High 5s: 5/22/12

May 22, 2012

None of this week's High 5s honorees knows much about losing. Ann Arbor Pioneer's Drake Johnson is unequaled in his best race, Decatur's Erika Southworth has averaged more than 25 wins pitching each season of high school, and the Remus Chippewa Hills girls track team hasn't lost during the regular season in nearly a decade.

Erika Southworth

Decatur senior


Southworth, a pitcher, is finishing her fourth varsity season after earning all-state honors after all of her previous three. She both won her 100th game and notched her 1,000th career strikeout last week, putting her in the MHSAA record book in both categories. Southworth is 24-3 this season with a 0.83 ERA and 199 strikeouts, and also leads her team with a .448 batting average and 35 RBI. She's signed to play next season at the University of Michigan-Dearborn and is considering a major in business. Decatur is ranked No. 7 in the state coaches Division 4 poll.

Celebrate good times: "My 100th win was at home, and they gave me a picture that said '100 wins.' It's really nice. ... My 1,000th strikeout was at Climax-Scotts, and my teammates were counting down in the dugout. I was batting one inning, and I could hear them whispering. After the strikeout, my catcher called timeout and came out and gave me a hug. Then the umpire (asked what had happened), called timeout, gave the ball to my coach and announced it to everyone on the field."

Commander-in-chief: Southworth is her class' president and has been part of the student council and National Honor Society. "I like being involved with my class. I've gotten to know a lot of people that I wouldn't usually talk to in a regular school day."

I learned the most about pitching from: One of my high school teammates from a couple of years ago (Kelsey Vliek), her dad (Jeff) got me into it. After that, I just played travel ball, and my coach would help. Then I just went to different pitching coaches." 

Competing with Cole: Southworth has a fun rivalry with little brother Cole, a freshman wrestler and baseball catcher. "We both take strength and conditioning at school, different hours but we do the same lifts. So we try to beat each other that way. ... This year is the first year I've ever pitched to him. I always told my mom it wasn't a good idea. I'd just aim for his face all the time."

The ball starts here: "I like that I start out every play. The pitcher kinda controls the game, controls the pace of the game. I like knowing where most of the balls are going to be hit. (And) I think it's more of a challenge. I always go for more of the challenging things."

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Drake Johnson

Ann Arbor Pioneer senior

Track and Field

Johnson, who has signed to play football this fall at the University of Michigan, is a two-time MHSAA Division 1 champion in the 110-meter hurdles, and won both that race (14.25) and the 300 hurdles (38.63) at Friday's Division 1 Regional at Saline. He also ran on the second-place and state-qualifying 1,600 relay and on the third-place 800 relay. Johnson owns the Pioneers' record in the 110 hurdles of 13.7 seconds. Last fall as a running back, he was tops in the state with 2,809 yards rushing, sixth in the MHSAA record book for one season. He also is interested in running track at U-M.

Loving both for different reasons: "I like the thrill of football. I love the games, the scoring, the hype around football. Track, it's just the competitiveness of one-on-one. It's your best effort against their best effort." 

I learned the most about running from: "I've always had my coaches at Pioneer, and my dad (Michael Johnson) has always been my hurdles coach. If I feel like I'm not running as well as I can, I can say, 'Hey dad,' and he'll say come to the track a couple times and we can fix it."

As a running back, I try to be like: "Not a single person, but a combination of Tyrone Wheatley and Eric Dickerson. Just watching videos with my dad, I got interested in seeing what (Dickerson) ran like. He really was amazing at what he did."

My favorite thing to do that isn't a sport is: "I love watching movies. Any movie I can find. I love the 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movies, and I love the 'Oceans' (Eleven, Twelve, etc.) movies."

Up next: Johnson will major in philosophy and psychology, and eventually wants to be a psychiatrist. "Just knowing how people think. ... I always tried to see things from other people's points of view. I'm an open-minded person, and (I enjoy) the whole study of trying to see how people think."

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Remus Chippewa Hills girls track and field

Heading into last week, the Warriors were riding a 74-dual meet win streak, and edged Mount Pleasant by 1.5 points to win their Division 2 Regional on Friday. Chippewa Hills, competing in the Central State Activities Association tonight, also won its 10th-straight league championship meet Tuesday. Most of the Warriors are underclassmen -- the team has only one senior.

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This spring's previous honorees

Aspirations High as Reigning Champion Hackett Vaults Into New Season

By Pam Shebest
Special for MHSAA.com

March 14, 2023

KALAMAZOO — Harrison Wheeler has not been a pole vaulter for very long – two weeks to be exact – but he already has some lofty goals.

Southwest CorridorThe sophomore is aiming for the Kalamazoo Hackett Catholic Prep record board and, if he makes it, he will be in good company.

Coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder, a 2001 Hackett graduate, still holds the girls record of 10 feet, 2½ inches.

“I’m hoping to have my name next to hers (on the record board),” Wheeler said.

The sophomore has a few feet to go before surpassing current record holder Brian Kucinich, who vaulted 12 feet, 6 inches in 1992.

Wheeler’s unofficial best is 9 feet; officially it is 8 feet, 6 inches.

“That is going to be a very big jump in my pole vaulting career,” he said.

Wheeler is one of 42 athletes on the reigning MHSAA Lower Peninsula Division 4 champion boys team, which includes 12 seniors and 13 juniors. Besides Wheeler, the team has six sophomores and 10 freshmen.

One of the returners is senior Liam Mann, who helped lead the Irish to the Finals title last year.

