Lehman's Concord Run Nears Final Turn

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

April 29, 2016

By Chip Mundy
Special for Second Half

CONCORD – Lindsey Lehman was just 4 years old when the family dog went on a full-speed run – with her trying to hold on – and she did a good job of keeping up with it.

“Those little legs kept up with that dog, and I thought then about how fast she ran across the yard,” Lehman’s mother, Kathy, remembered.

The speed was no mirage. It was an early flash of athletic ability. Lehman, a senior at Concord High School, won the Lower Peninsula Division 4 championship in the 200 last spring and was runner-up in the 100. But running fast isn’t Lehman’s only talent, and it doesn’t nearly tell her story or reflect what is ahead of her athletically.

Lehman has been a three-sport standout at Concord. She is a two-time Jackson Citizen Patriot Player of the Year in volleyball, and last week she signed to play basketball at nearby Spring Arbor University. And, obviously, she’s a track MHSAA Finals champion.

Despite the early flash of speed, track was not an initial priority for Lehman, whose mother is the volleyball coach at Concord. Her father Matt coached boys basketball and now is the principal at the K-8 school.

“Track was kind of an afterthought,” Matt Lehman said. “She really wasn’t that interested in softball, although she did a little bit growing up. It was mainly basketball and volleyball. We kind of convinced her – I was coaching middle school track – and I said, ‘Why don’t you give track a try? It’s a great sport to keep you in shape.’

“She found out she was good at it, and it might have been her best sport.”

Is track her best sport? Possibly. Is it her favorite sport? Well, her answer was, “whatever sport is in season.”

That is one reason why she had such a difficult decision to make about college. Some of the bigger schools like Central Michigan, Western Michigan, Grand Valley State and Saginaw Valley State looked at her for track. Other schools looked at her for volleyball.

Ultimately, Lehman chose basketball and Spring Arbor, a mere 5 miles from Concord.

“It was a really difficult decision,” she said. “I’ve played basketball and AAU my entire life, and my dad was a coach and I was a manager, and that was a reason why I wanted to play basketball.

“At Spring Arbor, my parents and the community can come watch me play on the college level. I was looking at the bigger cities, and that’s why I liked Grand Valley. I love Grand Rapids. But I decided to stay close to home.”

Family tradition

Athletics have been a part of Lindsey’s life practically from the day she was born. And her mother says even before that.

“She’s been on the court since I was pregnant with her,” Kathy Lehman said.

Kathy was a very good athlete at Concord some 30 years ago. But Lindsey hasn’t exactly duplicated her mother’s trail.

“It’s been kind of an honor to watch her follow me, but she’s taken her own path,” Kathy Lehman said. “I was a hitter in volleyball, she’s a setter. I was a forward in basketball, she’s a guard. She handles the ball 20 times better than I could ever dream of, and she’s much faster. I played softball, she ran track, so she has laid out her own path, but it’s been nice that it’s at the same school.

“She is the fifth or sixth generation of Snows (her mother’s maiden name) to graduate from Concord. It’s a tradition that is handed down. Her great-grandfather’s picture is hanging up on the wall, and he played basketball here.”

Lindsey was the rare setter who not only led her team in assists, she also led the team in kills. As a junior, she led the Yellow Jackets to the MHSAA Quarterfinals, and this season, with most of last year’s team absent due to graduation, the team still won its fifth consecutive Big Eight Conference title.

In fact, Lindsey said it was during volleyball season that she had what might have been her proudest moment, even including the championship in track.

“Last year in volleyball, when we beat Bronson,” she said of defeating the eventual Class C champion. “Bronson beat us twice that year, and we beat them the third time. That was a great feeling.

“I like achieving goals on my own, but as a team, it just feels better because you can share it with teammates and friends. This year, we were such a young team in volleyball, and we did so well, and it was a great feeling to watch everybody get better.”

It is hard to imagine that feeling being any better than how she must have felt last spring when she barely edged her good friend to win the Division 4 championship in the 200 after finishing a close second in the 100. The race was so close that the finish was not immediately posted.

“It seemed like it took forever,” Lindsey said. “The both of us really had no idea who had won.”

Lehman’s winning time was 25.92 seconds. Jennifer Davis of Reading also was clocked in 25.92. Lindsey’s mom watched as her daughter paced in anticipation of the announcement of the final result.

“She was going back and forth, and just watching the anticipation and then seeing her face when she realized that she had won was fantastic,” Kathy Lehman said. “Just seeing her face light up at that moment was my proudest moment.”

It had to be especially sweet for Lindsey as she had lost the 100 in a race that was nearly as close as the 200. She was timed in 12.42 seconds, while the MHSAA title went to Mason County Eastern’s Jordan Goodman, who tied the LP Division 4 meet record at 12.40.

This year, Lehman has a goal of not only repeating as champion in the 200 but adding the title in the 100.

“I want to do better than I did last year,” she said. “I probably think more about the race that I lost than the one I won. I don’t like losing.”

Maybe the thought of losing is what drives her. Her parents both spoke highly of her work ethic and desire to be the best she can be.

