles Janke coaches his Jackson team during a cross country meet in 2003. (Photo by John Johnson.)

Finals Title Next Step for Versatile Swan Valley Record-Breaker Kuhn

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 22, 2024

Sydney Kuhn’s habit for smashing school records at Saginaw Swan Valley has forced the track & field program to start taking cost-cutting measures.

Bay & Thumb“We stopped changing out the records on our record board,” Swan Valley coach Dave Dawson said. “We just figured she has another year and she’ll break it again, so we figured we’re going to save money this way.”

Kuhn, a junior, owns the school records in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. She also has the program record in 60 meters, an indoor track event. She’s run the school’s second-fastest 300 hurdles time, and one of the top five 100-meter times. The 1,600-meter relay team she’s part of with Mackenzie Morgan, Grace Spear and Mackenzie Powell is close to setting a record, as well, and has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on June 1.

“Her ninth-grade year, everybody knew, depending on what happens and her attitude, they knew she could be something special. There was potential there,” Dawson said. “Lauren Huebner, she graduated in 2016 and went to SVSU and was a two-time Division II national champion, she had eight records on the board. Sydney feeds off that. Especially now that Lauren is helping coach, she’s definitely been pivotal in this.”

Kuhn qualified for the Finals in the three events she ran at last week’s Regional: the 200, 400 and 1,600 relay. She will be the No. 1 seed in the 400, and has run the fastest time in the state regardless of division, at 55.11 seconds. She’s the No. 2 seed in the 200, where her personal best of 24.89 is the fifth-fastest time in the state this year, regardless of division. She finished third and sixth, respectively, at the Finals in the events a year ago.

“I feel good,” Kuhn said. “I’m just getting ready. It’s been a good year, it’s been going smoothly. The 400 looks pretty good, and the 200 there will be some good competition. Freshman year, I got fifth, then third (as a sophomore) in the 400, so hopefully this year is first.”

She did not run the 800 at the Regional, as it was decided it was too close in the meet order to her other events. She’s run 2:12.75 in the event, the fourth-fastest time recorded in the state this season.

That could be where she has the most potential, however, as it’s a race she had never run competitively until her sophomore season. The first time she ran it in a varsity meet, she recorded a 2:21, setting the school record.

Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth.“(Coach) Andrew Wendler put a bug in her ear, ‘If you’re running this fast in the 400, think of what your 800 would be,’” Dawson said. “She says, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it.’ So, in one of our first conference meets, she ran against a girl that’s pretty good in the 800 and we just said to follow her – stick with her and see what you can do. With 200 meters left, she just took off and broke the school record the first time she ran it.”

A year later, they tried the same thing with the 1,600. And again, Kuhn responded by running 5:12.73 in her first try, setting the school record. She’s since run 5:06.45.

“The first time I ran the 800, I ran against Mary Richmond from Frankenmuth who is really fast, and I sort of paced behind her the first 400, then the last 300 I took off. Same thing with the 1,600. I felt like staying behind her, I wasn’t really racing, so I could just go, I thought.”

Richmond is a three-time all-state finisher in both the 1,600 and the 3,200, as well as a four-time all-state cross country runner. 

With Kuhn’s instant success in every race she’s tried, the logical next question is, what about the 3,200?

“My coach mentioned that,” Kuhn said with a laugh. “But I usually just shake my head. You never know.”

There is a real question, however, about what event, or events, Kuhn is best suited for moving forward. She said that she would like to shift some focus to the 800 for her senior year, and several college coaches who have been in contact with her have indicated that’s where she could land.

“The pattern typically is they would probably turn her into a half-miler or a miler,” Dawson said. “Some college coaches want her for the heptathlon with her hurdle experience, and she is not a stranger to the weight room. That’s the fun part about this, she tries something and it’s usually pretty fun. It’s usually a positive experience.”

Kuhn is ready for whatever is thrown at her.

“They’re mostly like 800, 1,500, those types of races,” she said. “Some of them just say whatever you like best. One coach mentioned the steeplechase – I don’t know about that. One coach did mention (heptathlon). I’d be open to whatever is best.”

While she’s taken some unofficial visits, she said she’s in no hurry to choose a college. Her focus remains on winning a Finals title at Swan Valley, and a series of times she’s set as goals for herself: 24.4, 54.9, 2:09.9, 4:59.9.

They’re all saved on her phone screen, where they’re easy to change as she reaches them. And at no cost.

“Every time I look at my phone, I see the times I want to get,” she said. “I’ve changed my screen saver a lot when I do break it.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Saginaw Swan Valley’s Sydney Kuhn runs toward the finish during the Korf/Schultz Saginaw County Invitational on May 10 at Hemlock. (Middle) Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth. (Photos by Eagle Eye Photography.)