NORTHFIELD HIGH TRACK COACH TURNS DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH INTO TRACK STARS
Coaching Style Earns Dozens of Runners Scholarships to Top Universities
You may not know him personally, but chances are you’ve heard of the students he’s helped turn into track and field success stories.
Chelsea Taylor Hayes. Brendan Ames. Zaire Jackson. Beau Walker.
All of these All-American track stars were coached and groomed by none other than Northfield High School Track Coach Wayne Vaden.
And whether students are from Northfield High School (NHS), or other schools and communities in and around Denver, those who want to be the best seek out Coach Vaden.
Vaden began coaching at NHS when it opened six years ago. He saw that their track field had been built but no one was using it despite it being the newest track in Denver.
So, the well-known Denver attorney (founder of City Park Law Group) met with the school and officials from Denver Parks and Rec and came away with two things: a job as the school’s new track coach, and a place to train athletes from his own track club – the highly successful and sought-after Angel Flight Track Club.
But what’s most impressive is Vaden’s stats off the field.
That’s because many of his trainees end up being recruited by some of the nation’s top universities.
For example, Brendan Ames, son of Central Park resident Judge Andre Rudolph, used to drive down from Wyoming to train with Vaden. Ames went on to earn a scholarship to run the 110-meter hurdles at the University of Southern California and competed at the 2021 Olympic trials.
Chelsea Taylor Hayes was a standout from Montbello High School who, under Vaden’s wing, set state meet records in the high jump and long jump competitions, as well as winning the 100- and 200-meter sprint races.
Hayes earned a scholarship to compete with the University of Alabama, joining Montbello’s Beau Walker (now Dr. Beau Houston) in the Southeastern Conference Track Competitions.
Dr. Houston won numerous state and national hurdle competitions, coached track at Colorado’s Air Force Academy and is now the Athletic Director at Gateway High School
And it gets better.
Returning NHS state finalists include Giavonni Meeks, Isaak Easley, Justice Ephrim and Malia Heien. And Meeks, who is taking recruiting trips to Vanderbilt, University of California-Berkeley, Auburn and the University of Texas-Austin this month, enters her senior year ranked top 10 nationally in the discus, shot-put and hammer events.
After 32 years of coaching, these are a just a few stories of the talent Vaden has groomed.
Vaden spends evenings and weekends working with eager young athletes from all Denver metro neighborhoods, sending approximately four students to college a year on either full or partial scholarships. That’s dozens over the last 32 years.
And during his tenure, his high school teams have gone on to win numerous DPS championships and three consecutive Colorado state team championship titles with the Montbello Lady Warriors. Since opening, NHS has produced three individual state champions: Zaire Jackson (110-meter hurdles); Zion Smith (100-meter hurdles) and Giavonni Meeks (discus).
What’s his secret?
“I feel my job is to develop talent,” he says. “Some coaches look for the fastest runner on the team and devote all of their time to them. I’m just the opposite. I like to take the ones with the least talent, the least amount of confidence, and I work hard on them.
“There are so many ways to win, so if I turn a shy runner into a confident athlete, that’s a win for me. If I work with the student that wants to run but doesn’t feel he or she has what it takes, I spend time with them. I provide the format for them to flourish.”
This approach works and is evidenced by the numbers of his students who return each year – even after they’ve left for college – to continue training and help train the younger athletes on his teams during the summer months and school breaks.
“There’s a lot of overlap between my kids from Northfield and my runners from Angel Flight,” he says. “But we’re all family and support each other before, during and even after their time with me.”
But Vaden’s sense of accomplishments goes beyond whether his trainees go on to become track stars.
“I try to reinforce the greatness that’s already there,” he says. “But they do the heavy lifting and go on to become good scholars and great citizens.”
Most of all, track and field is in his blood and runs in the family.
Vaden was an All-American track star at East High School in the 80s, and his wife and daughters all ran track as students as well. His wife Susu’s father was a renowned track coach as well (Tony Wells). Vaden also founded the Denver Lightning Track Club and also coached at East and George Washington High Schools as well.
“I love the sport and I love these kids,” he says. “It’s my way of giving back to the community. It’s hard work, but it’s my ministry.”