ZEELAND – Kirk Mikkelson really has nothing left to prove as Whitehall’s boys track and field coach, but that’s not why he continues to do it.
On Saturday, Mikkelson wrapped up his 27th year with the Vikings, who were well-represented in the Division 2 state finals at Zeeland Stadium.
One glance at Mikkelson’s list of achievements reveals why he was inducted into the Michigan Interscholastic Track Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018, and he just keeps enhancing his resume. But for him, it’s all about a fresh start at the beginning of a new year and the ramped-up excitement of the big meets as the season progresses.
“Every year has been exciting. It’s a new adventure every single year. That’s one of the good things about high school sports is you get that turnover. Kids graduate, kids come in and you start over and you turn them into the best product as you can,” Mikkelson said during Saturday’s Michigan High School Athletic Association state finals meet.
“I think it’s when you get down to the big meets at the end of the year. You start getting into the conference meet and regional meet, the state meets, and the kids start getting excited. It’s a lot of training, cold weather at the beginning of the season, and then you get good weather and good competition, they just start rising up. It’s exciting.”
Mikkelson, 53, a Hart alumnus who began his teaching career there, said he plans to coach at least three more years. At that point, he’ll evaluate. If he’s still having fun, then he’ll keep going.
You could say he’s still having a blast. On May 28 at Fowlerville, Whitehall finished runner-up in MITCA’s Division 2 team state finals. On May 18 at Ravenna, the Vikings ran away from the competition for the program’s eye-popping 17th-straight West Michigan Conference championship and 25th overall.
Saturday at Zeeland, Mikkelson’s Vikings fared well in the MHSAA state meet. Their 4×200-meter relay quartet of Nate Bolley, Jaegar McGahan, Malcolm Earvin and Taden Brandel placed third with a time of 1:31.04.
Whitehall’s 4×800 relay team of Bolley, Jack Houtteman, Evan Mikkelson and Bailey Taranko finished seventh (8:12.42), while the 4×100 foursome of Earvin, McGahan, Landen Snay and Red Watson placed eighth (44.29). Individually, McGahan claimed seventh in the 100 (11.37).
While the MHSAA state finals are considered more of a showcase of individual talent, Whitehall’s trademark depth is geared more for a team event like the MITCA state meet. Mikkelson’s teams have six top-10 finishes at MITCA meets and three at MHSAA finals, including the Class B state championship in 1996, when he was named the state’s coach of the year. He’s guided Whitehall to six regional titles.
“It’s a constant battle of finding a second and a third kid to fill events because you get five points for first but they still give second- and third-place points,” Mikkelson said about the MITCA format. “There was a year we won the conference meet and I’m not sure we won an event. We took three places in at least every single event, so that really paid off. When you start building depth and getting more kids out, the participation just breeds success.”
If the aforementioned numbers don’t blow you away, then consider this about Mikkelson: His overall coaching record in dual meets is 220-15.
During the 42nd West Michigan Invitational Track Meet May 26 at Reeths-Puffer, Mikkelson was presented an award for his years of service to the sport.
“It means I should probably start looking into retirement,” Mikkelson quipped. “It was a great honor. I had people handing me awards that I looked up to my whole career.
“They mentioned John Swinburne’s record of conference titles in a row — that was on my list of things to accomplish, was to surpass that. When it happened, he came over and shook my hand and congratulated me. He gave me a hard time throughout the entire time – if you know John, that’s him. ‘If I don’t get a hard time from you during a meet, I know something’s wrong.’ Great guy.”
Mikkelson teaches math at Whitehall High School. He’s taught everything from Algebra I to AP Calculus.
In the White Lake area and beyond, you’ll see people with the surnames “Mikkelson” and “Mikkelsen.” Kirk Mikkelson noted that many of them are related in one way or another, and he provided a history lesson.
Safe to say, Kirk Mikkelson has made a name for himself with his coaching achievements at Whitehall.
“My uncle Charlie – everybody knows uncle Charlie (former baseball coach at Montague) – he’s pretty confident in himself and he was pretty sure we were actually Danish rather than Swedish,” Mikkelson said.
“(The ending) ‘-son’ was the Swedish spelling. They did some research and, I hate to say this on camera, but he was right – ‘-sen’ is actually the right spelling, so him and his kids changed their spelling. The rest of the family didn’t want to bother with all the name-change documentation stuff, so we just stuck with what we had.”