MARQUETTE — Most Upper Peninsula track coaches will tell anyone the weather always is perfect in the Dome.
After all, the temperature is constantly in the 70s and there’s no wind, rain or snow to contend with inside Northern Michigan University’s Superior Dome. And most people agree it was better than competing outdoors last week
Engadine junior Ashtyn Buss was among a group of student-athletes to get a taste of competing in both environments during the Superior Central invitational on April 17.
Buss won girls shot put at 37 feet, 5½ inches inside the Dome, but failed to place in discus, which took place in the great outdoors against a stiff breeze with temperatures hovering near 30 degrees.
“It was pretty important to get a meet in,” she said. “It was very much a relief to be in here for shot. It’s nice and warm in here, but it was sure cold out there for disc. My shoulder tightened up, and I scratched.
“I had good distance on some of my throws, but I kept throwing out of bounds. I can learn from this.”
Cedarville sophomore Caroline Freel, who anchored the winning 1600-meter relay, also stressed the importance of her school’s team getting a meet under its belt.
“This gives us a gauge of where we’re at,” she said. “It was very much a relief to be indoors. Track season up here is known for its unpredictability.”
Although most distance runners are used to running in the cold, Chassell sophomore Lela Rautiola was also glad to be running indoors.
“It helps to get this meet in,” said Rautiola, who won the 1,600 run in 5 minutes, 59.54 seconds. “My lungs are burning from the air, but it’s better than being outdoors today.”
Bark River-Harris coach Katina Demers was mostly thankful the Broncos had a chance to compete.
“It’s so important to get something under our belts in April,” she said. “This was a good learning experience for the younger kids. We’re also very thankful this was indoors. It was very cold outside. I’m surprised they held discus today because of the elements.”
Outside temperatures warmed to the upper 40s the next day (April 18). Rain, however, developed during the course of that day.
Many spectators attending the Marquette Invitational that next day commented about the weather conditions and were glad to have the opportunity to watch track & field competition indoors.
Some distance runners, however, may have preferred to be outdoors on a day during which conditions were more favorable than 24 hours earlier.
Sault Ste. Marie senior Aaron Kinsella may have been among them after winning the 3,200 in 11:12.67.
“That was a pretty good effort by Aaron,” said Sault boys coach D.J. Baars. “He was running all alone and he ran tough. We thought his time might have been a little faster. Aaron said it was hot in here.”
The series of indoor track meets at the Dome concluded with the Ishpeming Invitational on April 19.
Although the sun made an appearance, temperatures had dropped about 10 degrees from the previous day.
Manistique senior Kelsey Dehanke enjoyed the comforts of competing indoors while winning the girls high jump at 4-foot-10.
"It’s a relief to be indoors,” said Dehanke, who plans to attend Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay after high school to major in dental hygiene. “It’s just easier on the leg muscles. I don’t like sitting around in the cold.”
This marked the second meet this season for the Newberry girls, who were runners-up in an outdoor quadrangular meet at St. Ignace the day before.
“It’s important to get meets in this early, but the wind was so cold at St. Ignace,” said Newberry sophomore Madison Grigg, who led off the winning 800 relay. “It’s much better being in here.”
The Ishpeming boys and Munising girls were crowned champions among the Division 2 schools competing in the finale at NMU.
Marquette swept both ends of its invitational, which featured Division 1 schools, and the Bessemer boys and Lake Linden-Hubbell girls earned top honors among the Division 3 schools in the Superior Central Invite.
“Getting meets in early is huge, especially where we’re located,” said Bessemer coach Mark Mazzone. “We often don’t get outside until late April or early May."
PHOTO: Upper Peninsula athletes compete during an April meet at Northern Michigan University's Superior Dome during the start of the 2016 season. (Photo by Paul Gerard.)
Bradley Richards believes that life is all about trying new things, setting bigger goals and pushing yourself to new heights – in his case, literally.
