Academic, athletic achievements help Winn twins land spots on Division I track teams

John and Mark Winn did the track coaches at the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State University, respectively, a big favor.

“I think at the D-I level, they only have 12.5 scholarships,” noted Bryant High School track coach Steve Oury. “A track team, it is usually going to take a large number of athletes. They have to be very careful about how they divide their money up. It is hard to get a lot of money for track in the state of Arkansas.”

But each of the Winn twins qualified for the Honors College, John at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, Mark at Arkansas State in Jonesboro. That meant each school could get a high-quality addition to their team without whittling on their scholarship limit.

“They were both encouraged to walk-on,” Oury assured. “Both programs are very excited to have them on board. That was something they made very clear, especially seeing what kind of character they have, their grades then seeing what kind of times they were able to do this track season.”

So Monday, the twin sons of Mike and Amy Winn were honored with a ceremony at the BHS gym as one announced his commitment to a NCAA Division I school in the northwest corner of the state and the other announced his commitment to a NCAA Division I school in another corner of the state.

“John will probably go down as the most decorated track athletic in Bryant High School history,” stated Oury. Indeed, from eighth grade through this season, John Winn re-wrote many of the school records in the sprint events, particularly the 400.

“He broke a long-standing junior high record as an eighth grader, running a 51.38 in the 400,” Oury recalled. “He also broke the school record in the 200 with a 22.89 in ninth grade. He didn’t get to try to break his own record in the 400 in ninth grade because he pulled his hamstring. He hurt his other hamstring in 10th grade. A hamstring injury for a sprinter is a pretty catastrophic injury. It’s not something you just shake off.”

Still, at State as a sophomore, John came in second. He finished fourth in the Meet of Champs, broke 50 seconds for the first time, 49.73.

“In 11th grade, we again dealt with injury toward the end of the year but he persevered,” Oury said. “At State, he finished fourth and then wins it at the Meet of Champs. Not only that, he was on the 4×400 team all three years. They broke the school record so many times, we lost count. (This year) they won State then they won at the Meet of Champs and set the Meet of Champs record.

“The thing that was so impressive about John, to me, was his perseverance through adversity with those injuries that, basically, caused lesser athletes to hang up their spikes,” Oury mentioned. “He’s always been extremely diligent about how he came back, rehabbed and paid close attention to detail, to doing everything he could to make sure that he had a chance to succeed.

“So, at the State meet, with him running all the events he did (100, 200, 400, 4×400), plus doing prelims — we knew if he could make it to the 4 x 400 healthy, not only would that be good for him but the team as well,” the coach continued.

Winn won the 400, finished second in the 100 and third in the 200. Then, at the Meet of Champs, John and teammate Steven Murdock Jr., finished 1-2 in the 400 for the second year in a row. And the duo finished 1-2 with Murdock first in the 200. At the end of the meet, they combined with Brenden Young and Pierce Finney to win the 4×400, breaking a meet record that had held since 1977.

“It was just so satisfying to see him finish off his career on such a high note, in such positive fashion, because I know it was always in the back of his mind as it was in my mind that with his injury history, you’re always worried that something was around the corner,” Oury said. “I thought his senior year couldn’t have gone much better.”

“The injuries in ninth grade, I was kind of thankful for that, really, because I was getting to a point where I wasn’t really sure how much I loved track,” John Winn stated. “The injury took it away from me and just made me realize how much I loved the sport. I guess it just kind of renewed my fuel for wanting to run track, wanting to pursue it.

Mark’s story was similar, according to Oury, “Like John, Mark had his injury battles over the years. With Mark, the 800 was always his event all the way back to junior high. He set the junior high record (2:05.87), which had held since the 1980’s.

“Tenth grade, he started having some injuries that came up off and on throughout his high school career,” the coach added. “He’d show flashes of brilliance then would be set back with injury.

“In the 11th grade, he fought through it then at the end of the year, he got himself where he was running at a high level,” he continued. “When we went to the State meet in the 4×800-meter run, we finished third and qualified for the Meet of Champs. At the Meet of Champs, all four guys, including Mark, ran at a very high level and finished runner-up. They ran probably the fastest time in the 4×800 (8:09) since back in the ‘90’s when Coach (Danny) Westbrook had a crew that ran eight flat.”

Mark Winn started his senior year in good shape.

