Marvin Seeking Record-Setting End to Marvelous Byron Career

By Tim Robinson
Special for

June 1, 2021

BYRON — In a bare-bones weight room that appears more like a garage to passers-by, Sarah Marvin is working to finish her quest to rewrite the record books in the shot put for girls track & field.

Not just in the Lower Peninsula’s Division 3, in which she won Finals titles in both the shot put and discus in 2019, but for all divisions.

Marvin, who has a track scholarship to the University of Michigan, has had 11 throws this season beyond the LPD3 Finals record of 46 feet, 9 inches, set by Becky Breish of Edwardsburg in 2001.

She twice has surpassed the all-Finals record of 49 feet, 11.75 inches set by Division 1’s Corinne Jemison of East Kentwood in 2018 – the first time during last summer’s National Scholastic Athletic Foundation’s virtual meet, and then again May 26 at a meet in Comstock Park with a throw of 50 feet, 9 inches.

“Throwing is so technical,” she said, “and you have those days where you’re just clicking and firing on all cylinders. I think I’ll be close to being there soon in these few meets I have left.”

It starts with the Division 3 Finals on Saturday at Jenison.

Marvin and her fraternal twin sister, Becky (a strong thrower in her own right) are familiar with the Jenison layout, which was the site of the 2019 Division 3 Finals.

“We’ll get there Friday,” Marvin said. “We like to go to the throwing rings and feel it out, get a good dinner, then stay at a hotel so we don’t have to ride for an hour and a half in a car (before the competition).”

Throwing is a sport that comes naturally to the Marvins, both for the twins, their sister Jessica and their mother, Theresa, who competed at Michigan after winning two state titles in the discus for Byron during the 1990s.

“Their older sister (Jessica) and brother T.J.) did AAU, which isn’t as big here, but is in the Detroit area,” Theresa Marvin said. “We started a club and had kids that weren’t ours on the team as well. It was a lot of fun for us. Other families were doing T-ball and soccer, and we were doing track.”

The Marvins installed a pair of throwing rings on their property about a decade ago, and the twins picked it up from there. The family took its vacations at AAU national meets, driving all over the country.

Both of the Marvin twins (Sarah is two minutes older, Becky an inch taller) played multiple sports at Byron. Becky also ran cross country and played basketball and wrestled, while Sarah was a starting offensive lineman on the Byron JV football team and did some wrestling in addition to playing basketball, where she was a three-time Owosso Argus-Press Player of the Year.

After her junior year, Sarah gave up football and wrestling.

“I had switched my (shot put) technique to rotational, and I needed more time, more months that I could devote to throwing,” she said. “I tried to train and throw during football season, but I was just too physically tired to do it the way you need to do it. I decided to put my effort and time into throwing.”

As she mentioned, Marvin had switched her throwing from a glide technique, where one effectively pushes the shot in the throw, to the rotational, where the shot comes out like it is slung.

“I’m very comfortable with it now,” she said. “But I’m looking forward to getting more comfortable with it. It’s so technique-heavy. You have these guys who have been doing it for more than a decade, and I’ve been doing it for two years. The more you do it, the more you develop the muscle memory.”

Certainly the results have been there. All of Marvin’s throws this season have been well beyond the 44-11.5 she threw to win at the 2019 Finals.

Byron track & field“It’s helped me make a big improvement,” she said. “But we knew that it would.”

But Sarah Marvin also has a key element in her makeup that has spurred her success.

Asked what she thinks makes her sister stand out, Becky Marvin said, “her work ethic, for sure. She’s always working harder than everyone else. She’ll go out and lift without me sometimes. She has talent, for sure, but her drive makes her stand out.”

During last year’s pandemic, the Marvin sisters were without a place to work out after Byron High School closed.

“We got online and on Facebook Marketplace and put the word out,” Theresa Marvin said. “People gave us stuff, and we made an at-home weight room in our barn.”

Their sister Jessica, who competes at Northwood University, came home along with her boyfriend, who like Jessica is a thrower at Northwood. They all worked out.

“It was a houseful,” said Theresa, a mother of six.

Theresa Marvin realized early on that her twins would need more specialized coaching than what she could provide, and for the last couple of years they have worked with Dane Miller, a private coach based in Fleetwood, Pa.

“I do still coach them at meets, and I try to facilitate what Dane’s trying to do,” said Marvin, who also coached her daughters on the Byron varsity girls basketball team the last two years.

Speaking of basketball, the extension of the season into late March cut into the Marvins’ training time for track.

“Her strength levels go down in basketball from all the running,” Theresa Marvin said of Sarah. “It took her a good 4-6 weeks to get back to speed, and I don’t think she’s there yet. Last year, she didn’t peak until mid-July.”

The Marvin sisters, whom Byron girls track coach Byron Schartzer calls “The Wonder Twins,” feed off each other in competition.

“Just to have another person to hold you accountable to train with definitely helps,” Sarah said.

And while they’re serious about their sport, they also keep things light-hearted.

“If I throw big, she throws big, sometimes,” Becky said. “I made fun of her at the Comstock Park meet; I fouled on my first throw and made the second.

“Then she fouled on her first throw and made the second, and I’m like, ‘OK, you can just copy me, then,’” she added, chuckling. “But if one of us hits a big throw, we try to drive off that.”

While there are other amateur meets later this month, the Marvins have their attention set on Saturday’s Finals.

In the shot put, Sarah Marvin has the top throw this season entering the week, but Becky Marvin is in the top 10, seventh in a pack where spots 3-8 are within 21 inches.

Sarah also is ranked No. 1 in the discus, while Becky is ranked sixth.

“They’re both having great seasons,” Theresa Marvin said. “But you never know. You just can’t take anything for granted. We focus on being healthy, being ready to peak, and then being ready to go on that day.”

And then, before they know it, the twins will be separated. Sarah is going to Michigan to study movement science with an eye toward, perhaps, a medical career.

Becky is going to Tiffin University, where she plans to compete on the track team while pursuing a business degree.

“It’s like 2½ hours from Byron,” Becky said. “Ann Arbor’s on the way home, so if I’m driving by and she wants to come home, I’ll pick her up.”

It’s family, after all, that Sarah cherishes the most about her athletic career.

“I can’t imagine where I would have been in my sports, or my success in sports, without my family,” she said. “In basketball, it was my older sister playing. My three brothers are all wrestlers. I have huge family support and a huge extended family that comes to all my games. They’ve all grown up playing sports, and it’s just fun.”

PHOTOS: Byron senior Sarah Marvin shows her shot put form; she’s the reigning Division 3 champion in the event. (Middle) Sarah and twin sister Becky Marvin are workout partners and make up one of the top throwing pairs in the state again this spring. (Photos by Tim Robinson.)

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.)