KINGSFORD — A trio of Upper Peninsula wheelchair athletes were among five statewide who concluded their seasons June 4 competing in first-time adaptive events at MHSAA Finals.
This spring, the MHSAA Track & Field Regionals and Finals included its first adaptive 100, 200 and 400-meter dashes and shot put.
“Learning the technique and staying motivated is very challenging,” Houghton senior Maria Valet said after the Western Peninsula Athletic Conference meet May 31 at Calumet. “I go to regional competition downstate and in Indiana and Wisconsin. I also do little bit of weight training, but practice mostly on the track. I also work a little bit with Dean Juntunen (a longtime wheelchair racer from Ontonagon), who gives me some pointers. It’s good to have something to work for and see other people do it.”
Joining Velat at the Upper Peninsula Finals in Kingsford were Marquette freshman Jim Bennett and Sault Ste. Marie freshman Johnny Osborn.
Velat covered the 100 in 26.56 seconds, 200 (51.15) and 400 (1:35.96) and recorded a 10-foot toss in shot put.
Her effort in the 400 at the Finals was nearly a personal-best.
“My best time in the 100 is 25.7 and I’ve done the 200 in approximately 48 seconds,” she said. “I think the 100 is my hardest event because it’s harder to gain momentum.”
Velat will attend the University of Michigan and major in biology. She will also be on the track team.
Bennett shattered his previous best time in the 200 by more than 2½ seconds was clocked at 24.31 in the 100 and 1:39.74 in the 400.
“It feels real good to race against other people,” he said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to do this before. There are so many opportunities available. Colleges are looking for wheelchair racers.
“Today was my best time in the 200 (47.52). It feels great to do that. I had my best time in the 100 (23.15) in Marquette. The longer distances are more challenging for me. Right now I’m building up.”
Osborn threw the shot 13-4 at Kingsford, missing his personal best by just two inches.
“It means a lot to me to get a chance to compete,” he said. “This helps bring out the competitive spirit. I do cross country, which gives me more endurance and definitely helps me for track. I also manage the basketball team at our school.”
Osborn finished the 100 in 33.18, 200 in 1:17.95 and 400 in 2:21.03.
In the Lower Peninsula, Chelsea junior Jacob Nelson competed in the Division 2 100 meters, and Grosse Pointe Woods University Liggett junior Jacob Juip competed in the Division 3 100 and 200.
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) Marquette's Jim Bennett races during the UP Finals on June 4. (Middle) Houghton's Maria Velat competed in all four adaptive Finals events in UPD1. (Below) Sault Ste. Marie's Johnny Osborn also competed in all four events at Kingsford. (Photos by Cara Kamps/Run Michigan.)
BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
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.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)