Mann, Andrew Finley, Evan Wurtz and Isaac Backman won the 800-meter relay with a time of 1:31.55 last season, setting a school record as well.

While he lost his relay mates, Mann said there are good runners to replace them.

“(Senior) Brice Brown is coming out to do track, and I’ve been working with him this winter,” Mann said. “Jude Coffman, who is a sophomore, is coming out this year. I think he’s going to be a good addition to our 4-by-1.

“(Junior) Gabe Oeurn, last year he was running solid times, but this year he’s been putting in the work and I think he’ll be able to break that 12-second barrier.”

Mann, who will attend Ashland (Ohio) University on a track scholarship in the fall, also added gold in the 200-meter dash (22.82) last season.

“Last year, I played basketball and was able to lift to keep in shape,” he said. “This year, I wanted to focus all my time on track, so I’ve been doing indoor track, practicing once a week and going to meets on weekends.”

He continued to put his skills on display as a running back during football season with Kalamazoo United, ending the fall with 1,413 rushing yards on 177 carries and 267 receiving yards on 10 catches.

Opportunities & possibilities

The biggest group of competitors impacted by graduation are the sprinters, coach Charissa Dean said.

“Hackett’s been really big on sprinting talent in general,” she said. “But track has 17 events, and only two of them are open sprint events and two are relays.

Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. “The other 13 are wide open for possibilities, and there’s a lot of younger talent that’s coming back this year. While they didn’t go to the state meet, they are the next generation of athletes coming up.”

Among that next generation are freshmen Marek Butkiewicz and Sean Siems, who “are incredibly talented athletes,” Dean said.

“(Junior) Gavin Sehy figured out how to do the distance thing this year in cross country.”

Sehy said he wanted to run track, but wasn’t sure where he fit.

“I thought I was mid-distance when I was younger, but my dad forced me to do cross country my sixth-grade year and it turned out I was decent at it so I kept doing (long distance) in track,” he said.

“It’s kind of brutal at times to train for long distance, mentally and physically, because you have to go on long runs, but I have fun with it. At the cross country state finals, I hit an 11 flat split at the two-mile, which beat my 3,200 best from last season, so we have yet to see my best times.”

Butkiewicz and Sehy have been running consistently six days a week all winter to prepare for their first meet, March 22.

“I’ve never done track,” the freshman said. “I know I can perform well. I know my times compared to other people.”

A sophomore this year, Alex Dumont had a 400-meter time that “came out of nowhere,” Dean said. “Toward the end of the season we recruited him to do the 4x8, so an 800-meter runner. That kid came through.

‘We actually took him to the state meet in the 4x8. He did the lead leg, and I clocked him at a 2:07. He was sprinting. It was an amazing leg in that relay.”

Seeing potential

It was Germinder who converted Wheeler to the pole vault last year.

“Harrison’s a strong athlete, and just the way his mind works in that he asks questions and he wants to learn and he wants to improve,” she said.

“He wants to work hard, and he wants to put in the time. That’s something you need for that, along with the athletic component.”

The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. Wheeler, who said he was shocked at being successful right away, competed for two weeks last season before a foot injury suffered on a vault sidelined him.

“It took her a whole season to finally convince me to do it,” he said. “I grabbed a pole one day and ended up being really good at it. Ever since, I’ve had a love of it.

“The feeling I have once I get in the air is almost like I’m just floating. When you get really good vaults and you get that nice height and good form, you get what we call a ‘stall.’ You just feel like you’re sitting up in the air for a second. It’s gotta be the coolest thing ever.”

Germinder has the background to help the Irish vaulters.

While at Hackett, she competed in the AAU National Championships and said she learned from the best, Oran Mitchell, a noted pole vaulting coach.

Her own coaching style revolves around the safety of the athletes.

“You can teach a lot of people to grab hold of a pole and pop yourself over,” she said. “But I want to make sure my athletes are safe. That’s really, really important to me, and that’s something that was instilled in me.

“When you’re jumping 6 to 16 feet, that’s a long way to fall. Safety is very important to me. If you’re not willing to put in the time, then I’m not the coach for you.”

Germinder said one of the foundations on which the team is built is leadership, which was instilled in the younger athletes by last year’s seniors.

“That’s one of the things our program is built on,” she said. “If you’re there because you want to get ready for the next sports season, we’ll coach you for that.

“If you want to be a state champion, we’ll coach you for that. That’s the really unique thing about track. There’s something for everyone, whatever that might be.”

As for the girls team, numbers are steadily climbing.

Five years ago, the team had just two girls. This year, 25 girls are on the team.

No matter girls or boys, track or field events, one thing is common for all the athletes.

“We pray before every meet, we put God first, and all those pieces have fallen into place for us.” Germinder said.

“I really believe that foundation is what is going to be our success this year. It’s there, it’s just a different team.”

Pam ShebestPam 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 pamkzoo@aol.com with story ideas for Calhoun, Kalamazoo and Van Buren counties.

PHOTOS (Top) Hackett's Harrison Wheeler points to the pole vaulting record he hopes to break this season, while pole vaulting coach Shelly (Martin) Germinder points to the record she still holds at the school. (Middle) Clockwise from top left: Hackett head track & field coach Charissa Dean, Liam Mann, Germinder and Gavin Sehy. (Below) The Irish celebrate last season’s Finals championship, from left: Dean, Sehy, Logan St. Martin, Alex Dumont, Mitch Eastman, Nick Doerr and Germinder. (Top photo and head shots by Pam Shebest; team photo courtesy of Hackett track & field.)