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Southwest Michigan's best compete at annual Rotary Track Meet

ST. JOSEPH, Mich. - As track and field teams prepare for the biggest stretch of the season, perhaps no meet can simulate the atmosphere more than Friday’s in Southwest Michigan.

“It has a championship meet feel to it,” said St. Joe Girls Track and Field coach Mike Mahler.

Teams from Berrien, Van Buren, and Cass Counties all met in St. Joe for the 61st annual Rotary Track Meet – a big tune-up before conference and regionals coming up.

“We get to see some of the schools from the county that we don’t normally see, so it’s a fun meet," Mahler said. "This area normally produces a lot of good track athletes so it’s fun to get them all together.”

All of this was made possible by the St. Joseph – Benton Harbor Rotary Club.

For decades, the annual meet has alternated between the two high schools, serving as one of the bigger events the club has each year.

“For several of our Rotarians, their first exposure to Rotary was being a part of this track meet," said club president Rick Villa. "They didn’t even know what rotary was or how big we were.”

But once involved, it’s been pretty clear that lots of good can be done through the event.

One of the highlights is the award of four scholarships handed out each year to deserving seniors who shine in competition, in the classroom, and in the community.

“It’s pretty important for us to be involved in the community and give back to these students to help them in their future," said Villa. "They’ll remember that for a long time and they’ll give back to the community when they grow up.”

Lakeshore and St. Joseph both had two students selected for the $2,000 scholarships.

Lakeshore's Renee Veldman plans to attend Eckerd College, while Erin Lafrenz will attend University of Michigan. St. Joseph's Anna Fischer plans to attend Notre Dame while Will Lage plans to attend the University of Alabama.

“It’s nice to see the blend of the two," said Mahler, "and them be rewarded for their athletic and academic ability at this fun event for us.”

The annual meet honoree was Charles Jespersen, a former Rotary Club president who has made an international impact by introducing filters that allow for safe, clean drinking water to poverty-stricken areas of the Dominican Republic.

A few notable performances:

St. Joseph's Anna Fischer broke one meet record and nearly another. She turned in a new meet record in the 3200-meter run with a 11:01.2 finish. Her time of 5:07.95 in the 1600-meter run was less than a tenth of a second from the standing record of 5:07.9.

Berrien Springs' Sam Spaulding placed first in high jump at 6'7", which was five inches better than the second-place finisher. He took a couple tries at setting a meet record, but could not complete a 6'10" jump.

Coloma's Josh Young placed first in both the 200-meter dash and the 400-meter run, and was part of two relay victories for the Comets as well.

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