By Dennis Grall
Special for Second Half
ESCANABA – There have been a ton of awards and accomplishments recognizing the high school career of Laura Lyons, but the recent Lake Linden-Hubbell graduate remains extremely well grounded.
"I have to prioritize," she said in a recent telephone conversation from Fortune Lake, near Crystal Falls, where she is working at a summer camp that attracts youngsters, campers with disabilities and families.
"You have to focus on things you want to do," she said, listing school work, sports, family and faith among her priorities. "They have to stay out top."
It is easy to see Lyons has her priorities in place when considering the kind of person she has become.
Lyons was a four-sport standout for the Lakes and just as successful off the field. She was one of 32 students statewide to receive an MHSAA/Farm Bureau Insurance Scholar-Athlete Award this winter and one of four Upper Peninsula students to receive a four-year college scholarship from the U.P. Sports Hall of Fame. She was also valedictorian of her graduating class.
"She is one of the best athletes I have coached in my (nearly) 40 years," said LL-H track coach Gary Guisfredi. "She is just an all-around great person. She is not just a great athlete, she is a top-notch kid."
Lyons earlier this month helped her track & field team repeat as U.P. Division 3 champion, winning long jump (16-feet-0.5), placing second in the 200-meter dash (in a personal-best 27.34) and taking third in the 100 (13.4) and 400 (1:01.77). Guisfredi said she probably could have placed in pole vault and excelled in other events if meet rules didn’t limit athletes to only four.
"She is a very versatile athlete," said Guisfredi. "There are a lot of different attributes (for athletic success), and she has them all. And she also works with our younger athletes. Other kids look up to her."
Lyons missed the final week of track practice because she was already working at Fortune Lake, but she followed a training regimen provided by Guisfredi before she began her daily camp duties. "She probably did more than I told her to do," he said with a laugh.
In addition to running four track events this spring, Lyons was also a conference all-star shortstop and pitcher in softball as one of eight teammates who doubled up in both sports. She was all-conference in basketball at guard and was an MVP setter in volleyball for the three-time conference and District champions.
Handling all the sports was not a challenge because, she said, "It is cross-training for all the rest. Everything you do in one sport can be applied to the others."
She’s never had problems being ready for the different track & field events, although she recalled at the 2017 U.P. Finals being midway through her 400 race when her name was called to compete at long jump.
She enjoys track more than the other sports because of the team camaraderie, on the field and off. "It is really a social sport," she said of teammates, members of the boys team and opponents having fun in the infield during other races. She said even the LL-H boys and girls who did not qualify for the Finals still attended and were very supportive.
"We are like one big family," she said of her track teammates. "I don't hang out with a lot of the kids outside of school (she does have to study, after all) but we do spend a lot of time together at our daily routines. Somehow it all works out."
She also enjoys talking to athletes from other schools prior to her track events so "I don't get as nervous. I warm up a lot before the races."
Lyons and her teammates also serve as role models for the younger athletes. "A lot of us help coach other sports. And it makes me thankful for having the support of the community. We are a mirror athletically in the community," she said, indicating her accomplishments are a direct result "of my upbringing, the way I was raised."
Definitely not a me-first person, Lyons also expressed happiness over how women at church collect newspaper clippings of her deeds and pass them on to her. "I realize how they are a part of what I am doing," she said.
Asked what she is most proud of accomplishing, she hesitated for several seconds, then answered, "That is a tough one. I am most proud of the fact I have been so motivated in so many different things and (of) showing younger kids they can do the same things if they set their mind to it."
Lyons anticipates joining the track team when she attends nearby Michigan Tech University. She plans to follow an academic path of biomedical engineering with a focus on pre-med.
"She's got the whole package," Guisfredi said. "This kid is always smiling. She is a very special young lady."
Denny Grall retired in 2012 after 39 years at the Escanaba Daily Press and four at the Green Bay Press-Gazette, plus 15 months for WLST radio in Escanaba; he served as the Daily Press sports editor from 1970-80 and again from 1984-2012. Grall was inducted into the Upper Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame in 2002 and serves as its executive secretary. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for the Upper Peninsula.
PHOTOS: (Top) Lake Linden-Hubbell’s Laura Lyons is embraced by Ontonagon’s Fahren Kolpack and holds a hand of Felch North Dickinson’s Masyn Alexa after they took the top three places in the 400 at the UP Division 3 Finals, all within half a second of each other. (Middle) Lyons, third from left, stands with honorees on the Breslin Center floor during the Scholar-Athlete Awards ceremony in March. (Top photo by Cara Kamps.)
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.)