Justin Kretchmer’s road to becoming the state high jump champion and recent University of Kentucky track signee almost took a different path when the six-foot-one freshman walked into then-WHS track coach Kevin Dooley’s health class in 2009.
The first week of class, students were asked to write a letter introducing themselves.
“I wrote about thinking about doing track or baseball. He needed a high jumper so he wrote me a letter saying he would like if I came out,” Kretchmer said, remembering back. “So I went with track, and it worked out.”
When asked, looking back, how he feels about his decision he says “pretty happy,” with a laugh.
“Sometimes I guess you are pulled in the direction you are supposed to,” Kretchmer’s mom, Jenn Kretchmer said.
“I waited a long time. I don’t think we ever had anyone with the potential I could see in him,” Dooley said. “I had never seen him jump, but I had him in class. You can see the way an athlete walks, the way they hold themselves, their attitude. When you’ve got the tools to work with, then that’s a good start.”
And Dooley was right, he did have the tools. Kretchmer became the Illinois state high jump champion in 2012 with a jump of 6-feet, 8-inches.
Kretchmer’s accomplishments came after a little shove from his track coach, as well as the help of Dooley’s old high jump shoes.
“We had to make sure he got into the right shoes,” Dooley said with a smile.Then, Waterloo High School junior Justin Kretchmer wins the high jump, clearing six feet, eight inches, at the Class 2A Track and Field meet in Charleston last year. (Clare Rodenberg photo)
“We didn’t even know there was a difference (between track spikes and high jump shoes),” Jenn said.
Dooley went on to retire after Kretchmer’s sophomore year when Larry Huffman became the boys track coach.
“He had been trained well already,” Huffman said, looking at Dooley, “He had good form coming in.”
But that wouldn’t be the last time Kretchmer would cross paths with his former coach.
“I worked the high jump up at state,” Dooley said of last year’s competition when Kretchmer took home the IHSA high jump title. “So when he attempted the record at this last state meet I got to measure.”
Dooley had seen his student come a long way.
“I was just shaking. I couldn’t believe it. He had jumped so well that day.”
Fate has seemed to route Kretchmer’s course, and his path after high school is no different.
Once again, Kretchmer’s road almost changed course when his mother made him an appointment for an admissions interview with UK and they cancelled at the last minute. Kretchmer didn’t believe he ever had a chance to get in.
But his father sent an email out of the blue one day to the Kentucky track coach. And he responded.
“They told us Justin was their No. 1 prospect,” Jenn said. “One simple email is really what did it.”
One simple email, one simple letter — that’s all it took for Kretchmer to set his path on high jump.
Kretchmer says it is hard to believe that he will be competing in one of the country’s premier conferences — the Southeastern Conference or SEC.
“The first time I talked to them I just thought there was no way I was going to be able to do it,” Kretchmer said. “It is kind of mind blowing.”
It’s also mind blowing for Kretchmer to think of doing the decathlon, an event that the UK track coach thinks he could compete in.
It’s also hard to believe where he could go.
“It would be nice to go to the Olympic qualifiers in Rio or the one after that, and this year trying to get seven-foot would already be good and contend in the SEC.”
Kretchmer’s goal since freshman year has been to reach the seven-foot mark in the high jump.
He hopes to achieve that in his last season here with WHS and win another state title.
Dooley hopes he will be there again to measure.