Conversations in the Nesbitt house always seem to come back to track and field.
The fact that the father, Michael, is the cross country and boys track coach at Bay City Western, and his two children, Brendan and Sydney, are MHSAA Finals qualifiers in both sports is only part of the reason.
“Having my dad as a coach is different because he’s with you like every second of basically every day,” Brendan Nesbitt said. “When you’re at practice when he tells you something, he’s not telling you as your dad, he’s telling you as your coach. Then at home, he’ll switch gears. Even when we come home, we talk a lot about track or cross country, but that’s just because we’re really big track nerds.”
Time at the track is time with family for the Nesbitts.
Brendan is a senior at Western who finished seventh in the Lower Peninsula Division 1 meet a year ago in the 800 meters. Sydney is a sophomore who qualified in the same event her freshman year.
Michael has been coaching at Western for 19 years, and while recently his children have been a big part of that, they’ve never really been that far away.
“It wasn’t just my wife and myself raising the kids,” Michael said. “The athletes would babysit them on some nights, and they were teaching them to run hurdles and things like that.”
Running runs in the family, as both Michael and his wife, Deanna, were collegiate runners. Michael’s father, Jim, was his coach at Saginaw Valley State University.
During Michael’s childhood, while his dad was a high school coach, he spent time carrying athletes’ sweats, or anything else that would put him near the team and his dad.
Two decades later, Brendan – who also will run at Saginaw Valley – was doing the same thing.
“I’m the oldest sibling, so I didn’t have other siblings to look up to, I guess,” Brendan said. “I was always at the team dinners the day before the meets, and I had fun and looked up to them. They treated me like a little brother.”
Sydney, meanwhile, has had a unique experience. Not only did she grow up around the track and cross country teams, she also has had a brother on those teams – and at home – that she has admired and followed.
“During the summers I’ve been training with my dad and the high school team since like sixth grade,” she said. “I knew what Brendan was like, and how hard he trained, and I wanted to be like him.”
Brendan said he’s passed some knowledge onto his sister, for instance, like the importance of getting up each weekend and going for a run even when she’d rather not. But he said her teammates and her talent are doing the bulk of the work.
“Coming out of middle school, we knew she was going to be pretty good. We just didn’t know how good,” he said. “Since I’ve been on the team, she’s been around the high school team more, and she saw me and how I adjusted to high school races. When she came in, our girls team had a bunch of good older girls. My class is big on the girls side, and she knew a lot of them, so they taught her most of the stuff.”
They couldn’t give her what Michael did on the day of the 2016 MHSAA Finals, however. In her first time running at the meet – she had been there several times as a spectator – Sydney was too excited to be overwhelmed after watching her brother come from the middle of the pack in the boys 800 to run a personal best time of 1 minute, 54.85 seconds and earn an all-state medal.
While Sydney didn’t place among the top eight, she ran her own personal best of 2:18.14 to finish 17th in Division 1.
“It was always amazing to be at the state meet – the atmosphere was so cool – and I always wanted to be part of that,” Sydney said. “My brother ran before me and he got seventh in the state, so that was a huge motivating factor.”
It was, of course, a big moment for Brendan, too. He remembers making his final kick after hearing his dad and grandfather giving encouragement and guidance with about 250 meters to go. After he crossed the finish line, he looked back and the first face he saw was his father’s.
“I turned and looked at my dad right away,” Brendan said. “He’s standing at the 50-yard line and he’s holding up the numbers on his hand that he had on the hand timer. Basically, I walked over to him and gave him a hug, then gave my teammates a hug.”
Being the first person to greet a runner at the finish line is both a duty and a perk of being a coach. Being the first to greet your son after an all-state performance? That’s something else altogether.
“I try to internalize most of the dad part when I’m coaching,” Michael said. “I know it’s my son out there, but he’s also a runner for Western high school. He’s a runner for me on the track. But it was a pretty emotional moment when he earned his medal at the state meet. That’s a proud dad moment. That’s when it comes to reality – after the race.”
While he gets them in the fall and spring, Michael isn’t always coaching his children. Technically, he’s not the girls track coach, either. That job belongs to Rich Syring, although Michael is the distance coach, so he does oversee most of Sydney’s workouts.
During basketball season, however, he’s just dad.
“It was nice when they got into middle school and high school, I got to take the dad seat in the stands,” Michael said. “To be coached by someone else, that’s a good experience. You have to know it’s not dad out there, and that somebody else is going to yell at them. I like the basketball, just the idea of them getting exposure in a different sport. I think it helps them become not just a better runner, but a better athlete.”
Just because he’s not the coach, however, doesn’t mean his presence isn’t felt.
“For basketball, he doesn’t coach, but he’s definitely the loudest in the stands,” Sydney said with a laugh. “If something goes wrong, he’ll give me a look. I know what he’s saying just with that look.”
Paul Costanzo served as a sportswriter at The Port Huron Times Herald from 2006-15, including three years as lead sportswriter, and prior to that as sports editor at the Hillsdale Daily News from 2005-06. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.
PHOTOS: (Top) From left, Brendan, Michael, Sydney and Deanna Nesbitt at the 2016 Division 1 Finals. (Middle) Brendan Nesbitt, in yellow, works to move up from the middle of the pack during the 800. (Top photo courtesy of the Nesbitt family, middle by Carter Sherline/RunMichigan.com.)
