KALAMAZOO — When an exuberant Tess Van Dyk broke the shot put record at Kalamazoo Christian earlier this year, the senior was thrilled at reaching one of her high school goals.
For her throws coach, Tracy (Rozema) Jackson, the achievement was bittersweet.
Jackson was the previous record-holder with a put of 41 feet, 6 inches, and knew that record was in jeopardy when she saw Van Dyk’s numbers a year ago.
“I thought, just wait and be prepared for it,” Jackson said. “It was kind of something sentimental. That record had been in place for 34 years. I set it in 1988.”
Van Dyk actually broke the record twice.
She put the shot 42 feet, 6 inches, to snap Jackson’s record, then the same day, threw the current mark of 42-9.
That happened during a dual meet April 21, and was just the start of a stellar year.
Van Dyk also shattered the previous discus throw record of 127 feet, 3 inches, set by Sandy (Wolthuis) George in 1978.
Van Dyk’s record-setter was 134-6, tossed at the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship meet May 24.
“When I started track, one of my big goals was to break either the shot put or discus record,” Van Dyk said. “I was like, before I leave this school, I want my name on that board.
“That’s what started me on the path to loving track and getting that grit for it.”
Since the records board has not yet been updated, the recent grad will have to return to the school to see her name up there. But her coach gave her a preview.
“I went into the gymnasium and I took a picture of the board with my name on it, then I covered it up with her name (using SnapChat),” Jackson said.
Those two records are not the only accolades Van Dyk has on her resume.
She owns three MHSAA Finals titles: the discus and shot last year and the shot this year at the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 Track & Field Championships.
In addition, she earned all-state honors both seasons.
The camaraderie and respect between the student and coach is evident as they talk and laugh, reviewing the last two years.
In fact, Van Dyk is headed this fall to Western Michigan University, her coach’s alma mater.
Jackson was on the college track team, but noted: “I do not have any records there, and none anymore, thanks to this one,” she said, nodding toward Van Dyk, laughing.
Since her sophomore season was scrubbed because of the statewide COVID-19 shutdown, Van Dyk’s first introduction to track & field was her junior year.
“I just naturally grew toward shot put and discus with the help of my coach and other people because I like running, but not competitively,” she said.
“Shot put you can kind of get your frustrations out. If you had a really bad day, you can just take up all that emotion and let it all go in that moment.”
It is different for discus, she said. “For discus, you really get the calmness of it and then a quick little snap as you release it, just the feeling of knowing it’s a good one.”
Van Dyk learned a few important lessons at the MHSAA Finals last year.
“In shot put, I had thrown a 41-foot before I went to states,” she said. “(Finals day) was a hot, steamy day. There wasn’t a cloud in sight.
“We were all getting beaten down by the weather. In throwing, you’re just standing there cooking. I had to push through it. I had a huge support team behind me and trusted that my body knew what it had to do.”
It knew enough to give Van Dyk, the top seed, the championship.
In discus, she was seeded third.
“I’d been struggling with that all year, so I had some bigger fish to fry,” she said. “As soon as I got up there, it was a windy day at Baldwin Middle School (in Hudsonville), and some of the big dogs started hitting the fence area around it.
“That was when I realized it doesn’t matter what their records are, you just have to do what you can do. Then I realized I could do it and got my head in the game and squeaked out a 112 (to win).”
Although Van Dyk repeated as shot put champ Saturday, she finished second in discus.
“It was honestly kind of funny, because the girl who beat me (Elli Stender of Gobles) was slated for third as well,” Van Dyk said, referring to her own junior year. “She’s a great girl. I’ve been competing against her all season, and she’s got great form.
“Everything worked together like what happened to me last year. I couldn’t be more grateful to celebrate with her. I am honestly proud of my second place.”
Looking at next season, Jackson said she would not mind if Van Dyk spent some time working with the K-Christian throwers.
“I thought I gave up my (coaching) position now that she took over control of the record,” Jackson joked. “I feel like she just has to walk over here (from WMU). She doesn’t even need gas.
“She does an amazing job with some of the other throwers. That came out this year.”
And not only with her own teammates.
Although the Comets and Hackett Catholic Prep are fierce crosstown rivals, Hackett coach Carl Scholten has respect for Van Dyk.
“She’s a great technician and she knows the events very well, knows the form, knows the techniques and the mechanics,” he said. “That makes her incredibly gifted in these events.
“It’s led to her great success. I love that, not only with her own team but with other kids, she’s wants to help develop other throwers, too. We had a couple of seniors out for the first time, and they really connected with her. She was a great model and inspiration for them.”
One thing the two schools have in common is their faith-based education, which is very important to Van Dyk.
That is also one reason she chose WMU.
“Coach Makiba Batten does not host practices on Sundays, which is a big thing for me,” Van Dyk said. “It’s so close to home, I don’t have to switch churches and that was a big thing, too.”
She also enjoys talking with others about her religion.
When she was getting her shirt for this season, instead of her name she had SDG on the back.
“People ask all the time why I have SDG on my back,” she said. “I say, ‘Glad you asked.’ It stands for Soli Deo Gloria: to God be the glory alone.
“It’s just a reminder to me every time I throw that it’s not me who’s throwing, it’s Him who gave me strength.”
Jackson, who is coordinator of surgery at Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, said if she has one thing to say to Van Dyk, it is: “The discipline you put in for the discus and the shot, just continue that in your life, and especially in your spiritual walk. I know how important your church is. Remember the ultimate glory is His.”
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 protected] with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Kalamazoo Christian’s Tess Van Dyk, pictured at center on the awards podium at Saturday’s LPD4 Finals, closed her career as her school’s record holder in discus and shot put. (Middle) Van Dyk, left, and Kalamazoo Christian throws coach Tracy Jackson. (Action photos courtesy of Kathy Van Dyk, Finals photo by State Champs! Sports Network, and head shots by Pam Shebest.)
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.)