The many who have attended second-floor meetings at the MHSAA Office in East Lansing over the years have at least walked past and hopefully noticed the artistic spin above on a past championship race.
Few may know it depicts one of, if not the most star-studded sprint rivalry in MHSAA track & field history.
On the left is Ann Arbor Pioneer’s Crystal Braddock, with Flint Central’s Patrice Verdun keeping stride. From 1987-89, they met five times in either 100 or 200-meter championship races at Lower Peninsula Class A Finals.
Verdun began her MHSAA Finals run as a freshman in 1986, tying for first in the 100 with Grand Haven’s Michelle Bishop at 12.05 seconds.
A year later, Braddock would join her in the championship heat of that race, finishing seventh (12.47) as Verdun won in 11.98 seconds. Braddock also finished third in 1987 in the 200 (25.12), while Verdun was on the winning 400 relay.
In 1988, the matchup took its first step toward being forever memorable, as Braddock was first and Verdun second in both the 100 and 200. Braddock tied the LP Class A Finals record in the 100 at 11.70, with Verdun just behind her at 11.76 and the next fastest racer at 12.08. It was Braddock first at 24.45 and Verdun second at 24.71 in the 200, with the next fastest after those two crossing the finish nearly a second later. Braddock also ran on the 400 relay champ as Pioneer as a team won its fourth-straight Finals title.
The pair would meet for the last times at an MHSAA Finals in 1989. Again, it was Braddock first and Verdun second in both the 100 and 200. This time the Pioneer sprinter won the 100 in 11.84 to Verdun’s 11.99, and the 200 in 24.90 to her rival’s 25.54. Braddock this time also ran on the winning 1,600 relay, and Pioneer extended its team title streak to five seasons of an eventual seven consecutive as LP Class A champion.
High school track was just the start for the speedy pair. Braddock went on to run at the University of Texas, earning All-America honors four times and helping set a relay record at the World University Games. Verdun earned All-America five times for Florida State University.
And add this in when considering the collective speed of those 100-meter MHSAA Finals races. The third-place finisher in both 1988 and 1989 was Detroit Cass Tech’s Trinette Johnson, who won long jump at both of those meets and also would go on to Florida State – where she was a six-time All-American, including four times in long jump.
Second Half's weekly Title IX Celebration posts are sponsored by Michigan Army National Guard.
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BLISSFIELD – Last fall, June Miller raced for an MHSAA cross country title at Michigan International Speedway. During the winter she played in the Division 3 Basketball Final at the Breslin Center. In the spring, she competed at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 track & field championships in Kent City.
As she embarks on her senior year at Blissfield Community Schools in southeast Michigan, Miller isn’t concerned about an encore.
“I don’t worry about topping my junior season,” she said. “I don’t feel the need to. I’ll fight for it to the best of my ability, but if I don’t make it that’s okay. There were a lot of factors that went into last year, and I can’t control all of them this year.
“I’ll leave my best out there and know that I gave it my all, and in the end that’s the true accomplishment. If it takes me that far or further, then great. If not, that’s okay.”
Miller’s remarkable run to MHSAA Finals in three sports remains even more impressive when considering she had eight goals and five assists playing defense for the Royals soccer team.
“Shows up to work, busts her tail every practice, every game,” said Blissfield girls basketball coach Ryan Gilbert. “Never have to worry about June Miller.”
Miller is as steady an athlete as they come, never getting too high or too low in pressure situations. In basketball, Gilbert said Miller never met a shot she didn’t like. Miller started all 29 games last season, leading the team in 3-pointers.
Gilbert said Miller is even-keeled.
“It takes a while to get into the ‘June Miller circle,’ but I’m almost in,” he said. “This is her senior year; this is my year. She’s very funny when you get to know her and has a brilliant mind.
“She wants to win over everything,” Gilbert said.
Miller wasn’t the fastest runner on the cross country team last fall – that spot would belong to her younger sister, Hope. June has no problem with that.
“I love running with my sister,” she said. “She’s an amazing and incredibly kind person. Her dedication to running inspires me and keeps me fighting for it. We train together sometimes and she’s the one that pushes me, and I love that.
“I always knew she’d be faster than me someday, and I couldn’t be prouder of how fast she’s become and how much she’s achieved. (People might) think I’d hold some resentment for her beating me while I’m older, but she’s lived in my shadow for years and I’m so glad she’s been able to find her place that she can dominate.”
Blissfield is eyeing a big season in cross country after winning a Regional and just missing the top 10 at the Final a year ago. The Miller sisters are a big reason for the giddiness.
“I’m ready to leave it all out there,” Miller said. “It’s my senior season, and I want to go out strong. I think the end goal for all of us is to really push it this season and improve with each race so by the time we hit Regionals we’re in the best shape physically and mentally so we can leave it all on the course to get to states again.”
Because of her work schedule this summer, Miller missed some of the team workouts but was able to get the details from her sister and went out on her own time and trained to build up her mileage in preparation for the season.
“I think the experience from last year will give us something to fight for,” she said. “It allows us to look at the season with our end goal being the state meet. It gives us a passion and something to fight for.”
Blissfield cross country coach Ryan Bills called Miller a strong competitor.
“She is fun kid,” he said. “You never know which June you’re going to get – funny, chatty June or serious, no-nonsense June. Either way she always gives it her all during competition, which is why she has seen so much success the past year.”
The four-sport athlete spent the first couple of weeks of summer refreshing her body before kicking it into high gear.
She did take some time to reflect on all the places she got to play and compete last year and is grateful to be part of a team that helped her reach those places.
“It was a unique experience,” she said. “When I’m playing basketball or running track and cross country, I’m not focused on where I am physically – instead I’m in my head focused on what I need to do.
“Once you get to someplace, you stop thinking about getting there and you move on to the next step of being there and doing what you need to there.”
Miller is one of the top students in her class. She’s currently trying to decide whether she wants to pursue playing soccer in college. She wants to major in business and minor in sustainability, eventually getting a master’s degree in architecture.
“I want to be a sustainable design architect,” she said, “who can better the world through the art of architecture.”
Miller’s future looks bright, as does the outlook for this athletic year. In all three sports for which she reached the Finals last year, the Royals have enough returning talent to make lengthy runs again.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Miller said, about four days before the first cross country event of the season. “I want to make it to all those state tournaments again, but I want to do it with my teammates because they’re the ones that make it memorable and something to remember forever.”
Doug Donnelly has served as a sports and news reporter and city editor over 25 years, writing for the Daily Chief-Union in Upper Sandusky, Ohio from 1992-1995, the Monroe Evening News from 1995-2012 and the Adrian Daily Telegram since 2013. He's also written a book on high school basketball in Monroe County and compiles record books for various schools in southeast Michigan. E-mail him at [email protected] with story ideas for Jackson, Washtenaw, Hillsdale, Lenawee and Monroe counties.
PHOTOS (Top) Blissfield’s June Miller (750) races during a cross country meet last fall. (Middle) Miller pulls up for a jumper during last season’s basketball postseason run. (Cross country photo by Deloris Clark-Osborne; basketball photo by Gary Sullivan.)