Leighton Latest of Family Hurdling Stars

By Wes Morgan
Special for MHSAA.com

June 7, 2016

Mendon’s Mary Leighton has been gliding over hurdles for the Hornets for three years now, dominating most Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference races, as well as an assortment of invitationals.

That’s nothing new for the Leighton clan, which boasts a lineage of talented hurdlers. But there’s something about Mary that’s different.

No one in Division 4 in the Lower Peninsula has gone faster than her in the 100-meter hurdles. Not after Saturday. The junior not only claimed a school-record time of 14.93 seconds en route to an MHSAA championship at Grand Rapids Houseman Field, she set an LP Division 4 meet record, beating Michelle Davis’ time of 15.05 for Reading in 2014.

Older sister Grace, who finished fourth at the LP Division 4 Finals in the 100s and sixth in the 300s as a senior in 2014, owns the Mendon 300 hurdles record, which Mary is closing in on. Older sister Caitlin previously had the 100 hurdles school record … until Saturday. Their mother, Sharon (maiden name Beebe), once had the records in the 100 hurdles at Mendon.

Mary Leighton was half a second away from Caitlin’s record midway through this spring, and she was confident she’d pass her sibling.

“I’m looking forward to beating it. I don’t think there’s going to be a party,” she said, mostly in jest, of her sisters not wanting to give up their record-holding status.

“People say it’s in the blood, but I think I was around it so much, it just kind of rubbed off on me. I have them to look up to, so it’s much easier for me. My form has definitely gotten a lot better. I can three-step now instead of four-step. The less steps you have, the faster you can get over the hurdle and the faster you can finish the race.”

Leighton, who was Finals runner-up in 2015, set her sites on a 15-flat time in the 100s by the time this year’s meet rolled around. She surprised herself by going even faster Saturday.

She beat the field by nearly a second. It was a flawless effort, which included a great start and a complete attack of the middle stretch of hurdles.

As soon as Leighton crossed the finish line, she covered her face with her hands in disbelief of the runaway victory and the time on the scoreboard.

“It hasn't really hit me yet on how I did,” a stunned Leighton said hours after the performance. “I just tried to focus on getting through semis so I actually had a shot.”

Her qualifying time was 15.54, which was a good sign of things to come.

“I was so nervous but I felt better and better the more I ran,” she said. “I didn't even know my time until after the 800 relay. I figured I broke (a record) because all the Mendon parents were just so happy, but I never could have imagined I broke the state record as well. I focused on how I could improve all season and my work paid off. I didn't want to take second again. My sister didn't care I broke her record; she was too happy. I am very happy with my performance and can't wait to see how much I can improve next year.”

Leighton added another all-state finish when she joined Emma Eberstein, Jenna Gales and Kaley Smith for a runner-up effort in the 800 relay (1:47.82), finishing just over a second behind champion Fowler. Her third top-eight finish was a fourth-place run of 47.87 in the 300 hurdles.

That wasn’t a school record, so Leighton has something to shoot for next spring. 

Wes Morgan has reported for the Kalamazoo Gazette, ESPN and ESPNChicago.com, 247Sports and Blue & Gold Illustrated over the last 12 years and is the publisher of JoeInsider.com. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Berrien, Cass, St. Joseph and Branch counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Mary Leighton covers her face in joy and surprise after a lengthy win in the 100-meter hurdles Saturday at Houseman Field. (Middle) Leighton prepares to clear another hurdle flanked by a pair of opponents. (Photos by Brett Beier.)

Gaylord Record-Setter Embracing Challenges As Championship Season Approaches

By Tom Spencer
Special for MHSAA.com

May 3, 2024

Katie Berkshire has her eyes on the prize today.

Northern Lower PeninsulaAnd she’ll have her eyes on another prize Saturday. After that she’ll move on to more conquests yet this track season.

That pattern will be repeated for the next two years on the track and along the cross country course.

