Coach Predicts Title, Ithaca Girls Answer

June 13, 2016

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

There’s a clear difference between prediction and expectation. But the Ithaca girls track & field team had to decide which way coach Gene Lebron was leaning when he told his athletes they’d win an MHSAA championship this spring.  

Erica Sheahan knew it was more than a pep talk.

Lebron had called his cross country team’s 2014 championship as well – and that gave this spring’s Yellowjackets plenty of faith in their coach’s fearless forecast.

Ithaca’s girls track & field team – the Applebee’s Team of the Month for May – dominated its Tri-Valley Conference West competition at last month’s league meet and also won its Division 3 Regional for the second straight year – and second time total in program history.

and it’s impossible to overlook what the Yellowjackets then accomplished four days after May ended – win the first MHSAA Finals championship in program history, scoring 57½ points to edge Adrian Madison by 3½ at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 meet at Comstock Park.  

“This group of seniors, we accomplished a lot together and we set our goals high,” said Sheahan, who repeated as LP Division 3 long jump champion. “Coach told us this would be the year, and we stuck to it and did the best we could to make it happen.” 

At the MHSAA postseason level, that first step came at the May 20 Regional at Shepherd, which Ithaca won by 52 points over the runner-up Bluejays. The Yellowjackets then won their league meet on May 25 with 215 points, doubling up the field while finishing first in seven individual races, two field events and all four relays.

Ithaca also started May with a 12½-point win at the Shepherd Invitational over Cadillac, which went on to tie for 17th in LP Division 2 this month, and third-place Fowler, which won the LP Division 4 championship. Ithaca also won the Division 3 portion of the Alma College Scottie Classic on May 14.

By the end of this season, Ithaca had broken school records in every relay, long jump, the 200, 800, 1,600 and 300 hurdles. Lebron said the relay records might not be approached for some time.

“Those records were already set really high, and these girls really performed at a high level this year,” Lebron said. “They really took a stride.They fed off that (2014) championship in cross country. We sent 10 girls to the MHSAA state meet, and six of those girls ran at the (cross country) state meet when we won. When we won in 2014 in cross country, we came back that track season and placed fourth. They kinda knew the writing was on the wall.

"They were disappointed with the state meet in cross country this year; they finished fifth and I thought they should’ve been higher, and they did too. They felt they let one get away, but they came in more motivated than ever for track.”

Sheahan was the only Ithaca girl to win a Finals championship. But she also won the 100 and 200 at the Regional, where junior Courtney Allen won the 800, junior Emily Foster won the 300 hurdles, and some combination of Sheahan, Foster, Allen, Mikayla Fairchild, Kara Kindel, Morgan Most, Blaire Showers, Amelia Freestone, Kurstin Kalisek and Alyssa Mankey won all four relays.

Counting every team Ithaca finished ahead of at an invitational or postseason event, the Yellowjackets were an incredible 145-2 this season, finishing third at the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association meet but winning every other time they competed.

Lebron has been around plenty of championship teams. In addition to his, Ithaca is best-known for its football team that’s won five of the last six Division 6 titles. He sees every day the sacrifices made by athletes hoping to reach the highest level.

But to him, the level of commitment by the girls on this spring’s team still stood out. Some played volleyball in the past, but switched the cross country to better prepare for track season. As a team, they lifted weights during the offseason three times a week at 6:30 a.m., and informally the distance runners and some sprinters would get together every Sunday for a long run.

Equally “extraordinary,” the Yellowjackets have a cumulative grade-point average of 3.755.

Indeed, football does enjoy most of the statewide shine for the community of 3,000 about 45 miles north of Lansing. But the girls running program has made a reputation as well the last two school years.

“They’re diehard with football. They’re all friends with those guys. But they want their own success,” Lebron said of his athletes. “Every team at Ithaca lives in the shadow of Ithaca football. But I don’t think that’s a negative thing all together. I think our girls are motivated by them. We’re going to cast our own shadow. 

"Football is football; it’s America. But these girls have done a good job making a name for themselves.”

