Few schools have a year like McCluer High School Alumni had in one night. The Comets have long been known as a home of incredibly talented athletes. The high school has benefited mightily from an alchemy of passionate coaches and driven young people. In the last few years of Fergeson-Florrisant has been in the news for racial strife and protest. Times have been tough, to say the least for the residents of all colors in the surrounding community. But, on one night March 4, 2017, three McCluer graduates had everyone smiling young and old. McCluer High School celebrated these fine athlete's accomplishments in a recent Press Release. //files.milesplit.us/articles/204567/files/press_release_3.6.17.docx.
First MMA fighter and McCluer Graduate Tyrone Woodley defeated his opponent Thompson at UFC 209 to defend his Welterweight Title. On the same day, former McCluer All-State shot put thrower Demetrius Thomas won the NAIA national title for Williams Baptist College in the 285 lbs. Weight Class. Not to be outdone, on the very same day, Gwen Berry met her amazing potential by launching a World Record throw in the indoor Weight Throw at the USATF indoor championships. While Gwen was in high school she was a sprint and jump athlete for Coach Wollbrinck. She was a presence even back then very heavily muscled and powerfully built. For the Comets she was their go to long and triple jump. Her explosive training would serve her well under master throws coach John Smith at SIUC. To be an elite thrower you must be athletic and Gwen has always been a once in a generation thrower. The following is an interview I did with World Record Holder Gwen Berry and her coach from high school Phil Wollbrinck.
How did Coach Smith help you reach elite status at SIUC?
As you have pushed to international status what has been the biggest hurdle you have faced?
Mo.MileSplit.com: Coach Wollbrinck, how does it feel to have been a part of a world record holder's story?
Coach Phil Wollbrink: It's a small part, but it is very exciting! Gwen has worked harder than any athlete I have ever met to get to where she is today. It's inspiring to say the least.
What first impressed about Gwen?
Her competitiveness! I kept going to her basketball games when she was a sophomore in high school to recruit her for track. She worked extremely hard on the court and she hated to lose. I think she hated losing more than she loved winning and would always come back stronger.
Now getting to look back at her career what do you think was the key moment to her greatness?
There were numerous moments where I saw her grow. Through each one you saw her gain more confidence and work harder. Gwen has always swam upstream and achieved things that many thought not possible. Probably a trait that most Olympians have.
What do you think are some of the biggest challenges that she has faced?
I think the toughest challenge are the lack of resources for her to pursue her athletic career. There isn't a lot of money for athletes in track and field to be able to sustain themselves and focus on their discipline, especially for a Weight/Hammer thrower. I am grateful that her longtime Coaches John and Connie Price-Smith have taken care of her, along with the New York Athletic Club, and Nike. Even with their assistance, you would be shocked how hard Gwen has to work to continue this journey.
What are talents that she had that many of us track and field fans are not aware of?
I have coached high school/club for a total of 15 years, and I am in my second year of coaching collegiately, and I have not seen anyone renew their passion on a year to year basis like Gwen. I am sure she has her moments, but I have never heard "quit" in her voice or come out of her mouth. She has an amazing ability to push ahead no matter what. It's inspiring! We have these dreams and the first sign of adversity we lean towards despair or quit. Gwen has taught me that you could miss your biggest breakthrough if you give up on yourself too soon. Gwen is an Olympian, and World Record holder and that would never have happened if she gave up on the first, second, third, twentieth lol sign of adversity. It's truly a story for everyone to enjoy.
With a talent like Gwen, what should coaches do when they encounter their own special athlete?
I think with all athletes we need to be patient and embrace the process. I would be a liar if I told you I knew Gwen was going to be a World Class Thrower. We had her in the jumps the majority of the time and then tried to make her into a multi to increase her scholarship opportunities. I am grateful to Coach Andre Scott for recruiting her when no one else would and getting her to SIUC. I am equally grateful to Coach John Smith for recognizing Gwen's potential and patiently developing her. Gwen truly is an example of if you want it bad enough and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, then something special can happen. Gwen put in more than her fair share into this game, and I am so happy for her!