Ewen-Trout Creek Racers Fueled to Go Distance Again

By John Vrancic
Special for MHSAA.com

May 25, 2021

BARAGA — Elise Besonen wasn’t always a huge fan of distance running.

Then came 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic, and the current Ewen-Trout Creek senior had a change of heart.

The University of Wisconsin-Superior basketball recruit now says she enjoys running.

Maybe there’s some truth to the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”

“I was pretty bummed when we didn’t get to run last year,” she said shortly after placing second in the 3,200-meter run at 13 minutes, 33.68 seconds in the Upper Peninsula Division 3 Regional meet last Wednesday at Baraga. “Then, I started running on some side roads with my dad, and it completely changed my mindset. It has been fun running for my dad. In my freshman year during driver’s ed, it was just us two. I guess it was sort of a blessing in disguise.”

Besonen was also runner-up in the 800 (2:40.21) and 1,600 (5:43.59) at the Regional, qualifying her for all three races at the Upper Peninsula Finals on June 5 at Kingsford.

“It was a pretty short meet,” said Besonen, who was also runner-up in the 800 at the previous Monday’s Copper Country Invitational in Houghton in a school-record 2:32.81. “The 800 and 3,200 were pretty close together, which made it pretty difficult because they were right on top of each other. At least my legs were warmed up.”

Ewen-Trout Creek cross countryJunior Jonah Nordine hadn’t run in nearly a week following a mishap during homecoming activities at the school two weeks ago.

“I fell off a bike and scraped up my knee and arm,” he said. “We usually have homecoming for basketball, but that got postponed due to COVID and (we) held it during baseball and track this year.”

Nordine, the reigning U.P. Division 3 cross country champion, won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 in the Marcy Bracket Invitational at Bessemer on May 13, then was runner-up in the 800 (2:16.48) and 1,600 (4:40.27) and third in the 3,200 (11:28.33) at Baraga.

“I had a side ache in the 3,200,” he said. “I probably didn’t eat enough (that day). I was pretty happy with my times. I just wanted to qualify. We had perfect conditions at Bessemer. I didn’t run in Houghton, but it was quite warm. It was in the 80s. I’m just glad to be running this year after losing my freshman season to COVID.”

“Jonah’s success generates a lot of excitement for this team," added Ewen-Trout Creek track and cross country coach Brad Besonen, who also is Elise’s father. “Jonah’s personality changed after his success in cross country last fall. He has become more outgoing.”

Elise is best-known as a high-scoring guard who made the Division 4 all-state basketball team again this winter and was named Upper Peninsula Division 4 Player of the Year in the sport.

She figures to continue playing point guard for Wisconsin-Superior, another chase she’ll take on when her track season is done.

“There will be a lot of adjustments to make,” she said. “Everybody wants to be there, and I’m looking forward to that.”

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) Ewen-Trout Creek’s Elise Besonen completes her anchor leg of the 3,200 relay during the UP Division 3 Finals in 2019. (Middle) Jonah Nordine crosses the finish line first at last fall’s UPD3 Boys Cross Country Final. (Photos by Cara Kamps.)

Hackett Catholic Prep's Baldwin Carrying Hopes from Home to Paris

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

July 12, 2024

KALAMAZOO — Heath Baldwin studied Spanish at Hackett Catholic Prep, but he will need to brush up on some French as he heads to Paris to compete in the 2024 Summer Olympics.

The recent Michigan State University grad, who earned a master’s degree in marketing and research analytics, will compete in the decathlon, a two-day event Aug. 2-3 at the Stade de France.

While the Olympics will be televised in the United States, because of the time difference, Baldwin’s events will take place locally during the early morning hours.

Wishing him a Bon Voyage, more than 200 former classmates, friends, family and well-wishers plus six television crews congregated Thursday for an impressive sendoff, starting with the Hackett “Summer Ensemble” playing the school fight song.

A 2019 Hackett grad, Baldwin led the track & field team to three Regional championships, two MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 titles, was an individual five-time Finals champion, holds four school records and was named track & field Athlete of the Year for all divisions his senior season by the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association.

