As a junior last year, Otsego’s Hunter Zartman claimed the Division 2 state championship in the 800-meter run with a time of 1:55.56.
He had hoped to defend that title this spring, but he never got that opportunity as the COVID-19 pandemic closed down schools and caused the cancellation of the spring sports season.
Although disappointed by those developments, Zartman tried to remain focused on the fact that better days were ahead.
“Missing out on my senior track season has been tough to say the least, but the silver lining was looking forward to running at (Central Michigan University),” said Zartman, who last November signed his national letter of intent to run cross country and track for the Chippewas.
But just as it robbed Zartman of his senior track season at Otsego, COVID-19 has now robbed him of his track career at CMU as well.
CMU athletic director Michael Alford recently announced the elimination of the men’s indoor and outdoor track programs due to financial issues caused by COVID-19. The programs were cut effective immediately.
“We did not make this decision lightly, but we are facing a new financial reality due to enrollment challenges and now COVID-19,” Alford said in a statement. “Hundreds of students have participated in this longstanding, successful program at Central Michigan, and we know this will impact them—and supporters of this program—greatly.”
Zartman had no inkling that the track program was in jeopardy.
“I was completely shocked and greatly disappointed,” he said.
Athletes affected by the elimination of the track program were told of the decision on a Webex call the morning of May 19.
“I was unable to join the call, so I heard about the decision through a group text from my coach,” Zartman said. “I read the text repeatedly, trying to process how it would impact me and my future.”
Scholarships for athletes on the track team—including incoming freshmen like Zartman—will be honored and Zartman still has the option of running cross country at CMU. He earned All-State honors the last three seasons in cross country, including an 11th-place showing this year as he helped Otsego to a runner-up finish in Division 2.
“The (CMU) coaches have reached out to me and have offered their full support in whatever I decide to do,” Zartman said. “Running cross country is still a possibility.”
But as successful as Zartman has been in cross country, he specializes more in the shorter distances such as the 800 and 1,600. That means he is also looking at options other than CMU.
“Some coaches from other schools have reached out to me,” Zartman said. “I have been released from my National Letter of Intent, which gives me the opportunity to explore other programs if I choose to leave CMU.”
Alford said he and the athletic department as CMU want what’s best for each of the affected athletes.
“My heart goes out to these student-athletes,” Alford said. “I know this is incredibly difficult for them. We hope they continue their academic journeys at Central Michigan, but also wish them the best if they’re able to continue athletic pursuits elsewhere.”
Otsego cross country coach Steve Long was among those Zartman contacted seeking advice about his future.
“Hunter had a plan in place for his future and felt secure in that and was trying to enjoy what was left of his senior year,” Long said. “Unfortunately, CMU’s announcement threw a massive wrench in his plans and now he’s left scrambling. He’s being smart about it, though, and gathering information and figuring out what his options are.
“He called me shortly after he found out and asked my advice and I know he’s talked to a lot of coaches and other runners to figure out what might make the most sense for him. He loves running and competing at a high level and knows he can be successful as a collegiate runner, so he wants to pursue an option that allows his to see exactly how good he can get.”
Otsego boys’ track coach Matt Grile was, like everyone else, shocked by CMU’s announcement.
“I was instantly saddened and hoped that Hunter had a backup plan,” Grile said. “But who has backup plans something like this? Hunter is a spectacular kid and has awesome parents. He’s in great hands and I know they will make the best decision for Hunter.”
For now, Zartman is focusing on his training by following a plan provided to him by the CMU coaching staff in April.
“As difficult as it is to handle, I realize the decision (to cut track at CMU) was out of my hands and my next step is to explore other opportunities and decide whether or not I will stay at CMU,” Zartman said. “I’m just trying to remain positive and enjoy the senior activities planned for the upcoming weeks.”
Long, for one, is confident that Zartman will emerge from this challenging time even stronger than before.
“Successful people find ways to be successful and I know he’ll make a great decision for himself,” Long said.