Benzie Central boys track & field

Boys Track & Field

Benzie Phenom's Story Continuing to Unfold on Track

By Tom Spencer
Special for Second Half

May 14, 2021

As the phrase “history in the making” originated, someone simply had to know there would be a long-distance runner in Northern Michigan named Hunter Jones.

Arguably, he is history in the making.

And, track enthusiasts have a chance to preview some of the history the Benzie Central High School runner will make. Emphasis on will. He already has made history in so many ways.

He is only a sophomore. And, the history he makes will have at least one asterisk —for the 2020 Michigan high school track season that wasn’t.

The Benzie track team is offering its next preview glimpses of history-making Monday at the Titan Last Chance Meet at Traverse City West. The next opportunities after that will be on the Benzie track, during the Northwest Conference meet May 21 and the MHSAA Regionals on May 25.

This history-in-the-making story to watch over the next month is Jones’ likely accomplishment of winning his first MHSAA individual track championship June 5 at the Lower Peninsula Division 3 Finals at Jenison High School. Perhaps the only reason he hasn’t achieved that first title before is COVID-19 cancelled his freshman season.

Many onlookers believe Jones will do that in the 800. They also believe after re-hydrating, resting, stretching and foam rolling, he’ll hit the track again shortly after and win another state title in the 1,600.

And, they further believe, he’ll write even more history after a brief recovery to win the 3,200 and finish with three Finals championships in one day.

Benzie Central boys track & fieldJones is preparing for the Finals by competing is all three of those events in the same day in the remaining meets. He and his coaches are challenging him by adding a 400 in all of those meets including the Finals.

He may run the 1,600 relay in the Finals should his team qualify. So four state championships are not out of the question. He tried the four events earlier this week and narrowly missed winning all four in an eight-team meet on Benzie’s track. He started the open 400 a bit slow and finished less than one second behind Kingsley’s Gage Hessem.

“I don’t know if anybody — I don’t know if I — truly, truly appreciate what this kid is,” acknowledged Asa Kelly, the Huskies’ longtime distance coach and a former college runner. “We knew he was going to be good for a long time, but how good is the question, right?

“We’ve had multiple state champions and loads of all-state kids, but nobody quite like him,” added Kelly, who has coached the boys cross country team to three Division 3 Finals titles. “He’s got this insatiable desire to win.”

At the age of 16, Jones is already in the history books. He owns school, meet and event records. He also has cross country course records. When he runs cross country in the fall, he’ll be pursuing a third Finals championship to go with his Lower Peninsula Division 3 titles won as a freshman and sophomore.

He is also a national champion. He won the sophomore division in the 3,200 of the National Scholastic Athletic Federation indoor track event in Virginia this spring.

“I want to be a state champion in at least three events,” Jones offered as one of his goals for his first track season. “It doesn’t matter what it is – at least three events.

“I have to run four events, so I think it will be challenging for me to go to each event and try to win,” he continued. “I think it is a good goal to try to win those.”

His others goals for this season? He wants to break the school records in the 800 and 1,600. He broke the school record in 3,200 last week in Farmington running an 8:59.

Benzie Central boys cross countryAnother of his Benzie coaches, Traci Knudsen Kelly, has no doubt Jones will he will win three Division 3 Finals championships this June. She should know. She competed in the Big Ten as a member of the Indiana University cross country, indoor and outdoor track teams after setting records and winning state titles in 400, 800 and 1,600 runs at Suttons Bay High School.

“It’s a rare kid that comes along like him,” she noted. “I mean, I have never seen a high school kid like that.

“Between just the internal drive ... the will to win, the work ethic ... I mean, he’s the whole package.”

Jones’ brother Rick and sister Sarah are among the standouts in Benzie’s rich track and cross country past.  Hunter recalls watching his siblings compete, and as he started running he was winning races as a second grader against fifth and sixth graders.

“I used to be deathly scared of racing, and I would almost cry before races,” Jones recalled. “It was weird going up against people that were like double my height.”

Not so anymore for the decorated runner whose future may not have any limits.

“The fact that he is sophomore is what a lot of people forget,” said Asa Kelly. “He is so young yet, and he’s got so much in front of him.”

Yup, history in the making.

Tom Spencer is a longtime MHSAA-registered basketball and soccer official, and former softball and baseball official, and he also has coached in the northern Lower Peninsula area. He previously has written for the Saginaw News, Bay County Sports Page and Midland Daily News. He can be reached at tomspencer@chartermi.net with story ideas for Manistee, Wexford, Missaukee, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Iosco, Alcona, Oscoda, Crawford, Kalkaska, Grand Traverse, Benzie, Leelanau, Antrim, Otsego, Montmorency, Alpena, Presque Isle, Cheboygan, Charlevoix and Emmet counties.

PHOTOS: (Top) Benzie Central’s Hunter Jones warms up during a track meet this season. (Middle) Jones, with Benzie coaches Asa Kelly, left, and Traci Knudsen Kelly. (Below) Jones crosses the finish line during the Cross Country Finals at Michigan International Speedway. (Track photos by Tom Spencer. Cross country photo courtesy of Benzie Central's cross country program.)