By BRETT MARSHALL
Never in her wildest dreams could 10-year-old Jennifer (Gruver) Kirkpatrick imagine that one day she would be enshrined into the Kansas State High School Activities Hall of Fame.
Then, in 1984, Kirkpatrick could barely imagine that running and competing might just be fun.
The idea seemed far-fetched, since Gruver lived on her family farm, 15 miles from Scott City.
But after a legendary track and field career for the Lady Beavers, in which she won 12 gold medals and 16 overall at the Kansas State Track and Field Championships, Kirkpatrick settled into a life in her home state, and now is a part-time dietician in Junction City and a mother of three daughters and a young son.
On Monday, the KSHSAA announced its Hall of Fame Class for 2014, and Kirkpatrick was one of three honorees.
"I found out last week, but my husband (Dan) had known because he had to get a lot of information compiled to provide for them (KSHSAA)," Kirkpatrick said Monday night in a telephone interview from her home. "He was trying to keep it a secret, but when he asked me about some things, that's when he finally told me."
The other two honorees are Rick Bowden, a former administrator with KSHSAA for nearly two decades who died suddenly earlier this year in Nebraska, and Chuck Porter, who is recognized as a faculty member, coach and administrator from Buhler with coaching roots in Wichita.
Kirkpatrick's induction ceremony will be May 31, 2014, at the 2014 KSHSAA Track and Field Championships at Cessna Stadium in Wichita.
"It's the place where I first heard about the Hall of Fame when I was competing in high school," Kirkpatrick said. "I remember seeing some of the people being inducted, like Shawnee Call (Ellsworth sprinter and hurdle champion from the early 1980s), and I thought how nice that is for them to be honored. Of course, you always dream a little when you're a kid, but honestly, I've never thought I would get this recognition. But remembering those who were honored when I was a teenager is what stands out to me.
"It's humbling because I just couldn't believe it when I was even looking at the letter from KSHSAA. It just didn't seem possible."
Gruver's accomplishments are of legendary status — 12 gold medals and four silver medals — during her four-year prep career.
She won four golds in the 100-meter hurdles, four golds in the long jump, three in the triple jump and one in the 300-meter hurdles. Her best marks were 15.51 in the 100m hurdles, 45.87 in the 300-meter hurdles, 18-6.25 in the long jump and 38-6 in the triple jump.
If she had a "best" event, Kirkpatrick said it likely would be the triple jump.
"They didn't have it my freshman year in high school, but then the state put it in my sophomore year," she said. "I had won the Jr. Olympic Nationals, and really through high school had my sights set on 40-0. But I got hurt at the start of my senior year and never fully recovered, so that's why I'm sure my times and my distances weren't quite as good."
She credits her father, Stan, for getting her involved in track by building a grass track on the family farm and introducing her to the sport of track and field.
"I remember Dad asking me if I wanted to do it (run), and I said no," she said with a laugh. "But we went to a meet in Hays anyway, and I won all three events and qualified for the next meet. That's how it got started. If my parents hadn't pushed me, I'm sure I couldn't take the nerves of competing, but at some point I finally got past that."
By the time she reached high school, she already was excelling at the state, regional and national level, and her high school coach, Dwight Stoppel, had much to do with helping her develop in all of her events, especially the hurdles.
"He really did a lot to help me improve my technique and how to run the hurdles faster," Kirkpatrick said of Stoppel. "I had a lot of great teammates, and I think it goes without saying that I wouldn't be where I am today without their encouragement and support through those years, too."
The fact that she comes from a small western Kansas community also had her bursting with pride for the people of Scott City.
"I guess since I found out, what's been on my mind, is how special a place Scott City really is," Kirkpatrick said. "Everybody rooted for me, and I just have really good memories. I've thought about my coaches, my teammates, just everybody in the community. I was always proud to represent Scott City, and I hope this makes them proud. In all honesty, this is the entire town's accomplishment."
In addition to her track and field exploits, Kirkpatrick was a letter-winner in volleyball and basketball, being named to the all-league team each of her four years, and was named Player of the Year her senior season in basketball. She was a Kansas Governors Scholar. She earned a track scholarship to Kansas State University, where she competed for the Lady Wildcats all four years.
Kirkpatrick said she's excited about having the ceremony at the site where she has so many special memories.
And to make things even better, she will turn 40 next May 10, so the honor comes as an early birthday present, which she will be able to share with many others in late May.
"I guess 40 is kind of a milestone birthday for many people, so I can't think of anything better than this," she said. "Track and field has been a huge part of my life and this just makes it special. It seems like a perfect way, and makes me very happy."
Note: The Hall of Fame was created in 1975 and is housed at the KSHSAA offices in Topeka. The honorees were chosen from nominations reviewed by a selection committee. To be eligible for the Hall of Fame, an individual must have made an unusually outstanding contribution in interschool activities, either as a student with exceptional talent, or as an adult working with youth (such as an activity coach, director or sponsor, an administrator, an official or a contributor). Hall of Fame inductees may no longer be active in the field for which they are nominated (exception: contributor with over 30 years of outstanding service).
Kirkpatrick becomes the seventh individual with southwest Kansas connections to be inducted into the Hall. Others are Larry Friend (formerly of Syracuse, coach at Cimarron and Plainville, 2004); Myron Roderick (Garden City, 2000); Dodie Martin and Ark Morris of Johnson/Stanton County (2003); Rocky Welton of Garden City (2005) and Shalee Lehning of Sublette (2013).