Richards, now a 6-foot-5, 190-pound junior basketball standout at tiny Fruitport Calvary Christian, played on the school’s fifth-grade team when he was in second grade.
He remembers staring longingly at the rim in those days and dreaming about dunking, before making that dream a reality by throwing one down in February of his seventh-grade year.
While his three older sisters - Taylor, Allyson and Kelsey - were leading the Calvary girls basketball program to new heights, he vowed he would do the same with the boys program someday.
Bradley and his teammates accomplished that goal last spring, winning the school’s first boys District basketball title despite a roster with no seniors.
This season, Calvary came flying out of the gate with a 5-0 start and is now 5-2 heading into Friday’s home game against Saugatuck.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Bradley, who averages 29 points and 14 rebounds per game. “Our school is so small that we’re more like a family. It’s not about me. I’m just so happy for our school and all of the guys on the team.”
The next goal is to repeat as District champions and try to win a Regional title, before setting his sights at clearing 7 feet in the high jump this spring.
“I’m going to try to get past that this year,” said Bradley in his typical humble, matter-of-fact fashion.
One thing his father and fourth-year Fruitport Calvary Christian boys basketball coach Brad Richards has learned is to not put anything past his only son, the youngest of his four children.
Bradley displayed an interest in music as a young boy and now sings in the school’s worship group and plays the saxophone, piano and guitar. Last fall, he played high school football for the first time as part of a cooperative agreement with Muskegon Catholic Central and wound up starting at wide receiver and defensive back for the state powerhouse program.
“He’s blessed and he’s gifted – yes,” said his father, who also coached all three of his girls during their Calvary Christian basketball careers. “But he works so hard.
“Bradley sets goals and works toward them. He’s always looking for the next thing to do.”
True to his school
One thing he doesn’t like to do is media interviews. Specifically, he doesn’t like calling attention to himself.
“He is pretty quiet and would rather have his teammates get the attention,” said his mother, Joy.
Fruitport Calvary Christian is one of the smallest schools on the entire Lakeshore with 51 students in grades 9-12, and just 17 boys in the high school.
The Eagles take great pride in their ability to compete against much larger schools. They made a huge statement during the first full week of December with three convincing victories over bigger schools.
That week started on Tuesday, Dec. 5, with Calvary’s first-ever boys basketball win over neighbor Fruitport, a Division 2 school that competes in the Ottawa-Kent Conference Blue. Bradley scored 35 points with 14 rebounds in that game, with clutch free throws by role player Eric Dubois Quayle sealing the win.
Two days later, Richards scored 36 points with 17 rebounds in a win over Grand Rapids Sacred Heart.
Calvary then capped the 3-0 week Friday with a victory over Kent City, another Division 2 school, as Bradley scored 36 points with 18 rebounds.
Calvary is led by the “big three” of juniors Richards and Quinn Swanson and senior Sam Zelenka. Swanson, the team’s second-leading scorer with 17 points plus six rebounds and three assists per game, injured his knee last week against Schoolcraft and his health will have a huge bearing on the team’s success going forward. Zelenka is the top defender and averages 11 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
The other starters are junior workhorse Zach McFarren, who owns the school’s shot put and discus records and has played all but six minutes over the team’s seven games, and senior Nolan Ghezzi.
Richards, already a two-time Associated Press all-state selection who even made the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan all-state team as an eighth grader, has seen every gimmick defense to try and shut him down, including box-and-twos and triple teams. He credits his experience in football and track with helping him deal with it.
“There is usually a quick guy in front of me and a big guy behind me,” said Bradley, who scored a career-high 47 points in a game last season. “Football has really helped me, because I’m not as scared of the contact. The high jumping has helped me to elevate and get my shot off.”
Jim McHugh is a high jump legend from Pentwater who went on to become a two-time national champion in the event at Hillsdale College, and he now coaches West Michigan athletes in the event.
The first time he worked with Bradley Richards, in April of last year, he knew he had something special on his hands.