‘She has always been a hard worker, but she has a drive that she doesn’t like to lose, and if she loses one time, she doesn’t quit,” Kathy Lehman said. “She is going to keep working to get there. Her brother is probably her best incentive because she hated losing anything to her brother.

“Sometimes it would be knock-down, drag-outs, but eventually she would sometimes best her brother. It’s always been a good competition between them.”

Lindsey still has most of the track season ahead of her, but she knows that it might be her last time in the sport. She isn’t sure if she will try to run track as well as play basketball at Spring Arbor. It hasn’t been addressed with the school, and while it has not been ruled out, it certainly is not the priority.

She also has developed a new respect for referees. This past year, Lindsey has served as a referee for sixth-grade games, and it was an enlightening experience.

“Last year, I never said anything, but I got mad at the refs sometimes,” she said, “but this year, I don’t because I know what they are going through. I don’t like being yelled at.”

Close to home

Although she had plenty of options, Spring Arbor made an offer that was too good to pass up.

“She had a chance to go to a four-year university and not have to pay nearly the amount of money she would have had to pay to go to other universities,” Matt Lehman said. “It’s an opportunity for the rest of her life.

“If someone had said at the beginning of the process that she was going to end up at Spring Arbor to play basketball, I would have said, ‘I’m not sure that would happen.’ I wouldn’t have bet on that.”

The transition to college basketball won’t be easy, but Spring Arbor coach Ryan Frost believes she has what it takes to possibly make an impact as a freshman.

“That is up to her,” he said. “You never know how a kid is going to adjust. She will have some really good seniors to learn the college game from. We have a nice group coming back. We’re excited to get her in the mix for that.

“Athletically she’s a super athlete. She has a lot of skill. She’s a competitor. She fits the mold of what we look for in a guard. She will be very similar to some of the guards we have and our style of play. We press a lot and get up and down the floor. She sees the floor real well as a point guard, and she can score, too.”

And, while her parents would have supported any decision that she made, having her at college just 5 miles away will allow them to attend most of her games.

“It has gone by so fast,” Matt Lehman said. “This is my little girl, my little gym rat who was by my side at practices and huddles with me. She’s graduating from high school and going on to college to play basketball.

“She was a gym rat from the get-go, and more than any of my children when I was coaching basketball, she was in the gym with me. She always wanted to come to practice. She was just 4 or 5, but she always wanted to be a part of it. She always had a ball in her hand, and she did the same thing with Kathy in volleyball.”

Lindsey is a pretty solid student, too, as she has a 3.85 grade point average.

“She’s a 3.85 student because of her work ethic,” Matt Lehman said. “She has balanced everything. She likes sports, she’s a good student, and she’s a good kid. I don’t have to worry about her.

“She’s a smart aleck in a good way, and she’s an easy kid to get along with. She knows how to talk to other students and how to talk to adults. She’s very well-rounded. I’m just proud of her because she didn’t accomplish this because her mom was a coach and her dad was a coach and an administrator. She accomplished it because she has talent and she worked her tail off. That’s on her.”

Chip Mundy served as sports editor at the Brooklyn Exponent and Albion Recorder from 1980-86, and then as a reporter and later copy editor at the Jackson Citizen-Patriot from 1986-2011. He also co-authored Michigan Sports Trivia. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Concord's Lindsay Lehman runs her leg of a relay for her track team. (Middle) Lehman signs her letter of intent with Spring Arbor, surrounded by father Matt, mother Kathy and younger sister Bradie . (Photos courtesy of the Lehman family.)

Hastings Relays Reigns as State's Oldest Continuous Track & Field Meet

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

April 10, 2024

Bob Branch remembers dabbling in other sports, but his first love was always running.

Mid-MichiganThe Hastings High School graduate admits he could never hit a baseball, football didn't especially appeal to him and basketball was just another way to spend time with friends. But for Branch, now 93, there was always track. That's the sport where his fondest and sharpest memories remain. And if you're talking track, many of his favorite memories come from participation in the state's oldest continuous track meet, the Hastings Relays.

Always held in early April, the meet dates back to 1937 – a bygone time that saw the first hostilities of World War II, gas at 20 cents a gallon and a loaf of bread selling for a dime.

And at a dusty old track surrounding the county fairgrounds in Hastings, a small relay event that included a scattering of participants from a dozen high schools was taking its first tentative steps.

Branch recalls a time when kids would run home after track practice because there were no buses, inexperienced young coaches had little actual knowledge of running fundamentals, and athletes looked at the sport as an afterthought after spending most of their high school days playing football and basketball.

The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago.For Branch, the relays were the ideal way to ease into the track season.

"I just liked to run," said Branch. "I remember I anchored a relay with my brother, and it always seemed cold when we had that meet. I remember teams would come from all over and you saw a lot of good athletes. Everybody seemed to have someone who was really good. Track wasn't very popular at that time, but I have a lot of good memories from running."

The Hastings Relays, which has changed formats and even names during its nearly nine-decade history, would traditionally kick off the track season. The meet was originally held at a makeshift quarter-mile track which surrounded the town's fairgrounds and was part of the city's annual Hastings Carnival – the track would become the midway during fair time.

