Spartans' Sprinter Driven to Finish Fast

May 1, 2012

By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor

Sarita Dotson is one of those athletes who always is focused full-speed ahead -- and on those rare days when she's not, she puts on that her usual determined face as much for herself as to be an example for her younger teammates. 

But there's an impressive depth to how the Battle Creek Lakeview junior explains what has driven her to become one of the state's fastest high school sprinters this spring. 

She likes to keep her past races in the past. But for the occasional practice when Dotson needs an extra boost, she will recall last season, when she qualified 14th in failing to make the MHSAA Division 1 Final in the 100 meters and also fell just three spots short of making the semifinals in the 200.

Or she can draw on something closest to her heart, like her relationship with her grandfather, Grover Dotson.

"He really sets the bar high for me, in a lot of things in my life," Sarita said. "He moved here from Tennessee with 30 dollars in his pocket. That makes me think."

Dotson also has set a high bar for herself -- and is taking some speedy steps toward achieving lofty goals in the next month.  

Dotson received one of Second Half's High 5s this week after earning the Most Valuable Female Athlete award for the second-straight season at Friday's Eldon Draime/Al Geisler Memorial All-City Meet at Battle Creek Harper Creek. She won the 100 (12.5 seconds), 200 (25.5) and long jump (16 feet, 3.5 inches) and ran on the winning 800 relay as her team also won the meet championship by more than 100 points. She also won those three individual events and was part of a first-place 800 relay the weekend before as Lakeview won its own Bill Dolezal Invitational.

Her times already are surpassing those she ran at last season's MHSAA Finals, when she posted a 12.51 in the 100 and a 25.99 in the 200 prelims. and Dotson hasn't even warmed up in the 100 yet -- she ran an 11.99 to win her Regional earlier in 2011.

Those times have brought her personal high bar into focus. Dotson has her sights set on the Lakeview records set by three-time MHSAA champion Erica Mann, who owns the school's fastest 100 in 11.81 seconds and the fastest 200 in 24.2 and went on to run at Michigan State University.

Ironically, it was Mann who first let Lakeview coach Becky Pryor in on the next talent headed her way after seeing Dotson run at one a club meet.

“(Mann) said, ‘Hey Coach, this girl is going to be pretty good.’ I asked what grade she was going to be in and she said ‘fifth,’” Pryor remembered. “I said, ‘Fifth? Really?’

"Even at that point, you could tell she was an athlete.”

Dotson humbly admitted she's always been fast: "In elementary school, I would race against all the boys, and I would always win," she said. But the winning carried over to her first competitive races in third grade.

She still looks up to Mann, who Dotson calls a "beautiful athlete inside and out." But although their physical traits differ -- Pryor said Mann was taller with long legs, while Dotson has more of a typical sprinter build fueled by strength and power -- the coach sees the same drive in Dotson as what pushed her champion predecessor.

"She's very fast, and she works very hard," Pryor said. "She doesn't slack off in practice, and she's a good leader on our team.

"She wants to be competing against the best."

PHOTO: Lakeview's Sarita Dotson (in purple) just missed qualifying for the championship heat at last season's MHSAA Division 1 Final.

Red Devils Impress as Ironwood Honors Record-Setter with Jim LaBlonde Invitational

By John Vrancic
Special for

May 20, 2024

IRONWOOD — The Ironwood track & field teams provided themselves with an opportunity to do a victory lap on a very special Saturday earlier this month.

Upper PeninsulaBoth teams were crowned champions at the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational on May 11 on their 350-meter track during a sunny and mild afternoon.

The Ironwood girls scored 126 points, followed by Hurley, Wis., with 43, Ontonagon 37 and Watersmeet with 13. Ironwood’s boys collected 100 points, followed by Hurley at 84, Ontonagon 32 and Watersmeet with seven in a meet held in honor of the former Luther L. Wright High School star athlete who passed away due to an aneurysm on March 31, 2019.

LaBlonde, who was recently inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, was an all-Upper Peninsula football player and still holds school records in the 100 and 200-meter dashes from his senior year in 1997.

“This is very special to me personally,” Ironwood coach Cecilia Aho said. “Jim was a great person and athlete. I came to Ironwood from Argentina in December 2003 and know the family very well. I had some good conversations with Jim before he passed. This is a great tribute to him. It turned out to be a beautiful day. We had perfect weather and the kids from all four schools were smiling and having fun.

“Jim was well known in the community, not only as a coach, but as a parent. He was a phenomenal runner and football player.”

LaBlonde played football for three years at Wisconsin-LaCrosse and was on the school’s track team for a year while earning his bachelor’s degree in physical education in 2003.

He was a middle school teacher and coach in the Howard-Suamico District near Green Bay, Wis., at the time of his passing.

“He always asked about what was going on in Ironwood and was a good leader,” Aho said. “He would never turn his back on you when you asked him a question. The kids loved him. I wish I would have had a chance to work with him.”

The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. Senior Aubrey Smith topped a field of four Ironwood runners in the 1600-meter run in 5 minutes, 55.69 seconds, followed by freshman Iyla Lagalo (6:54.08) and sophomore Aubrey Balduc (7:21.16).

Smith also won the 300 hurdles at 52.43, more than six seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

“It was nice to have everyone here,” Smith said. “It’s nice to have a home meet, especially on a Saturday. I think it’s a fun meet. It’s nice to know everyone here. I think this gives me a little momentum going into our remaining meets.”

Sophomore Emma Wardon was also a double winner for the Red Devils, taking shot put (32-11) and discus (87-0).

Ironwood sophomore Logan Holm took the 110 hurdles (20.17) and 300s (48.05), and Hurley had a triple-winner in junior Jeremiah Wallis, who captured the 100 (12.0), 200 (24.52) and long jump (17-3).

Watersmeet junior Thomas Carson won the 400 (54.06), five days after setting the school record (52.31) while placing second in the Welker Invitational at Ashland, Wis. (52.31).

“I strained my hamstring in Ashland,” he said. “It was a little windy up by the big lake (Superior) and there were a lot of good runners up there. I’m probably about 80-90 (percent), but everything went okay. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t overdo it. This is a nice little meet, especially for a Saturday.”

Ontonagon sophomore Violet Amos took the 200 (28.26) and 400 (1:02.03) and was runner-up to Hurley senior Jaana Aukee on a lean (13.65) in the 100.

“I’ve been in the 27s in the 200, but I’m very happy with my time in the 400” Amos said. “This being a little smaller track was probably a factor because the curves are a little tighter. I prefer to run a 400-meter track, although I like the running surface and competition.

“It’s always fun to come here. Our track is getting resurfaced. I’m looking forward to running on it the next couple years.”

Ontonagon coach Brian Amos said he also enjoys going to Ironwood.

“Ironwood runs a nice meet, and we get a chance to see Hurley,” he added. “It’s always nice to run against somebody different.”

John VrancicJohn Vrancic has covered high school sports in the Upper Peninsula since joining the Escanaba Daily Press staff in 1985. He is known most prominently across the peninsula for his extensive coverage of cross country and track & field that frequently appears in newspapers from the Wisconsin border to Lake Huron. He received the James Trethewey Award for Distinguished Service in 2015 from the Upper Peninsula Sportswriters and Sportscasters Association.

PHOTOS (Top) Ribbons and medals are set out to be awarded during the first Jim LaBlonde Invitational at Ironwood. (Middle) The Ironwood teams take a photo together, at top, after sweeping the meets. Below, from left, LaBlonde’s brother-in-law Dave Lundin, sister Dena Lundin and parents Marlene and Jim LaBlonde attend the meet. (Photos provided by the Ironwood Red Devil Booster Club.)