LAWRENCE — If redshirting was a thing in high school, at least two coaches at Lawrence would stick that label on senior John Schuman.
“We don’t want to lose this kid ever,” said Derek Gribler, the Tigers’ first-year varsity football and baseball coach.
“If we could put a red shirt on this kid every year, we would.”
Athletic director John Guillean, who also coaches varsity basketball, agreed.
“He is what we strive to have all our student-athletes achieve: high GPAs, multi-sport athletes, good, overall well-rounded human beings,” Guillean said.
Schuman has participated in five of the seven boys sports Lawrence sponsors.
As a freshman and sophomore, Schuman played football, wrestled, ran track and played baseball.
He had wrestled since he was 4, and went from the 119-pound weight class as a freshman to 145 the following year. That sophomore season he qualified for his Individual Regional. But as a junior, he traded wrestling for basketball.
“My older brother wrestled at Lawrence, so I would come to practices,” he said. “I quit for a couple years (in middle school) because I liked basketball, too. It was hard to do both. Obviously, in high school, I still struggled with choosing,” he added, laughing.
Guillean is thrilled Schuman made the switch.
“He’s 6-(foot-)4, he’s super athletic, defensively he’s a hawk, offensively he can put the ball in the bucket. But really, aside from his skills, just that positive attitude and that positive outlook, not just in a game, but in life in general, is invaluable,” the coach said.
Last season, Schuman earned honorable mention all-league honors in the Berrien-Cass-St. Joseph Conference, averaging 9.1 points and 9.1 rebounds per game.
Lawrence left the BCS for the Southwest 10 Conference this year, joining Bangor, Bloomingdale, Hartford, Decatur, Comstock, Marcellus, Mendon, Centreville, White Pigeon and Cassopolis. Schuman and senior Tim Coombs will co-captain the Tigers, with Guillean rotating in a third captain.
At a school of fewer than 200 students, Schuman will help lead a varsity team with just nine – joined by seniors Andy Bowen and Gabe Gonzalez, juniors Christian Smith, Noel Saldana, Ben McCaw and Zander Payment, and sophomore Jose Hernandez, who will see time with the junior varsity as well using the fifth-quarter rule.
“I attribute a lot of (last year’s successful transition) to my coach, helping me get ready because it wasn’t so pretty,” the senior said. “But we got into it, got going, and my teammates helped me out a lot.”
Gribler is one coach already looking ahead to spring sports after seeing what Schuman did during football season.
In spite of missing 2½ games with an injury, the wide receiver caught 50 receptions for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns.
“I just like the ability to run free, get to hit people, let out some anger,” Schuman laughed.
Gribler said the senior is “an insane athlete.
“On top of his athletic ability, how smart he is in the classroom (3.88 GPA), he helped mold the culture we wanted this year for football. He got our underclassmen the way we wanted them. He was a big asset in many ways.”
Schuman earned all-conference honors for his on-field performance in football as well.
“I would say that my main sport is football,” the senior said. “That’s the one I like the most, spend the most time on.”
In the spring, Schuman competed in both track and baseball, earning all-conference honors in both.
“Doing both is tough,” he said. “I have to say my coaches make it a lot easier for me. They help me a lot and give me the ability to do both, so I really appreciate that.
“Throughout the week you’re traveling every day, it seems like. Baseball twice a week and track, but it’s worth it.”
Schuman’s commitment is so strong that he made a special effort not to let his teammates down last spring.
“He qualified for state in the long jump and did his jumps up in Grand Rapids, then he drove all the way to Kalamazoo to play in the District baseball game,” Guillean said. “That speaks volumes about who this kid is. He did his jumps at 9 a.m. (but did not advance) and made it back to Kalamazoo for a 12:15 game.”
Big shoes to fill
As the youngest of four children of Mark and Gretchen Schuman, the senior was following a family tradition in sports.
Oldest brother Matthew played football, basketball and baseball as well as competed in pole vault and wrestling.
Middle bother Christopher competed in football, wrestling and baseball.
Sister Stephanie played basketball, volleyball and softball.
“I like to say they blazed a pretty good trail for me at this high school,” Schuman said.
As for feeling pressure to live up to his siblings, “I used to when I was younger, but now I feel like I’ve made my own way and done enough things to be proud of that I’m happy with it.”
His own way led him to achieve something none of the others did.
He was named the Tigers’ Male Athlete of the Year, just the third junior to earn the boys honor over the last 25 years.
“I was very honored to win that as a junior,” Schuman said. “There were good athletes in the grade above me. I guess hard work pays off.”
Guillean said while Schuman is “darn good at every sport here,” an athlete does not have to be a “top dog” in every sport.
“Learn how to take a back seat,” he said. “Learn how to be a role player. That will make you a better teammate and a well-rounded human being.
“Johnny has that work ethic, in the classroom, on the field, on the court, on the track. It doesn’t go unnoticed and, obviously, he’s reaping the benefits now.”
Pam Shebest served as a sportswriter at the Kalamazoo Gazette from 1985-2009 after 11 years part-time with the Gazette while teaching French and English at White Pigeon High School. She can be reached at email@example.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Lawrence’s John Schuman has participated in five varsity sports during his first 3½ years of high school. (Middle) Lawrence athletic director John Guillean. (Below) Lawrence football and baseball coach Derek Gribler. (Action photos courtesy of John Schuman; head shots by Pam Shebest.)