By Justin Feil, Special Writer
Kurt Wayton was in high school when his family would drive up from their Linwood home to visit his cousin in Cranbury. Along the way, they’d pass Allentown.
“I told my family and I even said it on a track trip when we were going up to Princeton, and I got ridiculed for it, I said, this is where I’m going to live, it’s a great place to raise a family,” Wayton said. “I ended up here, I wouldn’t say it’s totally by accident. I ended up in a little house with a little spouse and my kids, and I think I’m the luckiest man alive.
“I have a wife that appreciates me and she’s a wonderful mother, I have two kids that are healthy and I think they’re smart and they’re funny and hardworking, and I have the job of my dreams. Really, what else is there? Absolutely, I have the life I’d dreamt I have. Every day I’m an altruist. I wake up and I do things that don’t necessarily benefit me but benefit humanity. I teach kids, I love kids, I coach kids, shepherd kids, it’s wonderful.”
The holidays are a special time for the head coach of the West Windsor-Plainsboro South boys cross country team and distance coach for the Pirates track and field teams to reflect on his many blessings.
Wayton has been Pirates cross country head coach for a decade. He has helped mold the team into Group IV state champions and annual contenders at the Meet of Champions and brought out the best in plenty of individuals. He coached another top-10 finisher at the MOC this year when Tim Bason placed ninth. He coached Brian Leung to the MOC individual crown in 2007.
“He’s wonderful at making connections with people,” said his wife of eight years, Meredith. “My family always says, he has the gift of gab, he could talk with anybody and have conversations with perfect strangers.
“Kids that he’s taught over the years all want to stay in touch. It’s wonderful. He gets to know kids personally. I think that’s what helps bring out the best in them. They know he’s invested just as much as he can be.”
Investing that time takes him away from his own family, and the holiday break affords him a chance to spend more time around Christmas with Meredith and their children, 5-year-old Brynn and 2-year-old Kevin.
“It’s a nice pause,” said the WW-P South cross country and distance coach. “You intentionally slow down and take your eyes off your job and the other relationship you have. That’s the toughest thing with coaching — you’re so involved with these kids and they become family. This is a time for you to take your eyes off your professional family and put them on your individual family. And probably every coach will agree that it’s tough. I have a lot of guilt. Sometimes I come home and the kids are already to bed and I only see them 10 minutes in the morning. Those are tough.”
But Wayton cannot imagine life without coaching right now, and Meredith would laugh when people asked if he would be stopping when they started a family.
“The question was mind-boggling to me,” she said. “I never would have expected him to stop. Maybe way down the line when they’re involved in something and he wants to be there for their performances, then I think he’ll be torn. He has plenty of time until that happens. In his mind too, I know he wants to be there for them.
“He’s just wonderful with the kids,” she added. “He has so much fun. It’s tough. He’s torn at times. He misses them so much when he’s with the team and he has stuff he has to be doing. When he’s here, he’s all here. He’s 100 percent everything he does, which is wonderful.”
Wayton does not do anything halfway, and he is devoted both to his family and his profession. He felt a special pride the first time someone called him Coach Wayton instead of just Mr. Wayton.
“Mr. Wayton was my dad,” he said. “When kids started to call me Coach Wayton it was like this real awakening. Growing up, anyone my father respected, he called ‘Coach,’ even if they weren’t coaches. It was kind of a link with respect and what-not. For me, if I was going to coach I was going to teach. I would never teach without coaching.
“That’s tough for my family. The hours are crazy, the pay is minimum, but that’s what really makes it for me. I can’t imagine just teaching science. I’m not going to make the difference I want to. But with coaching and being a real educator I’m a father to these children. It’s wonderful.”
Wayton has an electric enthusiasm for running that he shares with his team. He’s palpably excited at meets to see his team compete. He drives them hard to aim as high as possible.
“I think I’ve softened up a bit,” Wayton said. “The softening up has been a direct result of maturing and having kids of my own, and seeing my athletes as an extension of my children. Before I would see them as just an understudy. I was much harder on them. Brian Leung would say, you’ve softened so much, and I’d agree with it. I don’t know if it’ll be good for my coaching and the program, but I am more apt to give a kid a second chance today than I did five or 10 years ago.”
Meredith frequently brings their children to Wayton’s meets. She has been coming to support the program since before they were married.
“As my kids have gotten older, I don’t know as many kids on the team now,” Meredith said. “When it was just me going, I knew a lot of the kids. Then once I started bringing our kids along, they were a big distraction. I don’t know quite as many kids on the team as I used to, but I love going to the meets.
“I never ran competitively, but I love to run. I love going to the meets and seeing how the kids do. He’s so dedicated to them. For the most part, they know that and they appreciate it. It’s nice to see the interactions. I go to the cross country banquet every year and I see their appreciation, they know how much time and effort he puts into it by the end of the season.”
Taking Brynn, who is in kindergarten, and Kevin, who is in preschool, is a way to introduce them to one of his greatest passions.
