July 26, 2011

A big week for dad, son as Wichita hosts Track & Field Junior Olympics

When John Wright first started coaching summer track, it was because his oldest son wanted to compete.

When John Wright first started coaching summer track, it was because his oldest son wanted to compete.

Now into his third decade, Wright will coach his youngest son, Matthew, at a national event as part of Team 365.

Matthew, 18, qualified in the 1600-meter relay for the USA Track & Field Junior Olympics, which are at Cessna Stadium today through Sunday on the Wichita State University campus. Between 6,000 and 7,000 athletes are expected, including many from Wichita-area teams.

The six-day event, which was awarded to Wichita in December 2009, is expected to pump as much as $17 million into the local economy, officials have said. Wichita beat out Houston and Des Moines for the event.

"Track became a passion of mine, a ministry of mine," John Wright said. "It just developed. It wasn't anything I had planned on.... It was, 'Let's gather up and have fun.' "

Wright's been having fun ever since, but track wasn't always what made Matthew happy.

One of Wright's favorite memories is when Matthew, then 7, ran in a meet in Baldwin City.

"I'll never forget this," Wright said. "He's in the open 400 (meters) and it was hot. He ran 200 meters of it, walked off the track and said, 'It's too hot; I'm not running.'

"I about had a coronary right there. I did not handle that well at all.

"I had to really talk to him about not doing that again."

The first thing Wright did was take pressure off Matthew and focus on fun. He didn't want to force his son into participating in a sport, but he still wanted his son to enjoy and be around track.

So Matthew did long jump and liked it. He did relays and liked it.

"I didn't put him in an individual event until he was a teenager, so you could get after him a little bit more," Wright said.

Matthew's best event is the 400 meters, an individual event. He failed to qualify in the 400, though, after going through a growth spurt that caused severe pain in his back and a hip.

There are no issues with getting Matthew to work anymore. Actually, his work ethic is one of his strengths, according to Wichita Heights track coach Steve Crosley.

Matthew finished fifth in the Class 6A 400 meters in the spring.

"He works harder than anyone we've had in a long time," Crosley said. "He's very talented in the 400, and he could run the 800 if we wanted him to. But just his work ethic alone is so solid."

Crosley cited that work ethic as a key reason Matthew was named Heights' male track athlete of the year in May.

Matthew pushes himself as hard as he can during workouts, and he knows what effort is needed. He urges and encourages his teammates to do a drill right, to not skip out on a workout.

"The way I see it is, if I'm going to be doing something for such a long time and it will get a lot of money in life, I have to be the best I can possibly be," said Matthew, who will run track at Hutchinson Community College.

"Track is an ongoing thing. It's very consistent. You just don't stop. If you want to be good at it, you have to practice hard every day."

But Matthew isn't the type to yell at his teammates or draw attention to himself.

"He's a thinker, he's more shy," Wright said. "You get three words out of him, you're doing a heck of a job."

Matthew is the opposite of his father. There's no problem getting words from his dad.

When Wright opens his mouth, words rapidly fly. It serves him well in his profession at KFDI, 101.3-FM, where he is the assistant news director and sports director.

Asked whether his dad talks a lot, Matthew said (quietly, of course), "Well, yes, when he's not sleeping."

This week at Cessna Stadium is big for the Wrights. They're glad the Junior Olympics are in town, but are not fazed by the high level of competition or the expected large crowds. Matthew has run in front of big crowds before.

Even so, Wright will help his son prepare for his race.

"He knows I want the best for him," Wright said. "I try to be more dad than coach.... He's 18, he's ready to go to college. So now instead of giving him extra (running) work, it's mental now. It's focus, it's preparation.

"Still, the fun factor is the overriding factor. The workouts are going to be murder, but when you get there, go out there and have fun."

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