Time at Track is Nesbitt Family Time Too

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

April 19, 2017

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 [email protected] 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.) 

Finals Title Next Step for Versatile Swan Valley Record-Breaker Kuhn

By Paul Costanzo
Special for MHSAA.com

May 22, 2024

Sydney Kuhn’s habit for smashing school records at Saginaw Swan Valley has forced the track & field program to start taking cost-cutting measures.

Bay & Thumb“We stopped changing out the records on our record board,” Swan Valley coach Dave Dawson said. “We just figured, she has another year and she’ll break it again, so we figured we’re going to save money this way.”

Kuhn, a junior, owns the school records in the 200, 400, 800 and 1,600 meters. She also has the program record in 60 meters, an indoor track event. She’s run the school’s second-fastest 300 hurdles time, and one of the top five 100-meter times. The 1,600-meter relay team she’s part of with Mackenzie Morgan, Grace Spear and Mackenzie Powell is close to setting a record, as well, and has qualified for the MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals on June 1.

“Her ninth-grade year, everybody knew, depending on what happens and her attitude, they knew she could be something special. There was potential there,” Dawson said. “Lauren Huebner, she graduated in 2016 and went to SVSU and was a two-time Division II national champion, she had eight records on the board. Sydney feeds off that. Especially now that Lauren is helping coach, she’s definitely been pivotal in this.”

Kuhn qualified for the Finals in the three events she ran at last week’s Regional: the 200, 400 and 1,600 relay. She will be the No. 1 seed in the 400, and has run the fastest time in the state regardless of division, at 55.11 seconds. She’s the No. 2 seed in the 200, where her personal best of 24.89 is the fifth-fastest time in the state this year, regardless of division. She finished third and sixth, respectively, at the Finals in the events a year ago.

“I feel good,” Kuhn said. “I’m just getting ready. It’s been a good year, it’s been going smoothly. The 400 looks pretty good, and the 200 there will be some good competition. Freshman year, I got fifth, then third (as a sophomore) in the 400, so hopefully this year is first.”

She did not run the 800 at the Regional, as it was decided it was too close in the meet order to her other events. She’s run 2:12.75 in the event, the fourth-fastest time recorded in the state this season.

That could be where she has the most potential, however, as it’s a race she had never run competitively until her sophomore season. The first time she ran it in a varsity meet, she recorded a 2:21, setting the school record.

Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth.“(Coach) Andrew Wendler put a bug in her ear, ‘If you’re running this fast in the 400, think of what your 800 would be,’” Dawson said. “She says, ‘Yeah, I’ll try it.’ So, in one of our first conference meets, she ran against a girl that’s pretty good in the 800 and we just said to follow her – stick with her and see what you can do. With 200 meters left, she just took off and broke the school record the first time she ran it.”

A year later, they tried the same thing with the 1,600. And again, Kuhn responded by running 5:12.73 in her first try, setting the school record. She’s since run 5:06.45.

“The first time I ran the 800, I ran against Mary Richmond from Frankenmuth who is really fast, and I sort of paced behind her the first 400, then the last 300 I took off. Same thing with the 1,600. I felt like staying behind her, I wasn’t really racing, so I could just go, I thought.”

Richmond is a three-time all-state finisher in both the 1,600 and the 3,200, as well as a four-time all-state cross country runner. 

With Kuhn’s instant success in every race she’s tried, the logical next question is, what about the 3,200?

“My coach mentioned that,” Kuhn said with a laugh. “But I usually just shake my head. You never know.”

There is a real question, however, about what event, or events, Kuhn is best suited for moving forward. She said that she would like to shift some focus to the 800 for her senior year, and several college coaches who have been in contact with her have indicated that’s where she could land.

“The pattern typically is they would probably turn her into a half-miler or a miler,” Dawson said. “Some college coaches want her for the heptathlon with her hurdle experience, and she is not a stranger to the weight room. That’s the fun part about this, she tries something and it’s usually pretty fun. It’s usually a positive experience.”

Kuhn is ready for whatever is thrown at her.

“They’re mostly like 800, 1,500, those types of races,” she said. “Some of them just say whatever you like best. One coach mentioned the steeplechase – I don’t know about that. One coach did mention (heptathlon). I’d be open to whatever is best.”

While she’s taken some unofficial visits, she said she’s in no hurry to choose a college. Her focus remains on winning a Finals title at Swan Valley, and a series of times she’s set as goals for herself: 24.4, 54.9, 2:09.9, 4:59.9.

They’re all saved on her phone screen, where they’re easy to change as she reaches them. And at no cost.

“Every time I look at my phone, I see the times I want to get,” she said. “I’ve changed my screen saver a lot when I do break it.”

Paul CostanzoPaul 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 [email protected] with story ideas for Genesee, Lapeer, St. Clair, Sanilac, Huron, Tuscola, Saginaw, Bay, Arenac, Midland and Gladwin counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Saginaw Swan Valley’s Sydney Kuhn runs toward the finish during the Korf/Schultz Saginaw County Invitational on May 10 at Hemlock. (Middle) Kuhn anchors a relay during the Tri-Valley Conference Red meet May 8 at Frankenmuth. (Photos by Eagle Eye Photography.)