Mishawaka’s Hall signs with SMC

DOWAGIAC — Levi signed a letter of intent for Southwestern Michigan College’s fall return to National Junior College Athletic Association cross country Tuesday.

Hall joins six men, Alex Blanton, of Plainwell, Robert “Buster” Ward, William Westphal and Ben Gillesby, of Cassopolis, Gavin Smith, of Decatur, and Samuel Reed-Loomis, of Otsego, committed to the Roadrunners’ revival, along with three women, Raegan Del Guanto, of Union, Vanessa Crisenbery, of Coloma, and Hall’s “good friend,” Bailee Shambaugh, of Mishawaka, who ran with his sister, Anabel Willingham, an Indiana University South Bend junior.

Hall was joined at the signing in Mishawaka’s “Cave” gymnasium by his mother, Janell Willingham; grandfather, Terry Willingham, a building contractor who is introducing him to construction; Head Cross Country Coach Chris Kowalewski; Head Track and Field Coach Kyle Shaw; SMC President Dr. Joe Odenwald; and SMC Vice President for Institutional Advancement Mike O’Brien.

Hall was already investigating SMC’s automotive technology program when he learned of cross country’s comeback after a 25-year absence. The college is also reinstituting four other intercollegiate teams, men’s wrestling, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s basketball in fall 2022, and is planning a facilities upgrade of the Charles O. Zollar Building on SMC’s Dowagiac campus.

Hall played football and basketball from elementary school until his freshman year.

“Then I joined cross country and put all emphasis toward running after that,” he said. “Running has opened up my world.”

His 5K personal best is 18:00. He also has played soccer and run 400 and 800 meters in track. “My sister got me doing middle distances,” he said, while his coaches and teachers “made me a better athlete, a better student and maybe even a better person.”

“When they said, ‘We’d love to have you on the cross country team,’ since I’d already applied there, that sounded perfect,” said Hall, who is also considering studying business.

“It’s always been a dream to play football or basketball at the next level,” he added, “but it honestly never occurred to me until this recent track season that I could go on to that next level. I like the trails. It will be nice to practice on our own campus. Southwestern consistently reached out to me. To be part of a brand-new, fresh program is really special. They showed me a lot of their rich history, and the fact that they are bringing it back makes me want to be a part of it.”
Mishawaka Athletic Director Dean Huppert, a former sportscaster, interviewed President Odenwald, who said, “We’re excited about having a Caveman and a Cavewoman. I hope this will be a pipeline for us as we add basketball, volleyball, wrestling, pep band and dance team. I don’t know if we’ve ever had such a strong response on social media because we’re not just adding sports, we’re doing our facilities, too — about a $2 million renovation of our gym, locker rooms, new playing surface, bleachers.”

Getting to this point in less than a year gives him goosebumps, Odenwald said.

“In July, our board chair [Tom Jerdon] suggested we look into this. It was a dream. We watched the movie ‘McFarland USA,’ then started doing the work. Here we are 10 months later, the dream is reality,” he said. “The dream is no longer ballcaps and shirts, it’s kids signing. And in the fall they’re gonna be running. That’s what’s amazing.”

Hall impressed Odenwald as a “hard-working kid. His granddad is here and I think of my own grandfather and how important he was in my life. His grandfather was telling me he’s been working with him and teaching him how to work and my grandfather did the same for me. I think that is a lot of what SMC is. It’s full of hard-working kids, whether they are athletes or non-athletes. He’s gonna make a heck of a mark there.”

 

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