Position: Sports Page Editor
College: University of Kansas
I’ve already graduated. As much as the walk across the stage on May 17 will mean to most seniors, my high school career reached its culmination back in March. Standing behind a podium in the East cafeteria, 20 of my best friends watched as I choked down words, drowned out by tears, that I had thought through so many times. Instead of shaking principal Karl Krawitz’s hand, it was Wiley Wright’s.
For four years, I spent seven plus hours a day cluelessly trying to comprehend somebody else’s interpretation of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” I’ve attempted to grasp the magnitude of Avogadro’s mole, and even spent a semester in a math class centered around how well I could divide a cake (if it weren’t for my iPhone and KU message boards to peruse, I’m not sure I could have stayed awake any longer). Although the idea is that I have been learning skills that will make me more prepared for my ventures later in life, I struggle to believe that the tidbits of information I’ve learned behind a desk have prepared me more than the life lessons I learned swimming for Wiley Wright.
For most of you reading this, Wiley is probably only known as a coach that has had unparalleled success in an unheralded sport – but he is so much more than that. Even if he’d never won a single state championship, he would have still made the same impact on my life, and on the lives of many others. But for me, Wiley helped set me on the road I was struggling to find. A road that let me know it was OK to be a different person than my older brother. A road that showed me how to deal with suffering defeat after defeat, regardless of how deserving I might be. A road that taught me to live for this moment, and not for the next. If it weren’t for the things I learned from Wiley, I never would have been able to overlook my own personal difficulties and cherish this team and the broad variety of guys that somehow come together to be incredible friends. Because before long — my chance would be gone.
Since childhood, I was obsessed with topping what my brother had accomplished before me. Although I used his high school swimming success as my primary measuring stick, I wanted to beat him in every category on the stat sheet of life. I had to surpass him in everything: from edging out his GPA, to mowing more lawns around the neighborhood.
Until recently, this was success to me. And I thought it was success to my parents.
Quickly the years passed as my freshman season turned into my senior season: although I knew that I wasn’t of the same caliber as my brother, I wanted nothing more than the success that I believed would define my East swimming experience. From missing state my freshman year by only one spot, to suffering from an incredibly violent stomach flu my junior year that held me back from competing at that state meet, I only fueled an obsession to work for the success I believed I had to have to be happy. Although I loved the grind I put myself through to find success, I was blind to how much fun I was having with my team. And despite failing after getting so close to my own personal goal so many times, I was having some of the best experiences of my life.
Looking back now, I’ll remember the time I dropped 17 seconds in the 500 free as a freshman and the enormous smile lightening my face as I walked by the parent section to a standing ovation I had never experienced before. I’ll remember the time Wiley and I talked about how I wasn’t going to be swimming at state my junior year, even though tears streamed down my face in my own disappointment, more tears came down Wiley’s face as he saw the pain I was going through.
These were the little things that I didn’t appreciate in the moment because I was more concerned with fulfilling my own ambitions. But in hindsight, they were so much more important than my pursuit of immortalizing my name in East swimming history.
It took until the winter of my senior year to learn who I truly am — and no, it’s not Brandon Barnds II. It’s Corbin Barnds. And although I may not have my name on the record board, I have peace of mind — and that’s something I don’t know I would have gotten if it weren’t for my experiences with this team, and most importantly, Wiley.
So when my academic graduation comes on May 17, it’ll be secondary to my more meaningful swimming graduation. My real graduation came behind the podium in the East cafeteria. Behind that stand, I tried stressing to Wiley and everyone there how thankful I was to be given an opportunity to spend my last four years with them, but I couldn’t get it out. More so than any class, any teacher, any experience, East swimming has matured me into the type of person that I know I can be happy being.
That night at the end of my speech, I concluded with a quote from Wiley that summarizes everything about him and how I am going to remember him as I go on with my life.
“Once you are a team member here, you’ve got me until I die, as being a friend and anything that I can possibly do for them.”