“Bradley went up and literally hurdled the bar at 5-11,” said McHugh. “I was in shock. I said to myself: ‘This is gonna be a heck of a ride.’ The kid is a generational talent.”
The coaching of McHugh paid immediate dividends, as Bradley improved from a top jump of 6-1½ as a freshman to 6-6½ in last year’s Regional meet. Then came the Division 4 Finals at Hudsonville a few weeks later.
Bradley won the first track Finals championship for Fruitport Calvary with a leap of 6-10 – which was 3 inches higher than anyone else in any of the four Lower Peninsula divisions and entire Upper Peninsula that day – and caught the attention of college scouts from across the country.
The following week, he competed at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Philadelphia and placed second with a jump of 6-8.24.
McHugh shudders to think of how high his prodigy can soar. He has his sights set on the Division 4 Finals record of 6-10½ (Kurt Schneider, Auburn Hills Oakland Christian, 2009), the Muskegon-area record of 7-0 (Steve Paulsen, Fremont, 1998) and the all-division/class Finals record of 7-1 (John Payment, Brimley, 1989).
“God has given him incredible talent, but he also has the desire it takes,” said McHugh, who is also working with another Division I college high jump prospect in Hart junior Addison Hovey. “I gave him a workout plan, and he has done every bit of it. He has cleaned up his diet, done the cold showers and the cold bathtubs, everything. I’m excited to see the results.”
Richards, whose first love was basketball, admits he is smitten with the high jump and seeing how high he can soar.
Now, when asked about his favorite athletes, he still mentions Michael Jordan and Kevin Durant, but he also includes Olympic gold medalist high jumper Mutaz Barshim of Qatar – who made news by not taking additional jumps at the 2020 Olympics in Japan, thereby sharing the gold medal with Gianmarco Tamberi of Italy.
“I just respect that so much, sharing the gold medal,” Bradley said.
Now the Bradley Richards recruiting saga has begun and, for him, it’s not just about choosing what school – it’s also about choosing what sport.
“I would like to do both, play basketball and high jump in college, if possible,” Bradley said.
That would certainly be a possibility if Bradley follows in his family’s footsteps at Cornerstone University. His father was a basketball standout at Cornerstone, which is where he met Joy, and all three of his sisters played for the Golden Eagles. (Kelsey is currently a student assistant for this year’s team.)
Playing both may not be possible if he pursues high jump at the Division I level, where Michigan and Illinois are among schools actively recruiting him.
“I know at some point I’m going to have to make a decision, but I don’t have to right now,” said the 17-year-old Bradley. “So it doesn’t do me any good to sit and stress about it all the time.”
Instead, he is focused on more immediate goals.
The first is figuring out a way for his basketball team to snap a two-game losing skid and get positioned for another postseason run.
Then it will be trying to clear the magical high jump number of 7-0, and beyond. And don’t forget football, where he would love to start off his senior year by helping Muskegon Catholic improve on its 6-5 record from a year ago and make a run at the school’s 13th state football championship.
Only after all of that will it be college decision time.
“It’s not an easy choice, and it will take a lot of prayer and discernment,” admitted Richards, who will look for help from his immediate family and his school family in making his choice. “I’ll figure it out. I usually do.”
Tom Kendra worked 23 years at The Muskegon Chronicle, including five as assistant sports editor and the final six as sports editor through 2011. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Muskegon, Oceana, Mason, Lake, Oceola, Mecosta and Newaygo counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Fruitport Calvary Christian’s Bradley Richards stands atop the podium after winning the high jump last spring at the Lower Peninsula Division 4 Finals. (Middle) Richards lines up to shoot a free throw. (Below) Playing as part of a cooperative with Muskegon Catholic Central, Richards works to get away from a Traverse City St. Francis tackler. (Track photo courtesy of Joy Richards; basketball and football photos courtesy of Local Sports Journal.)