Newman University will host its sixth annual Jet Invitational Dec. 13. During the tournament the Newman Wrestling Team and Newman Athletic Department will honor Reece Wright-Conklin, the senior team member who died Sept. 3 after suffering injuries in a motorcycle accident.
Wright-Conklin won the 2013 Jet Invitational championship at the 174 pound division.
“We will dedicate the tournament prior to the start of the finals on Sunday. His shoes will be retired during a moment of silence and then we will present dedication plaques to his family, kid’s club coach, and high school coach,” Newman Head Wrestling Coach Ryan Smith said.
Smith and his assistant coaches Blake Fisher and Mitch Arnold have worked with their team to not only prepare for a successful season but also to help them cope with the loss of one of the team’s popular leaders.
“Anytime a team goes through a tragic event such as losing a teammate ... there is a huge risk that the team will be derailed for the remainder of the season, but these guys for the most part have rallied behind each other and will continue to do so,” Smith said.
“The guys were great through this process and really haven't needed any additional attention. As coaches, there have been a few guys that we have kept a closer eye on and just let them know that we are here for them. We understand the grieving process is different for each guy. The loss has been huge and we will definitely feel the impact during the course of the year, but we just have to know that everything happens for a reason.”
During the time of the accident and in the months following, Smith has been grateful for the support from Newman and the wrestling community.
“Both the Newman community and Kansas wrestling community were absolutely incredible. Newman's Leadership Team was incredible that entire day from the hospital that morning, team meeting, and then the prayer service that afternoon on Sept. 3. The Kansas wrestling community raised several thousand dollars on a ‘go fund me’ account. Just an incredible feeling to watch everyone come together.”
The 2015-16 Jets are coming together. According to Smith the team “is doing well” despite being young in several areas. “They’re battling and that is all we can ask for right now in the season," Smith said. "The younger guys should start to transition to a collegiate wrestler as we get deeper in the season.”
Newman has had several wrestlers place in various tournaments in the early portion of the season. Currently five student-athletes have appeared in either the NCAA DII National and/or NCAA DII Super Regional IV polls. They are 125 pounder Dustin Reed who is third nationally and first in the region; 149 pounder Tyler Mies, second in the region; 157 pounder Colton Duhr, eighth in the region; 165 pounder Noel Torres, eighth in the region, and 174 pounder Heath Gray, fifth in the region.
Teams competing in the tournament include Newman, Central Oklahoma, Fort Hays, Oklahoma City, Northeastern Oklahoma, Labette, Neosho, Barton, Bethany, and Northwest Tech.
The Jet Invitational is the final competition before the semester break. The Jet’s first home MIAA dual match is Jan. 13, 2016 against Lindenwood.
2015 Jet Invitational Schedule (12/13/15):
9 a.m. National Anthem/ 1st Whistle
3 p.m. Reece Wright-Conklin dedication and finals