Sunday, May 16, 2010

Chess Scholar All Around Best

Kansas City Star
May 16th,2010

During their first days at Lawrence High School, packs of sophomores are led into the gymnasium during a sort of guided tour and directed to scan the school’s state championship banners on the western wall.

“You’ll notice there are no banners for league titles or winning a regional up there,” the newest Chesty Lions are told. “We don’t put up individual state titles either. Only team champions go on the wall.”

Lawrence claims to have won 106 state titles, the most in Kansas, which makes it quite a shock to glance toward the gym’s east wall and see one name featured so prominently — Roy Wedge.

A giant banner proclaims Wedge, a senior, as the 2009-10 Gatorade Kansas boys cross country runner of the year. Eventually, the slick black banner will be retired to a trophy case, but for now, it hangs in the gym.

“Oh, don’t get me started on that,” Wedge says, shaking his head with an embarrassed smile when asked what he thinks of his banner being displayed in defiance of tradition.

• • •

There’s a little bit of Roy Wedge in everyone. That’s the essence of his charm. It makes him approachable and also keeps him humble.

But when the sum of Roy Wedge is totaled, there’s nobody quite like him.

“He makes his own category, honestly,” said fellow senior Lucy Daldorph, Wedge’s prom date. “We had to do something in my English class about what makes a man, what qualities define a man, and two or three times Roy Wedge was the list of what you have do to be a man.”

It’s not hard to figure why.

Academically, he’s a national merit finalist and Kansas AP Scholar who ranks eighth in a class of 410 with a 4.065 grade-point average and boasts a 35 score on the ACT.

Wedge, who is headed to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to study computer science, helped the Lawrence string and symphonic orchestras achieve I ratings at state the last two years and finished third at the Kansas state chess tournament as a senior. He was 11th as a junior.

But he’s more than a mere brainiac.

Wedge also has been the top finisher for a Lions cross country team that claimed state titles each of the last two seasons, ending Shawnee Mission Northwest’s 14-year reign as 6A champs in the process.

He was the state runner-up after being passed late in the race as a junior at Rim Rock Farm, but made sure no one would catch him last fall in winning state by more than 25 seconds.

As much as he’d prefer to blend in, Wedge, who also reached the state track meet in three events last year and has won three varsity letters in swimming, seldom does. He can now add yet another distinction to his impressive personal résumé after being selected as The Star’s 2010 Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

“Yeah, that’s nice. I did not see that coming,” Wedge said. “It’s a nice honor, but when I first found out, I was like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to be recognized again.’ ”

• • •

It might seem odd to some that a genius, chess-playing, cross country runner, who can be seen most mornings walking down the hill to Lawrence High with a large binder in one arm and a viola case in the other hand, would be so revered by faculty and students alike.

Wedge, who is soft-spoken and meticulous, doesn’t fit neatly into the mold of the typical high school hero.

“He’s never done what most kids do,” his mother, Linda Wedge, said.

As a first-grader at Wakarusa Valley Elementary in rural Lawrence, Wedge convinced the school’s principal to start a chess club.

Wedge also spends part of his summer helping his dad, Phil Wedge, count migratory birds in several western Kansas counties as a member of the Jayhawk Audubon Society.

The two start at the county line and count the birds observed in a three-minute period. They drive a half-mile and repeat the observation for 25 miles, with the younger Wedge taking notes for his dad, so the elder Wedge doesn’t have to turn away from the horizon.

Using the drawing function on his calculator, Wedge wrote a chess program to ward off boredom in calculus class.

“I wasted like a week in calculus class to do that,” he said. “It was during the review portion and I’d already had AP calculus. They were going over derivatives or something I’ve already done. I was trying to do Battleship, but the grid was too big for the screen.”

Tinkering with code writing is one of Wedge’s favorite pastimes.

“I’ve been messing around with the chess thing,” Wedge said, “and there’s a medieval computer game I have that I sort of understand how the code works, so I can mess it up.”

• • •

Wedge was the Class 6A runner-up at the Kansas state cross country meet in 2008, but he gives former captain Ben Wilson, who was something of a mentor, the lion’s share of the credit for the Lions’ title-winning breakthrough.

“That’s him. That’s Roy,” Lawrence principal Matt Brungardt said. “That shows his humility, and maybe that’s one of the qualities people really like about Roy and something that draws him to them.”

Ask Wedge about the time he placed sixth at the U.S. Junior National Chess Championships in 2008 and he responds with a perplexed look.

“There’s probably some national tournament on my résumé,” Wedge said. “I don’t really remember.”

Excellence seems to dog Wedge’s every undertaking, but he doesn’t feel the need to point that out. Perhaps that is why nobody seems to mind that Roy Wedge’s name hangs on that banner in the gym.

“He probably doesn’t even care about that,” Lions assistant track coach Audrey Pope said. “That’s the best part about Roy. If you saw him in the hall, you’d never know he was this brilliant stud athlete. He flies under the radar.”

Wedge’s quiet and kind nature only makes him more beloved by the Lawrence student body.

“Everybody is just so impressed at how dedicated he is and purely good. He does everything so well, but he’s not pompous about it,” Daldorph said. “He doesn’t let it go to his head, and that’s really the deciding factor. Everybody appreciates that, because it’s not like he walks around wearing a crown. Well, actually he does because he won Homecoming King, but he doesn’t act like he’s better than anyone.”

Of course, that personal résumé Wedge has constructed indicates otherwise.

Ask any of the 153 members of The Roy Wedge Fan Club on Facebook, which reads in part: “From expert violist to king of cross country, Roy Wedge has graced the halls of LHS from his arrival, and hasn’t stopped impressing everyone since then. We all know that Roy is pretty much the coolest guy around, so why not show it?”

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