Kansas high school state track: Why Kendra Wait might be the greatest state champion

·7 min read

Kendra Wait has been making the extraordinary look ordinary at track and field meets for so long that not even her magnum opus could elicit a shred of surprise from those who have been watching her for years.

“It’s certainly a proud father moment,” Darrell Wait said, “But she’s been doing it for awhile now, so it feels fairly common.”

“Of course we’ve seen it coming,” Gardner Edgerton track and field coach Larry Ward said. “It’s nothing new to us.”

But what Wait, a senior at Gardner Edgerton, accomplished last Thursday at the Kansas high school state track and field meet at Cessna Stadium in Wichita was anything but routine. In fact, Wait has a strong claim for the most impressive performance in the long and prestigious history of the state track meet.

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The basics: Wait won the Class 6A titles in the 100-meter dash, pole vault, long jump and shot put to become just the 18th girl to win four individual Kansas state championships in one meet.

That alone puts her in rarefied territory. But there’s more.

Wait is the first four-gold winner to do it in Class 6A, the state’s largest and often most-competitive level. While almost every four-gold winner has a clear specialty (sprints, distance, hurdles, jumps), Wait is the most diverse in her events — she’s the first four-gold girls athlete in Kansas history to have pole vault and shot put on her résumé.

A list of all four-gold female winners in the history of the Kansas high school state track and field meet.
A list of all four-gold female winners in the history of the Kansas high school state track and field meet.

If that wasn’t enough, Wait did all of this not only in a single day — normally her events would be spread out over two days — but she won her four championships over a three-hour span.

“It really is unbelievable to me,” Wait said. “I never thought this was going to happen. I knew there was a lot of great competition I was going up against, but I just trusted myself and trusted the process knowing I’ve been in situations similar to this before. I knew this was my last state track meet, so I might as well go out with a bang.”

You can find athletes who can run a 100-meter dash in 12 seconds flat, throw a shot put nearly 44 feet, long jump well over 18 feet or clear 13 feet in the pole vault. But to find one athlete who can do all of those things? Wait stands alone in Kansas history.

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“There’s no doubt about it that she’s going down as one of the all-time Kansas greats,” said John Yockey, Wait’s throws coach at Gardner Edgerton. “It’s been incredible to watch her do all of the different athletic feats that she does every single track meet.”

“I would hope that she is included as one of the best all-time,” Ward said. “I’ve never had an athlete do what she’s done in my 45 years. And to do it in 6A and in a one-day, condensed format, it’s just amazing.”

Wait comes from a family no stranger to state championships, but historically in the pole vault. Her older brother, Kyle, was a state champion vaulter at Gardner Edgerton who went on to vault for Kansas State, while her older sister, Cassie, still holds the Class 6A state meet record in the pole vault.

By the time Kendra reached middle school, her father had an inkling she would be more than just a pole vaulter.

“I knew back then that she was going to be pretty alright,” Darrell said. “So I had a fairly good idea.”

Gardner Edgerton senior Kendra Wait completed arguably the most unique and most difficult four-gold performance in the history of the Kansas state track and field meet.
Gardner Edgerton senior Kendra Wait completed arguably the most unique and most difficult four-gold performance in the history of the Kansas state track and field meet.

She was raised as a sprinter and vaulter, then added the shot put and long jump to her repertoire in high school.

By the time her senior year was over, Kendra finished with one all-time mark — the sixth-best pole vault (13 feet) in Kansas history — and near the top of the state’s best for her performances this season — she had the second-best shot put (43 feet, 10½ inches), the third-fastest 100 time (12.00) and the fourth-best long jump (18 feet, 7 inches).

“I have to give a lot of credit to that for my coaches,” Wait said. “They spend the extra hours with me helping me out. It’s a lot about time management, knowing what work can overlap and knowing if I work on this, then that will help me with another event. And then I just have to find the extra time to get in and put in some extra work.”

Yockey, her throws coach, laughed when asked if he had ever coached a state champion in the shot put who can also run 12 seconds flat in the 100.

“She is the most explosive athlete that I have ever had the privilege to coach,” Yockey said. “She is just so explosive getting across the ring as fast as she does and the strike that she has on the release is amazing. I’ve never had anybody like her before.”

And there might never be a performance like hers again at the state track meet.

Because of the condensed schedule, Wait was unable to take her full attempts in any field event. She completed her three throws in the shot put preliminaries before she was whisked away to run in the 100 preliminaries and then hop over to the long jump competition, where she was only able to make two attempts there. Then she had to shift her focus to the 100 finals where she topped a loaded field that included Olathe North’s Ka’Liyah McGinnis, who owns a top-10 time in Kansas history. Just minutes after winning the 100 crown, Wait entered the pole vault competition at 11 feet and cleared it on her first attempt to join her siblings as a state pole vault champion. Meanwhile, her marks from the preliminaries in shot put and long jump both held, meaning Wait had accomplished what seemed like an impossible four-gold day.

While the state meet’s condensed format presented a strain, Wait said she leaned on her experience of competing in four events at basically every track and field meet she’s ever been to. As a sophomore in 2019, Wait won the 6A titles in the 100 and shot put and finished second in the pole vault and fourth in the 200. As a freshman, Wait won the 100 and took third in the pole vault and fourth in the 200.

“As soon as I started the day, I just had a good feeling so I knew I had to go all out for it,” Wait said. “I just kept going and each time I won, it gave me more confidence and more energy to keep going to the next event.”

After Wait’s diverse championship performance, it would be easy to project her as an elite college athlete in the heptathlon, which has athletes compete in the 100 hurdles, high jump, shot put, 200, long jump, javelin and 800 in a single competition.

But arguably the greatest athlete in the history of the Kansas high school state track and field meet will no longer be competing in the sport. Instead, Wait has accepted a full-ride scholarship to play volleyball at Creighton.

In a way, it’s a poetic ending for her track and field career — an all-time Kansas great finishing with an all-time great performance.

“I’m definitely sad that this ends my track career, but what a way to go out,” Wait said. “This will be in my memories for a lifetime.”

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