Pick any one of Travis Wight’s contributions to the community, and the Thunder defenseman is at least a strong contender for the Central Hockey League Man of the Year award.
Add them all together, and Wight was a lock.
For his charity work, his work with kids, his visits to hospitals and for his student teaching in Goddard, Wight won the award this week, the first time a Thunder player has been honored.
"When you’re doing stuff in the community or working with kids or teaching, it’s not something you’re really looking at getting recognized for," Wight said. "When you actually are recognized, you sit down and think about it and it really hits home. It’s really an honor to be rewarded for something like that."
Wight is about to finish his third season with the Thunder — which has three regular-season games remaining, starting with Friday’s battle for first place against Allen — and his presence in and around Wichita has increased every year.
It’s a challenge not to spot Wight at a team function, whether it be reading to school kids or visiting children in the hospital. It has been that way since Wight joined the team before the 2010-11 season, when his early arrival in Wichita for school allowed him to bond with the Thunder office staff.
The relationship with the team staff goes both ways — he’s often eager to be included and the front office is never hesitant to ask him to participate. Wight happens to be just as reliable on the ice, never missing a game with the Thunder.
"I kind of just said, ‘Whenever you have anything just let me know,’ " Wight said. "If I have the free time, obviously I’d be glad to do it. It’s always nice to get out in the community. We do have a lot of free time as minor (league) professional hockey players.
"It’s something I like to do to keep busy, and it’s always a good thing being able to meet people, being able to talk to people who support us."
Wight’s difference-making will extend beyond his hockey-playing years. He’s close to earning a teaching certificate after graduating from the University of Maine with a kinesiology/physical education degree and entering a Masters of Education program at Newman.
Wight is student teaching this year, splitting semesters at Eisenhower High and Explorer Elementary in Goddard, with certification hours scheduled to be completed at the end of the month. After he receives his teaching certificate, he’ll be able to teach P.E. at all grade levels.
"I’m not sure how many more years I’ll play, maybe a couple," Wight said. "I wanted to make sure that I eventually finished before I was done with hockey so I could kind of jump right into that, because besides hockey, teaching is another passion of mine."
Wight has partnered with The ARC, a non-profit based in Washington, D.C., with a chapter in Wichita, to raise money for people with physical and mental disabilities. He has helped organize charity hockey games and participated in much of the Thunder’s radio and television advertising. He particularly enjoys working with children.
"You never know what they’re going to do or say, so it makes things interesting," Wight said.
Finding a balance between playing hockey and looking toward the future has long been one of Wight’s priorities, one also instilled by Thunder coach Kevin McClelland.
"After I played a few years, I kind of realized that hockey wasn’t going to last forever," Wight said. "I wasn’t going to make it to the NHL level, I was realistic about that. ... (McClelland) knows that hockey doesn’t last forever, he reiterates that to us all the time. He was really supportive of it."