HOUGHTON — There was a time when hosting a track meet in early April was nearly impossible in the Upper Peninsula.
Meets comprised of four field events were held in the Sault Ste. Marie High School gym in the early 1970s, with similar type meets sometimes held at a few other U.P. schools.
Indoor tracks, however, weren’t available in the U.P. back then, and the long winters sometimes made it difficult to hold outdoor meets even in mid to late April.
That no longer holds true as Michigan Tech and Northern Michigan University host indoor meets for high school student-athletes each April.
On April 6, a majority of the Copper Country schools, plus Iron River West Iron County, Iron Mountain, Munising and Negaunee participated in an indoor invitational at Tech, where the top three finishers of each event reached the podium. Team scores, however, weren’t recorded.
“I think it’s really important that we got this meet in,” said Houghton boys coach Dan Junttila. “It’s nice that Tech does this for us. We got a chance to see what the kids can do, and the coaches get a chance to get times on them. With the weather being the way it is, you never know what you might get this time of year.”
This served as the season debut for every school entered except Munising, which opened at Eagle River, Wis., Northland Pines on March 23.
Many U.P. track athletes will travel to Marquette to compete in indoor meets at NMU within their respective divisions Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Munising senior Michaela Peramaki took full advantage of her opportunity to compete in early-season meets, winning the girls pole vault with a school-record leap of 10 feet, 7 inches at Eagle River.
Peramaki then topped that effort last week by winning with another school-best jump of 11 feet at Tech, where one corner of the five-lane, 200-meter track is used as a runway.
“Vaulting here is not much different from any other track,” said Peramaki. “We had plenty of room.
“It’s so important to get a meet in at this time of year. This gives you a chance to work out the kinks. It’s a relief to finally get that (11-foot jump) under my belt. The guy running the vault gave me a few pointers, and I think my plant was a big part of my vault.”
The gym floor was used as a runway for high jump, won by Houghton’s Cara Monette at 4-10.
“I thought it went pretty good,” said Monette, who didn’t practice high jump this year until April 5. “I had to cram everything into one day. It’s different jumping from the gym floor. You get all the room you need, which gives you all the space to do what you want to do.”
The Chassell girls won the 3,200-meter relay in 10 minutes, 37.12 seconds, and Lela Rautiola took the 1,600 (6:10.34) followed by teammate Jenna Pietila (6:12.66).
Chassell’s boys got a first from Karsten Kytta in the 400 (58.35).
“I thought it was great for us to get on a track,” said Chassell coach Marco Guidotti. “We saw a lot of encouraging performances. Our girls in the 4x800 looked real strong. We have some depth coming up. Karsten taking first in the boys 400 was also a real bright spot. It was nice to see some of our kids come through in the sprints and middle distances.”
West Iron senior Emmy Kinner won four races, including the 60-meter dash in eight seconds, 200 (28.44), 400 (1:05.31) and long jump (14-11), just three days after the Wykons started practice.
“It’s different on a short track because it’s harder to pace yourself,” said Kinner. “I definitely ran more conservative (than on a 400 track). Although, we’re glad to get this meet in because we have a lot of new girls on our team.”
The Houghton boys showed their strength in the distances, winning the 3,200 relay (8:45.76) and taking the top two spots in the 800 and 1,600.
Houghton senior Nick Wilson won the 800 (2:13.25), and Clayton Sayen took the 1,600 (5:06.12).
“We feel good about today,” said Wilson. “Our distances did well. Everybody ran well. This meet helps us a lot. This gets us in better shape for the Dome meet (Marquette Invitational on April 18).”
The Gremlins also took the 1,600 relay (3:51.9) and grabbed four of the top five places in pole vault.
“We have 46 boys out, but still need to get an opportunity to see what they can do in competition,” said Junttila. “We want to see who’s going to respond to it. Leif Odegard (a junior) has been running in the shadows of our top-notch distance and middle distance runners, but he’s running excellent times. He’s really coming on.”
Lake Linden-Hubbell senior Brendan Middleton captured the 60 (7.13) and Siena Anderson took the girls 60 hurdles (10.25).
“I enjoy running the 60 more than the 100,” said Middleton, who will play football at Tech this fall. “I compare it to the 40. You can go full out, and I’ve got to get more explosion for football. It was good to get to see how fast the other people were and get a chance to run on a softer track.”
LL-H coach Gary Guisfredi also says the meet is beneficial.
“Right now, we like to come to this meet, especially with the weather being so questionable all the time,” he added. “It’s nice and dry and nice and warm in here. You don’t pull any muscles. This is a nice meet to find out what we have in different events.”
PHOTO: Hurdlers finish a race in the rain during last season's Upper Peninsula Division 1 Finals.
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)