Neighbors North Central, Bark River-Harris Teaming Up in Cross Country

By John Vrancic
Special for

September 21, 2022

POWERS — Student-athletes from Bark River-Harris have waited a long time for their opportunity to participate in cross country.

After a few unsuccessful attempts to start a program at BR-H, a handful of its students are finally getting their chance to run this fall by combining forces with neighboring North Central through a co-op venture.

Wes Knauf, a sophomore at BR-H, led the Jets by placing sixth in the Munising Invitational on Aug. 23, covering the hilly 3.1-mile course in 20 minutes, 37 seconds.

“During the fall, our biggest sport is football,” he said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for us to have cross country. I wanted to run cross country because I want to get better. This gives me more conditioning for track. I enjoy it. I started a little nervous, but now I feel more comfortable with it.”

And the BR-H students were welcomed with open arms.

“Overall, I’m happy with the way the teams have progressed, and we’re happy to have a full girls team,” second-year North Central coach Mike Jenkins said. “We have only three boys, but we couldn’t ask for a better three.”

Three of the team’s five girls are from BR-H, including junior Julia Olson and sophomore Hope Varoni, who also play volleyball for the Broncos and were big contributors as the girls track & field team won the Upper Peninsula Division 2 championship in June.

“(Cross country is) pretty busy and demanding on my body,” said Olson. “At first I was pretty nervous, but now I’m enjoying it.

“I enjoy running through the woods. It was really hot (Sept. 7) at Manistique. It reminded me a little bit of last year’s track Finals (at Kingsford) because of the heat. This definitely helps for other sports because you’re better conditioned.”

Julia Olson runs a leg of the 1,600 relay for Bark River-Harris this past spring at the UPD2 Track & Field Finals. Varoni led the Jets at Munising by placing 15th.

“I was pretty nervous, but I’m also pretty competitive,” she said. “I’m a middle distance runner in track, so this helps my conditioning for sure.

“It feels great to have this opportunity. We’re like a little family. When we go on road trips, it’s a great time. That gives us a chance to bond as a team.”

The North Central girls team finished second at Saturday’s Superior Central Invitational, with Varoni finishing third in the individual standings. Knauf was third in the boys race.

“It’s great to have Wes,” said North Central sophomore Alex Pipkorn. “We don’t have a full team, but it’s great to compete anyway. Anything helps. The more runners we have, the better it is.”

North Central sophomore Ella Riley also plays volleyball for the Jets.

“It feels real good to have a full (cross country) team,” she said. “I enjoy having the girls from Bark River-Harris with us. … I think our team has lot of potential. I think we can do a lot with that.”

BR-H junior Faith Javurek needed a little bit of convincing prior to joining the team.

“I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it because I didn’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’ve been running at home because I couldn’t make it to many of the practices, but it’s exciting.”

Sophomore Madelyn Corrigan, who joined the team last week, was set to make her debut at Superior Central.

“It was kind of hard on the first day,” she said last week. “I’m kind of nervous going into the first meet, but I’m doing it to get in shape for basketball.”

Senior Jesse Sampson said he’s more of a middle-of-the-pack runner, but also sees the wide-view benefits of running with the team. He finished 32nd at last season’s UPD3 Cross Country Finals, when the Jets had four racers – one short of getting to compete as a full team.

“I’m mostly competing with myself,” he added. “Three miles isn’t crazy long.

“The most rewarding part of cross country is meeting different kids and making friendships. It’s a benefit having Wes on the team. Competition-wise we don’t have enough for a team score, but it’s light-hearted and fun.”

John Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Powers North Central’s Jesse Sampson (283) runs during last season’s UPD3 Cross Country Finals. (Middle) Julia Olson runs a leg of the 1,600 relay for Bark River-Harris this past spring at the UPD2 Track & Field Finals. (Photos by Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.)

Kent City's Evers Selected for NFHS National 'Coach of the Year' Honor

By Geoff Kimmerly senior editor

January 11, 2023

Kent City cross country coach Jill Evers has been named the 2021-22 National Coach of the Year for girls cross country by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) Coaches Association.

Evers was selected by a committee including representatives from all eight NFHS sections – Michigan is part of Section 4 with Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The following brief bio includes an excerpt from Evers’ coaching philosophy, which nominees were asked to submit after being identified as candidates for the awards.

Jill EversJill Evers joined the Kent City athletic staff as an assistant cross country coach in 1991 after previously coaching a season each at Allegan High School and Allegan Middle School. She took over Kent City’s girls and boys varsity cross country programs in 1993 and also has served as head girls track & field coach since 1993. She led Kent City’s girls cross country team to a Lower Peninsula Division 3 Final runner-up finish in 2021, the program’s second runner-up finish under her leadership, and she’s also guided Kent City’s girls program to 15 league and seven Regional titles and nine total top-eight Finals finishes. She previously was named an NFHS Section Coach of the Year for girls track & field in 2006 after leading Kent City’s girls track & field team to its first MHSAA Finals championship in that sport, and inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2012. Evers also is a longtime science teacher at Kent City and advisor and mentor for a variety of school activities in addition to coaching.

“I know people say, ‘Athletics is an extension of the classroom,’ but I believe it's so much more than that. While participating in sports, young people can learn about themselves and others, challenge themselves and grow physically, mentally, emotionally, and socially. Athletics is where we learn life lessons, such as how to lose with grace, cheer for teammates and even opponents, win with humility, deal with adversity, empathize with others, respect all those involved, be grateful for healthy bodies and opportunities to compete and push ourselves beyond what was originally thought possible. Success is different for each person, but I believe cross country lends itself to individual success. Everyone can improve and learn lifelong healthy habits. Everyone can set and achieve goals. Those who aren't as fast often earn the respect of the more gifted runners because of their perseverance. It is my job as a coach to encourage, motivate, and challenge all students who want to participate, and then congratulate them for a job well done.”

Three more Michigan coaches earned honors in Section 4. Mark Posey was honored in boys golf after leading Big Rapids to a 10th-place finish in Lower Peninsula Division 3 in 2022 after four straight Finals runner-up finishes. (There was no LP boys golf season in 2020 due to COVID-19.) Lake Orion boys lacrosse coach Ronald Hebert was honored after guiding his team to the Division 1 Quarterfinals last spring after taking the Dragons to the Semifinals in 2021. Scott Werner was honored in girls track & field after leading Pewamo-Westphalia to a runner-up finish at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals. P-W shared the LPD3 Finals championship in 2021 and has won titles four of the last nine seasons (not counting 2020).

The NFHS has been recognizing coaches through an awards program since 1982.