Blue Star

On Track
Scott Sullivan

Quantities count in track and life. So do qualities. The numbers did not look good for Saugatuck High School’s boys to defend their Division 4 state title Saturday at Hudsonville.

The Indians scored 58 team points last year, to top perennial state champ Albion and others thanks in large part to since-graduated seniors:

• Bobby Drew (18 points for first in shot put and second in discus),

• Sean Kelly (18 for first in the 3200 meters and second in the 1600),

• Zach Kerr (6 for third in the 800 meters), plus

• Three of four members of the winning (10 points) 3,200-meter relay.

Subtract 52 points scored by now-gone athletes, then add the fact Saugatuck didn’t have a track till six years ago, and it’s remarkable this year’s team was still viewed as a contender.

Rick Bauer, an ex-Central Michigan University distance star who coaches the boys’ team, figured Saturday’s battle would be for second place behind Concord.

Seems Albion dissolved its high school after last year, prompting several star sprinters—Nolen Bright-Mitchell in particular—to transfer to Concord, which had placed eighth in the state behind returning distance standout Jesse Hersha.

“We could give them a run if all our guys have great days,” Bauer said. “But their guys could have them too.”

Some will recall the Saugatuck Public Schools, using a bond approved by voters before the 2008 market meltdown, built their first-ever track as part a new football stadium. The construction took place while millions lost jobs and the federal government bailed out banks, fueling a backlash against the elaborate school project then unfolding.

The economy has fared better since then. Saugatuck football teams have advanced from embarrassments to points of community pride. Track and cross country runners, who can extend these sports into lifelong fitness activities, won first-time state titles last year and now expect to do well. Graduates leave behind standards of dedication and self-discipline for successors to discover, “Hey, if we work at this, we can excel as well!”

That’s what I spent the day, roasting in mid-80s sun, to celebrate. Plus I love running and taking pictures. The sights, sounds and colors of youths, coming into bloom at the same time summer does, converging from all around Michigan to test their skills, speed and strength charged and fired my senses.

Though their sweat, strain and struggle on the scalding-hot track were tactile, the fact many were now-graduated seniors gave the finals a valedictory feel in the almost-surreal sunshine.

I will leave the sports writing to our sportswriters. Suffice to say Bright-Mitchell was a bullet and Concord conquered. The Indian boys did themselves proud by placing second, led by freshman Blake Dunn winning the 300-meter hurdles, which rewards refining technique as much as athleticism. Saugatuck’s girls placed ninth and were great fun to watch as well.

Was building a sports complex kids could be proud of worth the money? I would say no had not they and their coaches—and let’s not forget the school band, which no longer practices in a mud pit—risen to the challenge. This investment in excellence yielded excellence—not just for now, but for years to come. 

Teens, being teens, aren’t easy. They’ll become overwrought and emotional, do absurd things to test their wings and, just when you’re ready to give up on them, do something that fills you with gladness because humanity is sustaining.

Better passing the torch than torching the past, I say.

For full story, pick up a copy of the June 12 issue of The Commercial Record or subscribe to the e-edition.

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