Oak Park Girls Hurdle Competition Again to Regain LPD1 Championship

By Keith Dunlap
Special for MHSAA.com

June 3, 2023

ROCKFORD – For the fourth time in five seasons Saturday, Oak Park’s girls captured the Lower Peninsula Division 1 team title – this time with a meet-best 80 points at Rockford High School. 

Last season’s champion Detroit Renaissance was second with 58 points, while Ann Arbor Pioneer was third at 56. 

The Knights – runners-up a year ago – won again mainly thanks to their dominance in the hurdles. Senior Nonah Waldron won the 100 and 300 hurdles, but also Morgan Roundtree was third in the 100 (13.86) and second in the 300 (41.54) and Carrie VanNoy was fourth in both the 100 (14.18) and 300 (44.11).

Waldon said the team’s success was all about pushing each other the best they could in practice every day. 

“It takes maturity to understand that you all can be great together,” Waldron said. “It took a lot of love for each other to be the best we can be.”

Renaissance's Jayla Dace, right, charges toward the finish. The Knights also were second in the 400 relay (47.71) and 800 relay (1:38.21), and third in the 1,600 relay (3:55.27).

“I think that dealing with losing and some adversity helps you grow,” Oak Park coach Brandon Jiles said. “I think the kids used the experience from last year to catapult them this year. We know it’s a points game. We know there are no style points in team championships. We spread the kids out to do what we needed to do. We’re not a depth team, but a quality team. They showed out, and I’m happy.” 

Waldron won the 100 hurdles in a time of 13.56 before really putting on a show in the 300 hurdles. She won that event in a time of 40.37, which was the second-fast time in that event in the nation thus far this year. Waldron, who will run in college at USC, also won both hurdles events two years ago and won the 100 hurdles last year, but had a mishap that cost her last year’s title in the 300. 

“Last year, I fell and tore my ankle,” she said. “That did motivate (me) a lot more than before. It made me want it more.”

If it wasn’t evident that Renaissance sophomore Jayla Dace might be the state’s next big sprinting star already, she established that on the biggest stage.

Dace won the 100-meter dash in a time of 11.90 and was a part of winning 400 and 800 relay teams. Dace also took third in the 200-meter dash in a time of 24.56. 

“The starting gun is a horn, so I’m not really used to that,” Dace said of her strategy in the 100. “I had to really adapt quickly and to make sure I wasn’t the last person to get out of the blocks. Once you see people in the 100 ahead of you, it’s over. I just had to make sure when I started the race that I really didn’t see anybody.”

In the relays, Dace ran the second leg in the 400 and the first leg in the 800.

West Bloomfield's Kamryn Tatum, far left, leads the 200. “I’m just happy we were able to execute,” Dace said. 

Saturday was quite an inauguration into the pressure of a high school state meet for West Bloomfield freshman Kamryn Tatum. But she performed like a veteran, winning the 400 in a time of 55.74 and the 200 in a time of 24.10.

“I’ve been at big meets so I know how to deal with quite a bit of pressure, but I was still nervous because it was my first high school (Finals),” Tatum said. “I just wanted to run until the end of the line.”

Ann Arbor Pioneer junior Rachel Forsyth won the 800 (2:09.96) and 1,600 (4:44.22), and East Lansing senior Anna Delgado finished first in the 3,200 (10:33.87). Forsyth also was part of Pioneer’s winning 3,200 relay (9:01.19), and Detroit Cass Tech won the 1,600 relay (3:52.82) by 12 hundredths of a second ahead of Renaissance.

Howell senior Sophie Daugard was first in shot put (41-7), Allen Park junior Abigail Russell first in discus (148-7½), and Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central junior Brooke Bowers won pole vault (12-3). Farmington Hills Mercy junior Milena Chevallier won high jump (5-11), and Rockford senior Maya Anderson was champion in the long jump (18-6½). Flushing sophomore Ally Ingrahm competed in the adaptive 100 (42.81).

Click for full results.

PHOTOS (Top) Oak Park's Nonah Waldron crosses the finish line first in the 100 hurdles Saturday. (Middle) Renaissance's Jayla Dace, right, charges toward the finish. (Below) West Bloomfield's Kamryn Tatum, far left, leads the 200. (Photos by Jamie McNinch [top photo] and Carter Sherline/RunMichigan.com.)

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

By Steve Vedder
Special for MHSAA.com

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.)