By Jim Moyes
With summer quickly coming to an all-too soon rapid close, let’s take a quick peek of what transpired on the local scene since we welcomed those warm breezes that began in early June.
I was awed by the showing of our USA Track Stars at the recent World Championships held in Eugene, Oregon and I was likewise impressed with the showing by our own local track stars at the 2022 state track championships in early June.
What stood out to me was how many of our athletes placed TEAM ahead of ME.
The Hart and West Michigan Christian girls teams each brought home the team championship trophy in their divisions, thanks to some individual stars putting aside personal gains in hopes of bringing home a team championship rather than a personal pursuit of breaking a school, or even state records.
Thanks to today’s modern technology of live streaming, I was able to watch much of the action that transpired in the Greater Grand Rapids area.
After earlier running a leg on their state championship 4×800 meter relay team, an event when they crushed their nearest opponent by nearly 14 seconds, Hart senior Audrianna Enns and freshman Jessica Jazwinski placed 2nd and fourth in the 1600-meter run to give their Pirates team 13 valuable points.
These two gals were completely exhausted following their race as both ran their race in under five-minutes, a time that was good enough to win in the first 29 years of the Class C finals.
One would have thought their day would be over – but not a chance. They both returned to the track shortly thereafter and placed 3rd and fourth in the 800, adding another 11 points to Hart’s team score.
Jazwinski somehow had enough left in her tank to run the 3200-meter run where she finished second. When Audrianna Enns’ younger sister Alyson Enns placed 6th in this same event, Hart added 11 more points on their way to a commanding state championship winning total of 61 points, 24 more than their closest opponent.
Watching with immense pride from the stands were a couple of proud moms who were no strangers to winning state titles.
How I enjoyed watching Cathy Ackley Enns run in the 1980s for Hart High. Before becoming a track and cross-country standout at Michigan State, Cathy won five state titles, three in the 800 and two in the 1600.
And Jessica Jazwinski’s mother was no slouch on the track either. In 1997, Katie Clifford Jazwinski won both the 1600 and 3200 runs in Class B while a senior at Grand Rapids West Catholic.
Another total team player was West Michigan Christian track star, and winner of the Muskegon Area Sports Hall of Fame Female Student Athlete of the Year, WMC’s Abby Vanderkooi.
Abby was not only a state champ, but an outstanding recruiter. Abby could have run one or two events and selfishly just go for state records, but just like the gals from Hart, she put team ahead of me.
Abby ran all four distance events during the state finals and contributed 31 of her team-winning 52 points. Amazingly, after already having completed running a leg on the 2nd place 4×800 relay, the 1600 and the 800, she not only won her last race of the day, and the last of her incredible prep career, but she set a state D4 record in the two-mile!
Unlike Hart, who ran away from all opponents in winning the D3 title, WMC needed all of Abby’s points, and her teammates help in bringing home the first ever state championship won by the Lady Warriors.
During the off-season, Vanderkooi pleaded with a couple of her classmates to join the Warrior track team. And my how that worked out!
Twins Maddie and Kyla Wiersma agreed to join Abby on this season’s Warrior track team. Maddie & Kyla placed in enough events to tally the remaining 21 points needed to hold off second place Mt. Pleasant Sacred Heart, just 4 points behind the Warriors.
The Hart & WMC state titles reminded the ‘Ole Announcer’ of a couple of other team state titles won thanks to some unselfish efforts by two area track greats.
Back in 1986, Mason County’s Jeff Barnett put on a one-man show, winning all four distance events to lead Mason County Central to its only state title.
Ten years later, Jeff DeLong led Whitehall to their only Class B championship with a very unselfish effort. Delong passed numerous runners on his anchor leg of the 4×800 relay to move his Vikings team up to fourth place.
Jeff then placed second in the 1600, an event he rarely ran during the track season, but did so in the state finals in a quest to win a state title for his school.
DeLong, who became one of the top 800-meter runners in the nation while running for Central Michigan University, surely would have won the 800 at the state meet in 1996 if he had not run the 1600, yet still was able to give Whitehall eight more valuable points with a second place finish in the 800.
However, Delong was not denied coming home with at least one first-place medal. In the final race of the day, Delong anchored Whitehall’s victorious 4×400 meter relay team to a victory to clinch the state championship.
And speaking of Hart, can the girls’ cross-country continue their dynasty and pull off a feat that has never been accomplished in MHSAA history?
The Lady Pirates have won five state titles in a row. Can they make it six? If so, they would become the first team ever to win more than five straight titles.
Football season is just around the corner and another local school will have a state-of-the-art surface when the high-flying Sailors of Mona Shores take the field for their home opener.
It should be just a matter of time when other schools will soon follow Holton, Oakridge, Grand Haven, Muskegon and now Mona Shores in having these all-weather fields that can be used not only for football, but other sports such as soccer, lacrosse, as well as marching bands practicing their trade without the worry of ruining the fields.
My former alma mater North Muskegon has received a boatload of money from a state grant to improve its facilities. My fervent hope is they will take that money and follow the schools named above in installing an all-weather surface and everybody can be happy.
I shudder to think that the Norse are considering moving a 102-year old baseball field, that arguably may be the best diamond in the entire area, miles away from their current location.
On a more somber note, I was saddened to learn of the passing of former Muskegon High legend Jerry Eaton. Current Muskegon High followers may find it hard to believe but Muskegon High, who didn’t win a single baseball game this season, once were state champs in baseball.
Back in 1951, well before they began having the current MHSAA playoffs, four of the best teams in the state of Michigan were invited to play for what the MHSAA recognized as the State Championship.
This tournament pitted the winners of the four major Class A conferences in the state of Michigan in a two-day format. Teams invited included Flint Northern, winner of the Saginaw Valley, Monroe, top team of the Detroit Suburban area, and Battle Creek, champion of the Five-A conference. And who was the winning pitcher in their 5-3 victory over Battle Creeks Central to win the state championship? None other than a flame throwing sophomore by the name of Jerry Eaton.
Eaton was signed right out of high school by the Detroit Tigers and played a couple of years in the Tigers Farm system, including one year in Palatka, Florida where one of his teammates was the late Howie Meloche.
A sore arm curtailed Jerry’s ambition of playing in the Major Leagues, but he did return to West Michigan where he started earning his degree at Western Michigan Univsersity. Sore arm and all, Jerry would continue to play during the summers in the City League here in Muskegon. Although saddled with a sore arm, my good friend and former teammate Jerry Johnson said in a recent quote that Eaton “was the hardest throwing pitcher he ever faced.”
A number of years ago I submitted in one of my Moyes’ Memories stories my all-time Greater Muskegon team. I selected Eaton as one of my pitchers on my five-man pitching staff. His Palatka teammate Meloche was also one of the five, along with Paul Bard, Duane Bickel, and Ray Newman.
In a parting word before the summer comes to a close and our prep athletes begin preparation for their fall sports, it should be noted that record crowds flocked to Marsh Field to enjoy the Muskegon Clippers at historic Marsh Field.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of the Gawkowski clan and their dedicated staff, this 102-year old ballpark is Muskegon’s ‘Field of Dreams’ and it never looked better.