“I went through a lot at Hackett, obviously, with my dad (Roger)  passing away (in 2016) and I always had a great support system of people who took care of my family and made sure we were doing good,” Baldwin said. “They’ve stuck with me through college, too, following me in all my events and to this point, so it’s cool that I’m doing well now and they’re along for the ride.”

Hackett clears a hurdle during the 2019 MHSAA Finals.The ride will begin Tuesday when Baldwin travels to Germany to train before heading to Paris.

“Everything’s starting to feel more real,” he said. “I think once I get to Germany and start to train with other people, we’ll be able to get a little competitive. I think it will be fun training in Paris.”

Facing a huge crowd in Paris should not be a problem, he said.

“The more people will only help me. I’m a big adrenalin guy. I feel like I get more nervous talking at an event like this than I do for the Olympic Games.

“Once I get out on the track, everything just feels natural to me.”

Naturally a no-brainer

Baldwin’s Finals championships for Hackett had come in high jump, long jump and both hurdles races. Tackling the grueling decathlon was a no-brainer.

“I was good at the hurdles, high jump, long jump, which are three very technical events in the decathlon, so if you’re good at those three, you usually can pick up the other ones pretty easily is what they say,” he said.

“Also, I played baseball as a pitcher, so that correlated with the javelin. A lot of college coaches recruited me off that, I think.”

Baldwin said knew 2024 was an Olympic year, “so I thought it was something I maybe could do. After last year, when I scored above 8,000 points (in the decathlon) for the first time and came in sixth at the USAs, it became a little more realistic for me.”

The personable athlete not only qualified for the Olympics at this year’s U.S. Track & Field Trials in Eugene, Ore., but won the decathlon with a personal best 8,625 points.

He finished first in the shot put (54 feet, 2½ inches), high jump (6-11¾), 110 hurdles (13.77 seconds) and javelin throw (218-9). 

MHSAA trophies Baldwin helped win decorated the stage for his sendoff.Other decathlon events are the 100 dash, long jump, 400 run, discus, pole vault and 1,500 run.

Baldwin earned Great Lakes Region Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year honors and was named first team Academic All-American with a 3.8 GPA.

"We were awestruck at his athletic achievements (at Hackett),” said Judge Paul Bridenstine, the “Voice of the Irish.” 

“While he continued to play football, basketball, baseball exceptionally at Hackett, his athletic life was transformed when he was introduced to (former HCP track & field coach Simon Cholometes).”

Cholometes said Baldwin’s success is something that didn’t come out of nowhere.

“Heath put the wheels in motion a long time ago and worked harder than most people can even fathom,” he said. “I can remember 5:40 in the morning, Heath running sprints up that hill over there,” he said, pointing. “A foot of snow, running sprints up that tall hill.

“In college, he’s a Big 10 champ, three-time All-American, Great Lakes Region Indoor and Outdoor Field Athlete of the Year, MSU’s Athlete of the Year twice, holds five school records plus Big 10 records in heptathlon and decathlon.”

Family won't be far

Baldwin plans to be in Paris for the opening ceremonies and will be cheered on by his mom Suzann, sister Hope and brothers Aiden and Gowan.

The Olympian also will have a remembrance of his late father with him. He has a tattoo of his dad’s signature on the inside of his upper left arm.

A hurdle that was gifted to Baldwin on Thursday.Losing his father “was a big part of my life and obviously changed my perspective in the way I train and the way I live in a way he’d be proud of,” Baldwin said.

“We set some big goals going into this year and it’s been a dream. I love representing the Kalamazoo community and Michigan, Hackett and Michigan State.

“I like to remember everybody I compete for, and I think that gives you a bigger purpose when you go out there. That’s definitely something I’ll be doing at the Olympics in Paris. I’m excited to represent there and hopefully go for a medal.”

PHOTOS (Top) Health Baldwin, seated, signs a hat during his sendoff Thursday at Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep. (2) Baldwin clears a hurdle during the 2019 MHSAA Finals. (3) A hurdle was gifted to Baldwin on Thursday. (4) MHSAA trophies Baldwin helped win decorated the stage for his sendoff. (Sendoff photo by Pam Shebest.)