Performance: Farwell's Lillian Albaugh

May 3, 2017

Lillian Albaugh
Farwell junior – Track & Field

Sports run deep in Albaugh’s family, and she added another achievement to the legacy April 26 with a school record-breaking performance. Albaugh broke Farwell’s shot put record that had stood since 1993 with a throw of 38 feet, 10½ inches and also won the discus in a meet against Harrison to earn the Michigan Army National Guard “Performance of the Week.”

Albaugh’s record toss bested Shane Haas’ 24-year-old throw by 6½ inches and would’ve placed Albaugh third at last season’s MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals, where she finished seventh in shot put. Albaugh tossed the discus 113-3 against Harrison, a career best and 2 feet, three inches short of another 1993 record set by Haas, now Shane Barnett.

While shot put is her favorite spring athletic endeavor, Albaugh admits her family is half track & field and half softball, and she’s also hitting .400 on the diamond this spring after helping Farwell to a Division 3 District title last season. Albaugh’s mom Jill is a former Shepherd throws record-holder and an assistant track & field coach for Farwell, while her aunt Marge Albaugh was the LP Class C shot put champion for Bullock Creek in 1982. Lillian's sister Libby Albaugh was a softball standout at Mount Pleasant Sacred Heart and made the MHSAA record book with 22 doubles in 2012, and her dad Bill directs the summer softball Mt. Pleasant Drillers program. Lillian admits, “My whole life has been sports, sports sports.” But that’s not all; she's a strong student, plays in the marching and concert bands, and participates in 4-H and was Isabella County Fair princess for 2015. She's interested in studying for a career in education and potentially coaching or becoming an athletic director.  

Coach Matt Horodyski said: “Lillian is well-liked by all competitors and coaches. She is a hard worker with a great attitude. She takes care of business in the classroom as well as on the field. She encourages her teammates and classmates alike to do their best. We are all very proud of what Lillian has accomplished, and look forward to see how much further she can take it.”

Performance Point: “I said I’m going to do this, I’m going to give it my all, it feels like I’m going to break some records today," Albaugh said of her record-breaking meet. "When I heard I was in the hole (third in line to throw) ... I turned around and got away from everyone. I prayed really quick, said God, this is my moment in time, I’ve worked so hard, and this is my moment now to shine. All of a sudden I was up, I got in the circle, looked where I was throwing and said OK, I’m going to challenge myself. This is the day. I brought it down into position, I was going into my glide and I don’t know why but I closed my eyes. I felt myself go so quick … I grunted really loud … and I saw the shot put fly so fast. I’ve never seen my throw go so far or fast. … I got out the back (of the circle), and I’m waiting and waiting, and I started crying. All of a sudden I hear ‘38 feet, 10 and a half inches,’ and I started bawling. For two and half years I’ve wanted that record, and I knew sometime someday I’d throw 38 feet.”

Thanks Mom: “I’ve been throwing since I was in seventh grade, and I’ve never had a throwing coach besides one, (middle school coach) Chris Kelly. My mom just helps me some more with it, fills in the blanks with what I need to do more. She helps me a lot.”

Happy to hand off: “(Barnett) is my good friend’s mother. She had the middle school record too and I beat her record. Her daughter (Soyer Barnett) plays softball with me, and I always talk with her mom. She was just so excited for me (Wednesday). When she first saw me she gave me a hug and said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’”

Be like Michelle: “One day my mom said to look up YouTube videos (of throwers), and I did. I typed in ‘girls shot put Olympics’ because I always wanted to know about Olympic shot putters, and Michelle Carter (2016 gold medalist and U.S. record holder) popped up. When I was watching her throws, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness, I want to be her so much. I want to be like her and throw that far.’ I watched her at the Rio Olympics (last) year … everything was so right. How people were talking on there, ‘Look at her epic throw.’ I’m like, ‘Yes.’”

Busy is best, but shot put is #1: “I like to keep myself busy, just having fun with my friends and enjoying life and trying new things that I always wanted to try. … Shot put … I just like throwing a heavy ball and seeing how far it goes, seeing if I can accomplish more goals in life.”

- Geoff Kimmerly, Second Half editor

Every week during the 2016-17 school year, Second Half and the Michigan Army National Guard will recognize a “Performance of the Week" from among the MHSAA's 750 member high schools.

The Michigan Army National Guard provides trained and ready forces in support of the National Military Strategy, and responds as needed to state, local, and regional emergencies to ensure peace, order, and public safety. The Guard adds value to our communities through continuous interaction. National Guard soldiers are part of the local community. Guardsmen typically train one weekend per month and two weeks in the summer. This training maintains readiness when needed, be it either to defend our nation's freedom or protect lives and property of Michigan citizens during a local natural disaster. 

Previous 2016-17 honorees:
April 27: Amber Gall, Shepherd track & field  Read
April 20: Sloane Teske, East Grand Rapids tennis Read
March 30: Romeo Weems, New Haven basketball Read
March 23: Jaycie Burger and Maddie Clark, Pittsford basketball Read
March 16: Camden Murphy, Novi swimming & diving Read
March 9: Ben Freeman, Walled Lake Central wrestling Read
March 2: Joey Mangner, Chelsea swimming & diving Read
Feb. 23: Isabelle Nguyen, Grosse Pointe North gymnastics – Read
Feb. 16: Dakota Hurbis, Saline swimming & diving – Read
Feb. 2: Foster Loyer, Clarkston basketball Read
Jan. 26: Nick Jenkins, Detroit Catholic Central wrestling – Read
Jan. 19: Eileene Naniseni, Mancelona basketball Read
Jan. 12: Rory Anderson, Calumet hockey – Read
Dec. 15: Demetri Martin, Big Rapids basketball Read
Dec. 1: Rodney Hall, Detroit Cass Tech football Read
Nov. 24: Ally Cummings, Novi volleyball Read
Nov. 17: Chloe Idoni, Fenton volleyball Read
Nov. 10: Adelyn Ackley, Hart cross country Read
Nov. 3: Casey Kirkbride, Mattawan soccer – Read
Oct. 27: Colton Yesney, Negaunee cross country Read
Oct. 20: Varun Shanker, Midland Dow tennis Read
Oct. 13: Anne Forsyth, Ann Arbor Pioneer cross country – Read
Oct. 6: Shuaib Aljabaly, Coldwater cross country – Read
Sept. 29: Taylor Seaman, Brighton swimming & diving – Read
Sept. 22: Maggie Farrell, Battle Creek Lakeview cross country – Read
Sept. 15: Franki Strefling, Buchanan volleyball – Read
Sept. 8: Noah Jacobs, Corunna cross country – Read

PHOTOS: (Top) Farwell's Lillian Albaugh watches her shot put land during last week's meet against Harrison. (Middle) Albaugh also takes plenty of swings for the softball team. (Top photo courtesy of the Mount Pleasant Morning Sun, middle photo courtesy of Farwell High School.)

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.)