Wiedmer: Steve Wade has golden touch with more than discus

Wiedmer: Steve Wade has golden touch with more than discus

June 18th, 2017 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Mark Wiedmer

Mark Wiedmer

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Steve Wade has a special place for the gold medal he just won as a Senior Games athlete.

"Right now it's on the kitchen counter," the former Tyner High School and Vanderbilt University football great said of his latest victory in the discus during the recent National Senior Games at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala.

"But it will soon go in my sock drawer with all the others."

This isn't to say Wade isn't proud of the 148 feet, 5 inches his throw traveled to win gold at Samford. The 52-year-old CEO of Tennessee Orthopedic Alliance — the largest orthopedic surgery group in the state — knows that distance "would have been good enough for third in Class AAA at the Spring Fling last month."

He can also tell you that in all the years he's been a volunteer throws coach at Brentwood (Tenn.) High School, his son Steve Wade Jr. — who owns the shot put record at the University of Louisville — is the only one of his students to beat him.

"So they tend to listen to me," he said with a chuckle.

And continuing to be the best he can be at these field events 35 years after he won the discus at the 1982 TSSAA state meet is important to him. The way some folks spring for a basketball or tennis court in their back yards, Wade long ago built a shot put/discus pad at his Brentwood home for him, his son and other youngsters to practice properly the twisting, spinning techniques needed for those events.

In fact, he hopes to spend at least part of this Father's Day working with his 2 1/2-year-old granddaughter Chloe on her shot put form.

"She's kind of become the center of my universe," he said of his 26-year-old daughter Caitlin Loyd's child. "All things gravitate around her. So I'll probably try to get her out there to throw some and hope she won't drop it on her foot."

Yet his thoughts on the proper role of sports and education in the lives of our young people also understandably turn today toward his father Grady, who played football at Vanderbilt in the early 1960s and still resides in Chattanooga.

"I guess what I'm proudest of regarding my dad is that he introduced me to higher education and the value of higher education," Wade said. "And when it came to sports, he never tried to live vicariously through me. He also never pushed me in a negative way."

We see that negative side too often. We may witness it front and center this coming Thursday when the newest Hall of Shame father, LaVar Ball, is all but certain to steal at least some of the spotlight from his gifted son Lonzo during the opening round of the NBA draft.

Lonzo even has taken to poking a bit of fun at his over-heated stage father in a pre-draft Footlocker commercial featuring the young Ball, former Kentucky guard De'Aaron Fox, former Duke wing Jayson Tatum and former Florida State forward Jonathan Issac recalling touching moments with their dads.

In the spot, Ball retells his favorite childhood memories of his father, beginning with LaVar "berating (my) high school coach in front of an entire crowd for not getting (me) enough touches." And dear old Dad "shouting back and forth with (ESPN commentator) Stephen A. Smith about how (I'm) already better than the reigning (NBA) MVP (Stephen Curry)." And how LaVar is "telling 29 out of 30 teams (everyone but the hometown Los Angeles Lakers) not to bother to draft (me)."

It is a funny spot. Especially since LaVar was in on the joke. But what often makes comedy so funny is that it is so often hatched from painful truths.

Which might be why Steve Wade was always so careful not to push Steve Jr. too hard during his march up the athletic ladder at Brentwood High, then Louisville.

"When I was growing up, we looked at people (such as LaVar Ball) who were yelling at coaches and stuff as oddities and strange and not to be emulated," Wade said. "With my own son, I guess what I'm proudest of is that I never missed a sporting event that he participated in, but I never made a scene, either. I tried to give my son a platform to take advantage of something he was good at if he chose to embrace it, and he had great success doing that."

As a volunteer coach at Brentwood High, Wade has had far more success than with his offspring only. His newest star is Brentwood junior Katherine Coffey, who won both the discus and the shot put at the 2017 Spring Fling. He's also worked with Baylor School track and field athletes through longtime Red Raiders coach Bill McMahan.

"I just try to be a mentor and help them feel good about themselves," Wade said of his coaching style. "Coffey's got Olympic talent, though. She's big enough and athletic enough to get there."

Wade was once big enough and talented enough to be drafted by the Indianapolis Colts — just as his father played briefly with the old Baltimore Colts of Johnny Unitas — before knee injuries ended his budding pro career.

Now more than 50 pounds lighter than the 300 he carried with the Commodores, Wade hopes his health holds out long enough to keep competing in Senior events at both the state and national level.

"I'm just glad I'm not a pole vaulter," he said. "In my event, it's really just a spin and a throw."

But as he and Cheri celebrate their 29th anniversary today, and Chloe tries to emulate her grandfather's shot put toss without breaking her tiny toes, something Wade said about parents possibly pushing their children too hard in sports and life seems especially worthy of repeating on Father's Day.

"Despite all the trappings your kid could acquire through athletic success," he said, "at the end of the day the main goal should still be to preserve and cultivate a healthy relationship with your child into adulthood."

That's one message that should never wind up buried in a sock drawer.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com

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