Lyons Shows Way to All-Around Success

June 20, 2018

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.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for

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.)