Standout Leads Corunna in Close Finish

June 1, 2019

By Matt Schoch
Special for Second Half

ZEELAND – It’s essentially an individual sport, but the importance of teamwork was on display Saturday at the MHSAA Division 2 Girls Track & Field Finals at Zeeland Stadium.

Teammates pushed each other to the end with one-two finishes in the 100- and 1,600-meter races, highlighting a day that had a three-and-a-half-hour delay and then another of 45 minutes – with one more delay of more than two hours for good measure.

In the 100, freshman Chaniya Madison of Bridgeport edged teammate Payten Williams, last year’s champion, at 12.41 seconds.

“I was trying to run against her, keep up to her, push her, go harder – and it made me go harder,” Madison said. “It’s exciting. I don’t really feel like it’s real. It feels fake, like a dream come true.”

Holland Christian kept the tradition alive in the 1,600 after Kayla Windemuller won the last three Finals titles.

This time, it was junior Gillian Fiene running a 4:57.05 to top second-place Michelle Kuipers, together keeping the Maroons on top of the podium, both noting their faith in a post-race interview.

“I knew I was running it with God and with Michelle, and to know that I have those two walking right alongside me is just such a great feeling and the most comforting thing in the world,” said Fiene, who moved to Holland Christian this year from a school in Illinois.

Added Kuipers: “I don’t feel the pressure as much (from the program’s past success), just more of excitement just to keep going to see what we can do as a team. Just to see how God has blessed us this year even more.”

The pair also helped Holland Christian to a title in the 1,600 relay at 3:58.40.

However, in the team competition, Corunna carried the day with 54 points, while Holland Christian was second with 49. Rounding out the top five were Zeeland East (37), East Grand Rapids (33), and Bridgeport (31).

Corunna was carried by a standout day from junior Hannah Hollister, who won individual titles in the 300-meter hurdles (44.12) and 200 meters (25.26). She also anchored a 400-meter relay winner in which Corunna (49.56) edged Frankenmuth by one hundredth of a second, coming from behind for the win.

Hollister also took third in the 110 hurdles, won by Marysville’s Kaia Scheffler (14.36).

Hollister said she ran the full slate of events last week at the Regional to prepare for what turned out to be a long day.

“It was kind of hard to bounce back from running the 200 prelims and then 15 minutes later in the 100 hurdles, so I’m happy with how that went,” Hollister said. "At the beginning, it was a little rough with all the nerves and not being able to run our first race, but then after that, it was almost nice and it gave us a longer break.”

Another multiple champ, Adrian sophomore Marr Day’Anna, won the high jump competition at 5 feet, 4 inches, and the long jump at 18-10.25, a Division 2 Finals record.

“I was going for 19 (feet),” Day’Anna said. “But I’m happy that I could jump this and beat the state record. My last couple jumps in my last couple meets were really good, so once I got to state meet, I was just working my way up to this.”

Day’Anna said her second-place finish in the long jump last season served as motivation throughout this spring.

Rounding out the field events, senior Mohogany Wells of Lansing Sexton won the shot put at 42 feet, 8 inches, Zeeland East senior Taylor Waterway won the discus at 135-2 and senior Tricia Pierce of Ortonville Brandon won the pole vault at 12-6.

On the track, senior Jakarri Alven of Grand Rapids Catholic Central won the 400 meters at 57.55 seconds, her third Finals title in four seasons and after missing last season’s championship meet with an injury.

St. Johns junior Taryn Chapko won the 800 at 2:15.14, and Plainwell junior Makenna Veen won the 3,200 at 10:38.35.

Eighth-seeded East Grand Rapids pulled an upset in the 3,200 relay, winning at 9:15.00 to edge top-seeded Holland Christian, which set the meet record last year. Holland Christian took second this year at 9:21.15 after its third runner was hobbled with an injury down the stretch.

Williamston won the 800 relay at 1:43.59.

Click for full results.

PHOTOS: (Top) Corunna's Hannah Hollister clears a hurdle while leading her team to the LP Division 2 championship. (Middle) Holland Christian's Gillian Fiene paces the field on the way to a win. (Photos by Kevin Fowler. Click to see more from 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, coach 15 of the meets beginning in 1951. Steve Hoke later competed in the relays 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 first 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.)