By Geoff Kimmerly
Second Half editor
Phil Hoover is looking forward to returning to Zeeland’s renovated stadium for the 2015 track and field season.
But his Zeeland West boys team – which shares the stadium each spring with neighboring Zeeland East and one of the district’s middle schools – might be hesitant to switch things up.
It’s tough to question the methods that led the Dux to win their first MHSAA championship June 7 – despite having no track or field to practice on and no home meets during the regular season.
In fact, West finished this season perfect, winning its league, Regional and the Lower Peninsula Division 2 Final and all 16 of its events this spring – despite traveling for every single one.
The track surface showed signs it needed replacing during last fall’s football season, but the football team was on its way to winning the MHSAA Division 3 championship. Demolition was put off until after football season ended, and reconstruction continued through last week.
“We as coaches agreed that we didn't want to make a big deal out of it,” Hoover said. “We went with the status quo. I don’t think they were stressed about it. The kids were great; they were never like, ‘Why don’t we have a track?’ They adapted quickly.”
And who needs a track when you've got a gym and hallways?
Coaches split with groups of athletes (the team had 65 total) to practice throughout the school – high jump in the gym, sprinters on the carpeted hallways, more events in other areas of the building.
Hoover, who has coached the team since the school opened in fall 2005, spent 3-4 hours every Sunday mapping where and what his athletes would practice over the following week.
Of course there were challenges. Tracks are curved and school hallways generally are not – so runners took off down a hall and had to make two 90-degree turns to run back.
And there had to be some break from tradition, like the usual Monday meeting spot at the track where the team would hash out its training schedule.
The Dux were able to use three lanes to the side of the track to work on hurdles and getting out of starting blocks, and also traveled to Hope College for a few practices.
There wasn't any kind of “us against the world” mentality Hoover could've conjured up as extra motivation for his team without a track. But he did say the all-road show might’ve benefited his athletes at the end of the season when they traveled for the spring’s most important meets.
It also surely helped to have a skilled and knowledgeable senior class that had been part of two MHSAA football championships and won the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association team state title in 2013 (the Dux ended up winning that event this spring as well). “We came into this year pretty focused to accomplish some things,” Hoover said. “We laid out the possibility of winning the state meet and focused on that.”
Zeeland West placed in seven events at the LP Division 2 Final at Houseman Stadium, with senior Jason Tran in the 300 hurdles its only individual champion. But the mix of points coming from sprints, hurdles and middle distance helped the Dux outpace runner-up Auburn Hills Avondale by 10.
Hoover said he missed this spring the daily scene at Zeeland’s staditum, where practices usually included 400 athletes mixing together from all three schools. But his Dux proved practice can make perfect – even if that practice comes in an unconventional setting.
“It’s strange here. The kids come to practice, and they really trust us,” Hoover said. “We feel we put out good training for them, and there’s not ever a question."
Good news for MHSAA hockey
A revised schedule coming this fall from the Michigan Amateur Hockey Association should provide a big boost to high school hockey in this state – and open up opportunities for athletes to play fall high school sports as well.
MAHA will this fall add an early season for its Midget A and AA teams – made up of high school-age players – allowing those players the opportunity to play both travel hockey in the fall and then high school hockey in the winter after that “early” travel season ends Nov. 8. MAHA also will play a "late" travel season – beginning Dec. 1 – which will allow travel hockey players the opportunity to play fall high school sports before hockey season in the winter.
Previously, the travel season began at the start of fall and concluded at the end of winter with MAHA’s state tournament. MAHA teams will still be able to play that traditional full season – but the MAHA state championship tournament in March will feature the top teams from the “early” and “late” seasons facing off after the MHSAA tournament is complete.
“The current system creates a lot of uncertainty and stress on the players who want to play high school hockey,” said Don Wright, MAHA high school hockey director, in a press release. “They have to gamble on which team they might make and hope they gamble correctly so they have a place to play come November. These expanded opportunities will also allow for increased skill development of these players prior to the start of the MHSAA season.”
The MAHA “late” season teams will hold tryouts after MHSAA hockey season practice has begun, allowing athletes who did not make their high school teams an opportunity to return to travel hockey for the winter.
Check out this Saginaw News story we came across leading up to the MHSAA Track and Field Finals on May 31.
Hugh Bernreuter tells of Saginaw Nouvel parent Celia Sullivan, who did not expect to see her son graduate as she suffered liver failure two years ago – but got that opportunity this spring thanks to another football mom, Sue Joynt, who donated 60 percent of her liver to Sullivan.
One of Sullivan’s thoughts that stuck most:
"I'm a bit of a control freak. I didn't need a transplant. I can go on. I thought I could beat it, but finally the doctors got through to me. This is something you don't beat. You cannot wait. You will die."
Click to read the entire piece.
PHOTO: Zeeland West's Jason Tran runs the 300 hurdles at this season's Lower Peninsula Division 2 Finals at Houseman Stadium.