Induction into KSHSAA Hall humbles former Scott City star trackster
By BRETT MARSHALL
WICHITA — It seemed only fitting that on a sun-baked, bright and warm day at Wichita State University's Cessna Stadium, former Scott City track and field star Jennifer (Gruver) Kirkpatrick would enjoy her moment in the spotlight.
Kirkpatrick, along with former Kansas State High School Activities Association Assistant Executive Director Rick Bowden were inducted into the KSHSAA Hall of Fame during ceremonies at the mid-point of Saturday's final day of the 2014 Kansas State Track and Field Championships. Bowden's induction was posthumously.
Cessna Stadium holds many memories for the former Lady Beavers' star track performer. After all, it is where she won an amazing 12 gold medals during a stellar prep career. She also had a pair of silver medals, thus making her one of the most decorated female track and field athletes in state history.
"It was an amazing feeling to be up there (on the podium) and be recognized for what I did," said a beaming Kirkpatrick afterward. "I don't know really how to express my words, my feelings, it was just overwhelming. Much more so than I could have ever imagined."
Kirkpatrick, now a mother of four children, and her husband, Dan, live in Junction City, where she is a part-time dietician. They have three daughters, McKenna, 12; Maya, 9; Adelyn, 6; and one son, Sawyer, 2.
There were many family members and friends who made the trek to Wichita to witness the induction, making the event all the more memorable for the personable Kirkpatrick.
"I had a number of flashbacks, so many fond memories, it's hard to keep them all organized," she said with a smile. "I just remember my freshman year here, that somebody got inducted and it made me wonder what all they had done to get the honor. Now I have a much better understanding, and you appreciate it all the more. To be one of those is something I'll never forget."
Kirkpatrick epitomized the words "track and field" as well as any athlete in Kansas history. Of her 12 gold medals, seven came in the field events of long and triple jump, while the other five came in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles. She won the shorter hurdle race all four years, as she did in the long jump. She claimed three triple jumps, and the only reason she likely didn't get a fourth was the state didn't have the event her freshman season. She won the 300 hurdles for the first time in her senior year.
"To have been a high school athlete doing what I loved so much, and now to be honored for what I did, I don't know if I'm deserving, but it's humbling to think others feel that way," Kirkpatrick said.
Of the four events, Kirkpatrick had said in an earlier interview that the triple jump was likely her best event (a best of 38-7 1/2), while she thought the 300 hurdles were the toughest race. While observing Saturday's final day of competition, Kirkpatrick offered her thoughts on the caliber of today's athlete, more than two decades after she had competed.
"A lot of the marks are really outstanding, there's some really great kids here," she observed. "It's always great to see times and marks get better, but so many of the marks from my time are still very close to what they're doing today. Some are better."
Standing 5-feet-9-inches, it should not have been surprising that Kirkpatrick would excel in hurdles and the jumps, where a combination of speed and height are critical to success in those events.
"I always thought I was about 5-8, but I've been measured three times recently, and they all say I'm 5-9, so I guess I grew some," she said jokingly.
And as she has done in the past, she credits her father, Stan, a farmer in Scott County, himself a former state long jump champion at Scott City High School and a star at Kansas State University, for much of her success. She had recalled him mowing down a pasture on their farm when she was 10 years old, measuring it out as close as possible to 400 meters, and then watching her go to work to hone her multiple skills.
"He was my coach and taught me everything I know about track and field," Kirkpatrick said during a 2010 interview when the KSHSAA celebrated its centennial for the state track meet. "If that had never happened, I'm sure I wouldn't have developed the skills I did. Sports have been a big part of my life, and I treasure them."
And while she has gained fame on the track and in the field events, Kirkpatrick said today's youth should not put all their hopes and dreams into sports.
"Be careful about making sports everything," she said. "They are most special, but the overwhelming number of kids who participate in high school sports don't go on and compete in college. Don't put it any higher than the other things you do. But in the four years you're in high school, make the most of it. It's all you've got. Don't waste it. Work hard."
And perhaps reflecting on the true essence of high school sports competition, Kirkpatrick offered another bit of advice.
"You don't have to win to love it," she said. "I lost a couple of those events, and I learned from those. A person can work very hard and do everything possible, and they may not win. Learn to work hard and be mentally tough. Life is hard sometimes. Stuff happens. But you keep going, and it's that where sports can be a great teacher. I had great teammates, and I'm thankful that they were there to pick me up and cheer me on."
With her induction, Kirkpatrick becomes the seventh individual with southwest Kansas connections to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. Others are Larry Friend (formerly of Syracuse, and also Cimarron and Plainville coach); Myron Roderick, Garden City; Dodie Martin and Ark Morris of Johnson/Stanton County; Rocky Welton of Garden City and Shalee Lehning of Sublette.
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