“It’s nice for the kids to see what he’s doing and what it all means,” Meredith said. “They have a good time going to the meets. My little one loves to scream, ‘Go Pirates!’ He’ll just randomly yell it around the house. He’s well trained. My daughter is on the quiet side, but she is a big fan of the girls team. She’s a little shy around boys.”
Both of his kids have boundless energy, and they are even showing signs that they might be runners, or at the very least, competitive in whatever they do.
“Brynn takes gymnastics right now,” Meredith said. “They do this little warm-up routine and she already does not like to have kids pass her or get by her. I see her elbowing kids at gymnastics running around cones. She might have a little more daddy in her than she needs.
“My son, if he can harness his attention span for more than 30 seconds, we’ll see. He’s a speed demon. He does not like to walk anywhere. He has a little of daddy in him too. He likes to do 10 things at once and he can’t sit still.”
Wayton started teaching at Schalick High, then moved on to Buena before coming to Titusville. Titusville helped finance a new certification when Wayton met Meredith, a Hightstown High graduate, in a graduate class at The College of New Jersey.
“I thought I’d go to the next level and coach, and then I met my old lady and after that, I said I’ll take one year to figure things out if they’ll work at West Windsor,” Wayton said. “It’s been 12 years. I’m happy. I think I’m going to stay.”
Wayton has become a fixture at WW-P South. This is his first year teaching science after almost 15 years teaching social studies. Meredith is in her third year teaching special education at Stone Bridge Middle School in their hometown Allentown, where they moved four years ago after living in Bordentown.
“It’s even better than you can imagine it to be,” said Meredith, who enjoys running and used to give horseback riding lessons and organize summer camps. “We feel so lucky living and working in the town we live in and seeing kids I taught the past couple years, bumping into them and their families. Kurt loves being a part of the community. Besides his coaching, he’s on the Board of Ed for Allentown. He’s part of this group called the Allentown Village Initiative to beautify the town. We had a close knit town in Bordentown so when we moved to Allentown, we wanted to make as many connections as we could.”
The Pirates team stays close with his family. Wayton’s top distance girl, Christina Rancan, gave Brynn swim lessons this summer. His children recognize some of the runners when they go to meets.
“It’s a double-edged positive sword,” Wayton said. “You have your own kids realizing that they are being held to the standards you preach each and every day to the athletes you have. And also my own athletes get to mentor my own children. Maybe it’s a triple-edged sword. The whole circle of life there is that we’re all in it together. I don’t think it exists in a lot of professions.
“In my case, I really think it’s the whole circle of life thing and my kids are going to learn from my own efforts at work and hopefully they take at some sort of lesson later in life.”
Wayton is still using many of the lessons learned from his parents, both teachers, who raised him, his twin brother and his sister in Linwood. Kurt and Geoff were standout runners. Kurt won four state titles at Mainland and was a seven-time All-Missouri Valley Conference runner at Indiana State.
“I think I trained hard,” Wayton said. “I don’t know many people that trained harder than I did. I knew that’s what it took to make me successful. I just carry it on with the kids. Our kids train just about as hard as anybody and as smart as anybody. I kind of live through them a little bit. Hopefully whatever my own kids decide to do, I’ll live through them as well. The common denominator has to be that they work hard and find something they’re really passionate about.”
Wayton hasn’t been able to run since he was 26 because of damaged cartilage in his knee from birth.
“I do miss running,” he said. “I used to look at recreational running as something that would be so enjoyable. I was never able to do it. It was always training. I’d like to do simple stuff, like warming up with the kids and cooling down with the kids. That’s never going to happen.
“There’s nothing that makes you feel better at a physical level than running,” he added. “I miss it. But it’s the hand I’ve been dealt. I have some kind of solace that I can preach it to my kids. It’s not just about training and being on a team, it’s about a life of being very healthy.”
Wayton found success as a runner growing up and it helped to lead him into coaching and teaching. At Indiana State, Henry Villegas was an influential mentor that helped to guide him.
“He was awesome,” Wayton said. “I had to pick a major and both of my parents were educators and I knew at worst it would be demanding, at worst I wouldn’t make a fortune, but at best I’d have the kind of life that my parents had, which was a wonderful life. They were able to raise three kids. We didn’t have a lot of money but we had a ton of laughs. We were able to travel and camp and they were ever-supportive. Every single day growing up in my house my parents espoused lessons. It was an extension of their classroom. They were parents first and foremost, but they were educators second most. I grew up being educated. I grew up in a life where everything was about growth.”
He tries to do the same for his own children now. He and Meredith took their kids camping and traveled last summer, and he is looking forward to spending more time together over the holiday break.
“I don’t think it’s any different from raising your athletes,” Wayton said. “First and foremost, you want them to have good character. By good character, I want them to be strong, I want them to be hardworking, I want them to be smart and intelligent, I want them to be well-rounded, but also I want them to treat other people correctly, I want them to be kind. If they do that, then they’re going to be a huge success, whether it’s in distance running or anything else. I haven’t met many good coaches who have had great athletes as kids. It really doesn’t work that way. But I’ve met a ton of really good coaches that have kids that have gone on to be great whatever. I want them to take the lessons that I teach to my kids at school every day and move on with that.”
By Justin Feil, Special Writer