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.
Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.
Richards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.
He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.
While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.
Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.
This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”
The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.
“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.
One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.
Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.
“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.
“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”
True to his school
One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.
“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.
Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.
The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.
That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.
Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.
Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.
Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.
Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.
“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”
Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.
The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.
“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”
The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.
Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.
The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.
McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).
“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”
Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.
Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.
“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.
Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.
“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.
That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)
Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.
“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”
Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.
The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.
Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.
Only after all of that will it be college decision time.
“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)