The meet eventually moved to Johnson Field when the football field was dedicated in 1949 and ballooned to as many as 50 teams at its peak in 1957. For more than seven decades it was known as the Hastings Relays and then the Hastings Co-Ed relays before becoming the current Hastings Invitational, with the latest edition scheduled for Friday.

Johnson Field had a cinder track before it became an all-weather surface in the 1980s. During a time long before computers would be used to organize meet heats in mere minutes, Hastings coaches of all sports – defined as "volunteers" by the athletic department – would meet on the Friday before competition to hash out events.

People associated with the meet still recall the camaraderie built on those long Friday nights, followed by working what would often become 10-hour meets. Steve Hoke has been involved since watching his father, Jack, who coached teams at 15 of the meets beginning in 1951 and also had run in the first Hastings Relays. Steve Hoke later competed in the Relays as well during the early 1970s before becoming an assistant track coach, later the Hastings athletic director and now a volunteer worker.

"It was always a huge deal," said Hoke, who said the meet began as a pure relay event before transitioning to its current team format in the 1990s. "I remember we'd line the track the night before, and all the coaches would come to the house to organize everything. There was a brotherhood.”

Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s.If you quiz many of the fleet of volunteers who've worked the relays over the years, each has a different memory from the meet. While Hoke describes the brotherhood and Branch the outstanding competition, others remember weather and the time a thunderstorm wiped out the line markings on the cinder track, or waking up to find three inches of snow that caused a rare cancellation of the meet. Others recall the shock of moving from the cinder to all-weather track or using the meet as an early measuring stick of what it would take to qualify for the state meet. The real old-timers remember the meet disappearing for three years during World War II.

Hastings native and Western Michigan grad Tom Duits was the state’s second collegian to break the four-minute mile when he ran a 3:59.2 at a meet in Philadelphia in 1978. Duits, who ran in three Hastings Relays, was in line to join the U.S. Olympic team in 1980 before the United States pulled out of the games due to tension with Russia.

Duits has his own memories of the meet and the competition he faced there.

"I remember sunshine and being excited to be competing again. There were all these athletes swarming around; it was an awesome display of talent," he said. "It was always one of the best meets we'd be in. You could pretty much see the level of runners who would be at state, which made it a big deal. It was always early, but you could tell where you stood. It was great exposure."

Hastings track star Wayne Oom competed in four Hastings Relays from 1984-87. One of his sharpest memories was the difference between running on a raw cinder track versus the far more comfortable all-weather surface.

"Those cinders would grind into your skin," said Oom, part of the Hastings school record in the two-mile relay. "But I think it helped us because when we'd go to other tracks, it seemed we would run faster. I remember how competitive it was, especially in the distances. There were some great runners."

While participants have their unique memories, so do coaches. Former Saxons coach Paul Fulmer remembers 2008 when his team finished first on the boys side of the meet while his wife, Grand Haven coach Katie Kowalczyk-Fulmer, saw her girls team win the championship.

Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays."I knew we were one of the favorites to win because we were usually near the top of our conference and Regional," he said. "But then Katie's team was pretty good, and it was cool for them to win too."

Fulmer, who coached Hastings from 1978-81 and then 1985-2010, said at least part of the meet's popularity was derived from a unique way of scoring. Instead of individuals earning points solo, participants worked in pairs. For instance, two athletes would combine their shot put or long jump scores. New events such as the 1,500 relay and sprint medley were added.

"We had a tradition of being the state's oldest meet, and that was a big deal," Fulmer said. "And we ran a good relay; that attracted teams too. We took a lot of pride in that.

"And we'd get quite a lot of people to come to the meet. We'd set up until like 9 or 10 p.m., and then we'd have a party with all the coaches on Friday night."

While the meet has stretched 87 years, Branch said early participants and current runners have one thing in common: a drive to win. Branch ran in an era when the popularity of high school track was in its infancy. Today some of the best all-around athletes at a school are involved in the track program. The relays span the nearly nine decades in between.

"The quality of teams has gotten better and better," said Branch, the 1947 Lower Peninsula Class B Finals champ in the 220. "And this has made for a better meet. We would get guys who played football or baseball kind of drift into track, and that made the sport better. I think people began to appreciate track because we'd get teams from all over.

"We went from not really knowing what we were doing to track being a good sport. Even then, I'm not sure we appreciated what we had. We really liked the Hastings Relays and always wanted to do well there. It became popular and quite an honor to do well. Those are the kind of things I remember."

PHOTOS (Top) Racers run at the Hastings Relays, with several more awaiting their turns to compete at the longtime meet. (2) The author wrote on the 50th anniversary of the Relays for the Hastings Banner nearly 40 years ago. (3) Past athlete, coach and athletic director Steve Hoke shows some of the Relays awards from the 1930s. (4) Tom Duits was one of the state’s biggest track stars of the 1970s and ran in three Hastings Relays. (Top photo by Dan Goggins, Hoke photo provided by Steve Hoke and Duits photos provided by Tom Duits.)