“He set his personal record in Fayetteville in January, 2-flat in the 800,” Oury related. “In the indoor State, he finished fourth after running in the 4×800. It was looking really good. But just as outdoor was getting going he started having trouble with his knee. We were afraid he wasn’t going to make it back. And it wasn’t until the conference meet that he stepped out there and ran. And we saw, okay, he’s back.

“I’m just extremely proud of him for hanging in there because I really don’t think many kids would’ve kept working that hard,” the coach said. “He stayed with it. He was on the exercise bike. He was in the pool. He did everything he could do to keep his cardio-vascular fitness up so he would have a chance to step on the track at the end of the year. It worked out.

“He ran unbelievably well, finished second at the conference meet,” Oury said. “Then, at the State meet, it was one of those moments you can’t forget. It was right after the 300-meter hurdles, which Brenden Young dominated. We also picked up points from Rafael McCuien and Landon Abernathy.

“That’s when I started thinking, wait a minute, we’ve got a shot at this. I remember walking over to Mark and Joe Sartini and telling them, ‘Guys, we’ve got a shot. This is big.’ To see both those guys step up — Mark ran a personal record of 1:59 to come in fourth and Joe finishing eighth, those points drew us within one point; one point away when we still had the 200 and the 4×400 to go, which are events we knew we’d do well at. So that was huge.

“And, the same as John, it was so satisfying and so wonderful to see him rise above those issues,” Oury stated. “It was like a story with a happy ending. It could’ve been a sad ending the way it played out.”

“The thing that kept me going most was, I just remembered my ninth grade year,” Mark said. “That was my most successful year and I had a lot of fun. Being hurt and not being able to run and workout and seeing your teammates out running fast, it encouraged me and inspired me, just by the way they were running.”

Both brothers were primarily basketball players in middle school.

“My middle school coach Derek McGrew encouraged me to run cross country just to stay in shape,” Mark Winn related. “So I ended up doing that and fell in love with it. After basketball season that year, I ran track and I liked it. So, in the end, I wound up quitting basketball to run. So, thanks to Coach McGrew. He encouraged me and he looked for my times. I remember when I broke the record in ninth grade he was at that race, yelling at me to run faster.”

John Winn actually continued to play basketball into his sophomore season in high school. But he too took a cue from McGrew and tried track.

“During basketball, we would do a lot of line drills and I was always winning line drills,” John recalled. “Coach recommended I run track and I didn’t really have anything else going on after basketball season ended so I thought, why not? I was pretty good in middle school and when you’re pretty good at something you start liking it. I just continued with it. I really enjoyed it and I’m glad I did.”

Either of the twins could’ve gone to school just about anywhere they wanted to thanks to their impressive academic records.

“I looked at a few colleges and I decided that Arkansas State is where I wanted to go even if I was not running,” Mark said. “I communicated with their coach and he offered me a roster spot.

“In the end, it was between either going to the University of Arkansas and not running or Arkansas State and being able to run,” he said. “I really wanted to keep running track so that’s why I chose Arkansas State. I really liked the coaches and just the environment there. It’s a little less chaotic than Fayetteville. It just felt right.”

John had a little different experience.

“I wanted to go somewhere to get a really good academic experience,” he explained. “So I was thinking about UCA, Arkansas, Arkansas State. I had been contacted by the other two and was thinking about UCA but, during indoor season, I had a really good race up there at the Arkansas Invitational. After the race, the (UA) coach called me up there to talk to him because he knew I was interested. He told me a little bit about the school and I really liked what I heard. He told me to fill out a questionnaire and send it back to him. He emailed me a couple of days later, saying that he was serious, that if I wanted to be part of the team that they really wanted me. So I was just waiting on the academic money and when it all came in, I was getting close to a full scholarship on my academics. So I let them know that I wanted to come.

Mark is still undecided about his major but John plans to major in Kinesiology with an eye toward being an Physical Therapist.

“I really like the Honors College, in general,” John said. “There’s a lot of opportunities to do some research if I want to do that. I really like the program. I really like the city, Fayetteville. I used to live up there, when I went to elementary school, and my sister lives up there.”

Asked about being apart for the first time, both brothers predicted there will be plenty of FaceTime in.

“High character, very good work ethic,” Oury concluded. “What they did in the classroom just carries over. They’re both extremely smart but they’re very hard workers and very good students. As a coach, I can’t be any prouder. They’ve done a great job as leaders for the rest of the team, showing what to do both on the track and in the classroom.”

 

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