Past Teams of the Month, 2015-16:
April: Lake Orion boys lacrosse Report
Hancock ice hockey – Report
Petoskey boys skiing – Report
January: Spring Lake boys swimming & diving – Report
Saginaw Heritage girls basketball – Report
November: Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard volleyball – Report
October: Benton Harbor football – Report

September: Mason and Okemos boys soccer – Report

PHOTOS: (Top) A pair of Ithaca runners complete a handoff during their Regional meet May 20 at Shepherd. (Middle) The Yellowjackets pose with the first MHSAA Finals championship trophy won in program history. (Click to see more from

Gaylord Record-Setter Embracing Challenges As Championship Season Approaches

By Tom Spencer
Special for

May 3, 2024

Katie Berkshire has her eyes on the prize today.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd she’ll have her eyes on another prize Saturday. After that she’ll move on to more conquests yet this track season.

That pattern will be repeated for the next two years on the track and along the cross country course.

Berkshire, a sophomore at Gaylord High School, is already a long-distance record-holder and a regular feature at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. Today, she is throwing out the welcome mat to her opponents as Gaylord hosts its annual Blue Devil Classic.

She is welcoming this weekend’s competition because she knows fast races help her get better every day. Winning, although it happens often, is not her top priority. Putting in the work and getting better is what matters most, according to Gaylord girls track & field and cross country coach Lindsey Yates.

“She’s more than just a fast runner,” acknowledged Yates. “She knows she has to put the work in to get good results, and she’s always wanting more.

“The proof is in the pudding in what she does,” Yates continued. “She is a special — very special — athlete and young woman.”

Berkshire started this season by breaking the school record in the 3,200 at Gaylord’s first meet. She’s hoping to break the school’s 1,600 record yet this spring. And, she’s hoping to add to her collection of Regional and conference titles this month.

Higher finishes at the Division 2 Final on June 2 also are on the mind of the running sensation, who had a strong showing as a freshman finishing third in the 3,200 and 10th in the 1,600.

Track is known as an individual sport, but Berkshire looks at it more as a team sport with friendly competition.

Running, which started in Gaylord Elementary’s “Mileage Club” for Berkshire, wouldn’t be the same without teammates.

“Cross country and track are individual sports, but the team is a huge part – without the team it wouldn’t be the same at all,” Berkshire said. “We have all put in so much effort, and we deserve to go out and race and show what we can do.”

Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. “She’s a gift to the team,” Yates added. “It is an individual sport, but she has the whole team with her and she rallies for the team and the team rallies for her – it’s a family.”

Gaylord has had its share of individual Finals champions in the past under boys coach Matthew Warren, who Yates notes has played an integral part in Berkshire’s training.  But Berkshire is a one-of-a-kind runner for Yates, who has served as both the girls track and girls and boys cross country head coach the past two years at Gaylord.

“I have not seen anything as fine-tuned as Katie Berkshire, and it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Yates, who assisted both Blue Devils programs a few years before taking over. “The intrinsic desire for her is amazing.”

Running cross country and track brings endless challenges for Berkshire to conquer. The results, she notes, come from the training.

“Running shows me any challenge that comes my way I can just overcome,” Berkshire said. “It shows me if I have a goal in my mind, I can accomplish it if I work hard and put in the effort.”

During the fall, Berkshire won eight of her 12 cross country races including the Big North Conference meet and Regional. She’s already qualified for three Division 2 Finals across the two sports and is likely going to add a fourth Finals next month at Hamilton High School.

Before that, Berkshire is going after another Big North title and a Regional championship. Competitions, like those ahead always bring out her best; the conference includes Division 1 opponents.

“I enjoy running against even girls that are faster than me because they always push me to be better and they are there obviously to race and try their best,” Berkshire said. “They are an influence to me that I can get there one day and I can maybe even beat them the next season.”

This year she has hopes of running a sub-5-minute 1,600 to capture the school record; her best in the race is 5:11. She takes on both distance races regularly and also is a regular in relays. In Wednesday’s dual meet at Alpena, she set two personal bests running a 2:25.60 in the 800 and 1:05.71 in the 400.

Berkshire’s favorite event by far is the 3,200, as she likes finding the right pace and rhythm to handle eight laps.

“Most people would think I am crazy for that,” she said of her pick for favorite. “It’s the longest race on the track, and it feels the best for me.”

Yates says Berkshire has yet to run her best 3,200 of the season. The conference, Regional and Final should bring out the best in Berkshire, she noted.

“She’s amazing, and setting the record isn’t good enough for her. She wants to do it again,” Yates said. “She also wants the mile record, and she’s hungry for it.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Gaylord’s Katie Berkshire readies for a relay Wednesday against Alpena. (Middle) Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. (Photos provided by the Gaylord girls track & field program.)