Jon Yates had lofty goals for this year’s boys track and field season. The Monroe High School senior and four-year letterman had his sights set on the school records in the 100, 200 and 400 meters before the coronavirus outbreak brought spring sports to a halt.
But Yates’ impact was felt at Monroe far beyond the track, as he was the first leader of the school’s student voice focus groups, which were designed to create more community and make students from marginalized groups (racial minorities, LGBTQ, etc.) feel safer at the school. He was described by Monroe track coach Brittany Kitts as “one of the most memorable high schoolers I have ever interacted with.”
The Herald spoke with Yates as part of a series honoring local spring sports senior athletes.
What were your goals this track season?
This year my goal was to break all the records in the 100, 200 and 400, as well as go to state. One of my biggest was to beat Ethan Willems from Glacier Peak. He didn’t run his sophomore year because of injury, and then junior year I was expecting to be one of the fastest, but I got injured and he was wicked fast out of nowhere. I have that competitive nature, and he was No. 1 in the state, so I wanted to beat him. The funny thing is he joined my club track team, so we’ve been practicing together since September and became friends.
What are your favorite memories from your high school track career?
One of my favorites, I think it was my sophomore year, when we went to Yakima and ran in the relays there. Kitts said, ‘Run the 400, you can run it,’ and it was my first 400 ever, and I ran it after I’d been puking, so I was pretty much walking the last 100. But it’s a good memory.
What will you miss most about high school track?
Probably the Saturday practices. Those were some of the worst workouts you’ll ever do. However, it was fun because we were all struggling together.
Tell me about the student voice focus groups and what it meant to be a part of those?
I don’t know how it started, but I was asked to be a part of it and help Monroe feel more connected as a community and students feel safer at school. I know in years past minority groups were very underrepresented. So it was just having us all meet up and discuss what we’d like to see in the future.
At first I was a little bit skeptical because that is a big thing they were asking for, especially from a sophomore in high school. It was a big thing to change. But getting into it and doing the meetings and going to work, you started to see people relax, you saw that connection in the halls. You saw the instant impact of, ‘I feel safer here, I have people I can go and talk to.’ It’s awesome to see. Before there were a lot of kids who just kept to themselves, and you’d see them in the hall hurting. All of a sudden, after the meetings, people started going, ‘Oh, hey,’ every day. It made them feel more at home. It felt great to be a part of that.
What’s next for you?
I’m going to Sacramento State. I’ll be majoring in computer science, and hopefully running on the team — well, I know I’m running on the team, but right now I’m a walk-on, so I have to try out. But with my times I will for sure be on the team.
The story is kind of crazy. I had reached out to a lot of college coaches and they all said to call back after my senior season, and if I hit my times they’d further the conversation. Without a season, obviously I had no times, so a lot of them stopped talking to me. Then all of a sudden I get a call from coach Kenny (McDaniel) from Sacramento and he said, ‘Jon, sorry I haven’t reached back, but I want to give you an opportunity to get on the team. I know these have been hard times, but I really want to give you a chance.’ That was like, ‘Boom!’ because it was already my dream school to go to.