Madison Overcomes to Win Again, EGR Emerges to Add to Title Tradition

By Steve Vedder
Special for

June 4, 2022

ADA – After four years, Chaniya Madison knew she was out of tomorrows.

The Bridgeport sprinter accepted that the odds of capturing a rare third Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals title in the 100-meter dash depended largely on health. And if that was the case, Madison admitted a mysterious knee that has baffled doctors for four years would have much to say about the final result.

There were dark times because of the injury when Madison thought about giving in to the pain, calling it a career and moving on to something else.

But after Saturday's Finals at Forest Hills Eastern, Madison is glad she didn't.

She won her third championship in the 100 with a time of 12.07. The title comes after winning the event in both her freshman and junior seasons and caps four seasons of ignoring knee pain that nearly ended her career several times. It took nearly four years for doctors to determine Madison suffered from fluid of the knee, first in her left and then in her right knee. Madison said doctors tried since her freshman year to diagnose the problem, which they guessed could have been anything from arthritis to a torn muscle.

Even after the knee was finally drained, Madison said she considered herself only 85-percent healthy.

"I lost my will to participate, my mental health and my will to stick to it," Madison said. "But I took a few days off and decided I didn't care how much pain there was. This is a big relief. After being so tired, I just wanted to cry. This is so emotional for me."

Madison also helped the Bridgeport 800 relay finish first (1:44.14).

While Madison headed the individual winners, East Grand Rapids captured the team title with 66 points to 37.6 for runner-up Grand Rapids Christian. Zeeland East was third with 29 points, Hudsonville Unity Christian fourth with 23.6 and Allendale and New Boston Huron tied for fifth with 21.

The team title was the 146th state championship for the East Grand Rapids athletic program, but first for the girls track & field team. That's a fact coach Mike Dykstra said he carefully passed along to his athletes this season.

East Grand Rapids track"Maybe it's a bit overwhelming," Dykstra said of joining the Pioneers' lengthy history of state championships. "We thought this was a chance to make history, and they bought into it. It was definitely a goal of ours. We have that as a goal at the start of every year. This was a pretty special year."

The Pioneers collected individual titles by Camryn Bodine in the 800 (2:12.46) and Drew Muller in the 1,600 (4:51.41) while also winning the 3,200 relay, which included Muller and Bodine (9:25.89).

Ludington senior RyAnn Rohrer had a big day winning the shot put (41-11) and discus (135-07). Like Madison, Rohrer had to overcome injury to win her titles. She suffered a leg injury after just two meets this spring and had to focus on getting healthy for the next two months. Rohrer not only had to overcome injury, she added the discus this season after a string of prior successes in the shot.

“I had to do a lot of work to improve, a lot of reps," said Rohrer, whose parents were both involved in throwing events in college. "I got very frustrated, so this is a relief. I knew I could do it, but sometimes it takes time and a mental ability. I had goals as a senior in the discus and I thought, ‘Why not take on a new challenge?’ I'm open to new things.”

Warren Regina junior Ella Jenkins won the 300 hurdles (44.99) and nearly won the 100 hurdles, finishing second (14.97) to Chelsea sophomore Leila Wells (14.96).

Jenkins was a Finals qualifier in the 100 hurdles a year ago and was seeded first in both events this season.

"I thought I had a shot," Jenkins said of winning the 100. "I always want to get out strong and finish with what I have left. I compete to win; I have a passion to win."

Grand Rapids Christian senior Madelyn Frens won the 3,200 (10:44.24). She said comparing Saturday's title with winning last fall's Division 2 cross country championship is not a stretch. Both, she said, involved mental strength. She also competed in the 1,600, where she was second, and the 3,200 relay, which finished runner-up to EGR.

"I like cross country because it's a little harder mentally, and it's longer," she said. "But this is more competitive, and it feels like there is more pressure with expectations. You have to push yourself mentally through both."

Elizabeth Anderson of New Boston Huron was a double winner in the 200 (25.07) and 400 (56.28).

Other champions included Linden in the 400 relay (49.41) and Dearborn Divine Child in the 1,600 relay (4:00.83).

In the field events, Natalie Christnagel of Grosse Ile won the high jump (5-4), Jordyn Wright of Tecumseh took the pole vault (12-0) and Lindsay Girard of Marine City took first in the long jump (17-7).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Bridgeport's Chaniya Madison, middle, crosses the finish line first in the 100 meters Saturday at Forest Hills Eastern. (Middle) East Grand Rapids celebrates its first girls track & field Finals championship. (Click for more from Dave McCauley/Run Michigan.)

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.)