Wiley keeps faith with his annual youth meet

Ex-Baltimore Olympian committed to expanding horizons, opening doors

Track And Field

July 16, 2005|By Kate Crandall | Kate Crandall,SUN STAFF

Crouched in the starting blocks, waiting for the gun, entrants in today's Cliff Wiley Track Classic will focus on the ground directly ahead of them.

What they can't see is where track will lead, says the man whom the meet is named for, Cliff Wiley, a Baltimore native and one-time Olympian.

"I transferred the skills I learned in track to everything I did in life," Wiley said. "As a 13-year-old, I wasn't winning meets, but it motivated me to work a little harder and maybe win that medal next time."

The 20th annual meet will draw more than 1,000 youths ages 8 to 18 to Morgan State's track facility. The Baltimore City team, which took last year's title, will be challenged this year by other teams from the East Coast and from Texas, Bermuda and Denmark.

For the past two years, Wiley has worked to build his meet into a nationally prominent youth event. The talent gets better every year, he said.

James Carter (Mervo) and Bernard Williams (Carver), both 2004 Olympians, ran in the meet as 12- and 13-year-olds.

"We don't know the 2012 Olympic track team yet," Wiley said. "It's inevitable with the quality of competition at this meet that someone will be on that team."

The meet will serve as a tune-up for athletes who have qualified for AAU or USATF Junior Olympics, which will take place at the end of the month.

But unlike both of those events, the Wiley meet will keep track of team scores, in addition to the performances of individuals.

It's all part of Wiley's philosophy, which includes giving medals to the top eight finishers in every event.

"When you're running for the team, you're running for more than just yourself," Wiley said. "This gives a kid who scored one point an opportunity to feel that he or she was successful."

Wiley learned "everything he knows" from the late Ralph Durant, longtime coach of Baltimore recreation track and field.

"Durant had a vision that [competing] helped you as a person," Wiley said. "At the very least, you gained an awareness of fitness and competitiveness. He coached us to whatever success we've had as parents, lawyers, doctors and teachers."

Wiley earned a track scholarship at the University of Kansas and became a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, which did not compete due to the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games.

An international competitor in the 400 meters for 10 years, he once contributed to a world record in the 1,600-meter relay.

Now a litigator in the Kansas City area, Wiley wasn't always an overachiever. In middle school, he struggled to keep up and was enrolled in special education classes.

"When I started running track, it gave me self-esteem," he said. "I used to stutter and I hadn't been successful in anything individually in my life, but Durant was encouraging me in track."

For all of Wiley's success in track, the lessons of training and competing lasted long after he hung up his spikes.

"At law school, pulling all-nighters for tests, I thought, `I know what I can do,' " Wiley said. "Athletics is great training for life; it has ups and downs, there are older people giving you pointers and you learn nothing is free in this world."

As for his Classic, "It's my goal to keep this event going. I think [Durant] would expect nothing less of me," Wiley said.

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