Berkshire, a sophomore at Gaylord High School, is already a long-distance record-holder and a regular feature at the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final. Today, she is throwing out the welcome mat to her opponents as Gaylord hosts its annual Blue Devil Classic.

She is welcoming this weekend’s competition because she knows fast races help her get better every day. Winning, although it happens often, is not her top priority. Putting in the work and getting better is what matters most, according to Gaylord girls track & field and cross country coach Lindsey Yates.

“She’s more than just a fast runner,” acknowledged Yates. “She knows she has to put the work in to get good results, and she’s always wanting more.

“The proof is in the pudding in what she does,” Yates continued. “She is a special — very special — athlete and young woman.”

Berkshire started this season by breaking the school record in the 3,200 at Gaylord’s first meet. She’s hoping to break the school’s 1,600 record yet this spring. And, she’s hoping to add to her collection of Regional and conference titles this month.

Higher finishes at the Division 2 Final on June 2 also are on the mind of the running sensation, who had a strong showing as a freshman finishing third in the 3,200 and 10th in the 1,600.

Track is known as an individual sport, but Berkshire looks at it more as a team sport with friendly competition.

Running, which started in Gaylord Elementary’s “Mileage Club” for Berkshire, wouldn’t be the same without teammates.

“Cross country and track are individual sports, but the team is a huge part – without the team it wouldn’t be the same at all,” Berkshire said. “We have all put in so much effort, and we deserve to go out and race and show what we can do.”

Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. “She’s a gift to the team,” Yates added. “It is an individual sport, but she has the whole team with her and she rallies for the team and the team rallies for her – it’s a family.”

Gaylord has had its share of individual Finals champions in the past under boys coach Matthew Warren, who Yates notes has played an integral part in Berkshire’s training.  But Berkshire is a one-of-a-kind runner for Yates, who has served as both the girls track and girls and boys cross country head coach the past two years at Gaylord.

“I have not seen anything as fine-tuned as Katie Berkshire, and it’s a breath of fresh air,” said Yates, who assisted both Blue Devils programs a few years before taking over. “The intrinsic desire for her is amazing.”

Running cross country and track brings endless challenges for Berkshire to conquer. The results, she notes, come from the training.

“Running shows me any challenge that comes my way I can just overcome,” Berkshire said. “It shows me if I have a goal in my mind, I can accomplish it if I work hard and put in the effort.”

During the fall, Berkshire won eight of her 12 cross country races including the Big North Conference meet and Regional. She’s already qualified for three Division 2 Finals across the two sports and is likely going to add a fourth Finals next month at Hamilton High School.

Before that, Berkshire is going after another Big North title and a Regional championship. Competitions, like those ahead always bring out her best; the conference includes Division 1 opponents.

“I enjoy running against even girls that are faster than me because they always push me to be better and they are there obviously to race and try their best,” Berkshire said. “They are an influence to me that I can get there one day and I can maybe even beat them the next season.”

This year she has hopes of running a sub-5-minute 1,600 to capture the school record; her best in the race is 5:11. She takes on both distance races regularly and also is a regular in relays. In Wednesday’s dual meet at Alpena, she set two personal bests running a 2:25.60 in the 800 and 1:05.71 in the 400.

Berkshire’s favorite event by far is the 3,200, as she likes finding the right pace and rhythm to handle eight laps.

“Most people would think I am crazy for that,” she said of her pick for favorite. “It’s the longest race on the track, and it feels the best for me.”

Yates says Berkshire has yet to run her best 3,200 of the season. The conference, Regional and Final should bring out the best in Berkshire, she noted.

“She’s amazing, and setting the record isn’t good enough for her. She wants to do it again,” Yates said. “She also wants the mile record, and she’s hungry for it.”

Tom SpencerTom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Gaylord’s Katie Berkshire readies for a relay Wednesday against Alpena. (Middle) Berkshire, seated, confers with the Blue Devils coaches. (Photos provided by the Gaylord girls track & field program.)