Pitt State decathlete Hunter Jones shaped by family tragedy, ready for Outdoor Championships

PITTSBURG, Kan. (KSNW) — The Pittsburg State Track & Field team is taking a large crew of athletes to next week’s NCAA Division II Outdoor Track & Field Championships at Emporia State University.

Courtesy: Hunter Jones
Courtesy: Hunter Jones

The Gorilla men are two-time defending outdoor national champions. They’re led by four-time All-American Hunter Jones. The Redshirt Junior is training for his seventh NCAA DII Nationals. He’s competed in four indoor championships, and this will be his third appearance in the outdoor championship.

The former state champion high jumper from Nickerson High School is blessed with natural athleticism. He’s also been shaped by tragedy and loss away from the field of competition.

Altogether, Pitt State is taking 40 runners and throwers to Emporia next week.

“That’s the most we’ve ever had, both men and women. We’re right at 20 men and 20 women. That is collectively the most athletes we’ve ever had qualify. It’s, I mean, I think it’s an amazing number,” said Kyle Rutledge, Pitt State’s Men’s Track & Field Head Coach.

The anchor of the men’s team is Hunter. The multi-event athlete from Nickerson High School is in his fourth year competing in the multi-events for the Gorillas. Take one look at the blonde, 6-foot-3, 200-pound Kansan, and it’s easy to see he’s built for the decathlon.

“Well, a lot of it’s genetics, obviously. But a lot of it’s coaches, past coaches that I’ve had, and you know, things that I’ve been through in my life that have gave me this opportunity. Made me see it a little bit different than most people,” said Hunter.

Courtesy: Hunter Jones
Courtesy: Hunter Jones

About two years ago, Hunter was in Pittsburg while the rest of his family was visiting Louisville, Kentucky, for an AAU basketball tournament. The Jones family was out exploring the downtown when they were hit by a car that had jumped the curb.

“My family was in an accident. Well, my sister was playing a basketball game in Louisville, Kentucky. And my father, which was a huge part of why I do track and why I went to Pitt to pursue this. He passed away in the accident,” said Hunter.

The devastating loss of his father, Trey, along with the serious injuries suffered by his mother, Amy, and his sister, Ava, changed Hunter’s perspective on life.

Iowa Women’s Basketball recruit Ava Jones (Courtesy: UI Athletics)
Iowa Women’s Basketball recruit Ava Jones (Courtesy: UI Athletics)

“My sister was a very talented basketball player, and she committed to Iowa a couple of days before the accident. And so I really have to credit a lot of what I have done and the things I do to seeing them not be able to do, do what they want,” explained Hunter. “And that I’m just grateful every day for being able to have the opportunity to pursue this.”

Trey and Amy met at Southwestern College in Winfield, where they were both high jumpers. Trey still owns the men’s high jump record at the school at 6 feet 11 inches. Last fall, he was inducted into the Southwestern Hall of Fame. He was represented by Amy.

“I was born (in 2001) when he was still high jumping at Southwestern. He took that year off so he could go work and support his family, which is so amazing,” said Hunter. “But yeah, he would always talk about, like, ‘I jumped this high.’ And he’s like, ‘You can see this?’ So, I was like, ‘Oh wow’ as a kid.”

“But yeah, he was my track coach in high school. My high jump coach and I probably wouldn’t be here without him and everything he taught me. He was just a great, great person to be around. And yeah, he really motivated me too, and I think about him still every day. When I’m at home, on the track, regardless, and it still just motivates me to keep going,” he continued.

Hunter’s life experiences explain one of the reasons why he’s such a high-level decathlete.

“They have to be very mentally tough, and especially when they start to get fatigued. That’s where they have to be extremely mentally tough on making sure they focus and make sure they execute what they need to do and trust what they’re doing,” said Rutledge.

“He’s been doing it for four years now. So he understands the events. He knows how to take care of himself off the track. He knows how to come to practice on the mental side of it where he needs to focus on. What he needs to execute, and he listens to his body of what needs to happen. You know, there’s a lot of collaboration. If he wants to do something today or if he doesn’t, and so he’s built himself into being the athlete he is,” Rutledge continued. “There’s a lot of hard work on his part and dedication. So, you know, he’s built well, but more importantly, he’s put himself in the right mental state and done everything right to get to this point.”

Ava and his family were at Pitt State earlier this year when Jones took second in the heptathlon, and the Gorillas won the indoor national championship. He placed third in the decathlon at last year’s outdoor championships. This year, Hunter is the nation’s top decathlon qualifier in the grueling competition that tests athletes in ten events over two days.

And he expects to win it this year.

“I’m really at this point. I’m not really expecting anything less than that. Hopefully, I’ll go above and beyond and get a good enough marks out there to go to the (Olympic) trials this summer and go out there and hopefully compete again and keep my season rolling,” said Hunter.

The Jones family will be at Emporia State next Thursday for the start of the two-day decathlon, which begins May 23 at 10:30 a.m.

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