Marysville Thrower Hudson Dancing Into Record Books, Finals Contention

By Paul Costanzo
Special for

April 12, 2023

If you see Janae Hudson doing the “Cotton Eye Joe” dance near a shot put or discus pit this spring, don’t be surprised.

Bay & ThumbBut do pay attention, because a Marysville school record may be about to fall.

“I used to get really stressed out before meets, and it would definitely impact my throws,” the Marysville junior said. “I thought that maybe I need a specific routine to not freak me out or anything, and I kind of have it with volleyball, as well. I like to just go off in my own space. When I’m in the hole, I like to kind of just dance around and get all the jitters out before I throw. It’s kind of like a line dance, something I can do in a single space and not bump into other people. I did it last year, and it started to work.”

Hudson, who placed third at the 2022 Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals in the discus, has already danced and thrown her way into the Marysville record books. She holds the school record in the discus with a throw of 135 feet, 7 inches. Her sights are now set on the shot put record of 40-10, which is about a foot and a half better than her personal best of 39-2¼.

“She’s such a competitor,” Marysville coach Brian Gwisdala said. “She’s already set high expectations for herself. Track is one of those sports where she’s got distances she wants to hit this year. And I think it’s the sign of a mature kid, even though she wants to finish first at states, her big thing right now is she wants that shot put record at the school. She threw 29-2¼ at Saginaw this year. She’s getting there.”

While Hudson showed potential as a freshman, qualifying for the Division 2 Finals and finishing 10th in the shot put, breaking school records certainly wasn’t the expectation at that point.

In fact, when she entered high school, she figured volleyball would be her main focus. While she still plays and is a major contributor for the Vikings volleyball program, throwing has emerged as the sport she wants to pursue collegiately.

Hudson prepares to let the discus fly.“I was really nervous and timid to actually go to my first track practice,” she said. “But that’s when I fell in love with it. I wasn’t expecting to get this serious with it at the beginning of my freshman year.”

During her freshman year, Hudson began working with throwing coach Michael Hale of Kaizen Throws, and saw immediate results.

She continued to work with Hale through the offseason, and that combined with adding some strength – and a dance routine – helped her take off as a sophomore. In her second season, she added more than two feet to her shot put personal record, and nearly 30 in the discus.

“I think a huge part of it was that she kind of grew into her body,” Gwisdala said. “She’s always been a tall kid, and that coordination and everything caught up to her. I saw it with her in volleyball, too, how much she improved athletically. She really worked hard and put in the time. She throws during the indoor season in the winter. She’s got her private throwing coach that she goes to. All of those factors, and she had the determination and drive to go and do it.”

All of that has put Hudson in a strong position heading into her junior season, not only to further one school record and chase down another, but to improve upon her places at the Division 2 Finals.

Her personal-best discus throw would have tied for first at the 2022 Finals, while her personal best in the shot put would have placed fourth.

“I would love to go to states in both events, and to place first in both would be an ideal situation,” she said. “But if I could finish top three in both, I would walk out happy.”

Helping Hudson chase that ideal situation of winning a Finals title is having watched a teammate do it just two years ago, as Reese Powers won the 400 meters as a junior at the 2021 Division 2 Finals.

“That’s huge,” Gwisdala said. “Just the fact that it was somebody from our school. And it wasn’t someone that necessarily just did one thing, either. Reese and (all-state runner Hannah Fisher) both were multi-sport athletes. The other huge part, and I would say this about Janae right now, too, with Reese was just her work ethic. You would see it every day in practice.”

All of that resonated with Hudson.

“It was a wild moment,” she said. “She’s a junior in high school and can do that; I can do that, too. It would probably mean the world to me.”

Paul CostanzoPaul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Marysville’s Janae Hudson unwinds while putting the shot during a meet. (Middle) Hudson prepares to let the discus fly. (Photos by Rodney Thomas/Thomas Sports Photography.)

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.)