Like his peers, all Cody Wheeler wished for his final year of high school were experiences the previous two senior classes missed out on.
On and off the playing field.
“Honestly, it was as regular as it could have been,” the recent Hockinson High School graduate said. “I think we (the Class of 2022) got the lucky stick out of the past three years.”
Wheeler felt fortunate the 2021-22 school year had fewer pandemic-related hurdles to navigate. That included high school sports’ return to its traditional form, complete with a full allotment of games and contests, and state playoff opportunities.
And because of it, Wheeler, The Columbian’s All-Region male multi-sport athlete of the year, gained a better appreciation and perspective for what high school sports are all about. Competing for and representing Hockinson, and being surrounded by friends and teammates in football, wrestling, and track and field is what it’s all about for Wheeler.
“It’s what makes high school fun for me,” he said.
Wheeler has consistently been in motion as a three-season high school athlete dating back to freshman year. He mastered the fall, winter and spring this school year as an all-league running back and starter at linebacker in football, went 35-1 as a 195-pound state semifinalist in wrestling, and became a nationally ranked javelin thrower in track and field.
What do all three sports have in common? It’s lessons learned in each that’s helped Wheeler become the athlete he is, he said.
“It teaches you hard work in different areas,” Wheeler said. “You can branch out and be a multi-tasker. … I do track because of throwing and I ran (the 100 meters and the 4×100 relay) to get faster for football. I do wrestling because I like wrestling, but it’s also got me better for football and got my feet faster for track. Each sport helps out the other one and I think the three-sport athletes are more well-rounded people.”
For the record, Wheeler played four sports — football, wrestling, baseball and track and field — in four years at Hockinson. In 2021, he shifted his spring focus to track and field, and quickly launched into elite status in the javelin.
His throw of 201 feet, 4 inches at last month’s district meet in Shelton ranked Wheeler 14th in the country and was one of 15 throwers nationwide to hit the 200-foot benchmark this spring. It’s an accomplishment Wheeler is proud of — same goes for his nearly perfect wrestling season in what he calls his third-best sport.
But it’s track and field that runs deep in Wheeler’s family. His grandfather, Kelly Rankin, was the head starter for track and field at two Olympic Games, and his mother, Rachel, was a javelin state placer at Fort Vancouver High and also threw javelin for Washington State.
Wheeler urged his mother to coach him in the javelin the past two seasons. The teenager said it made the track experience more memorable by sharing it beyond mother and son, but also coach and athlete.
“It challenged her, and it challenged me,” he said. “She helped me a ton with my form, and she didn’t let me get away with anything.”
And perhaps it’s no surprise Wheeler won’t stop being a multi-sport athlete now that his prep career is over. He’ll compete in football and track and field at NCAA Division III Whitworth University next year in Spokane.
That’s because he can’t pick just one sport in college, he said. It goes against what he’s done all his life: being a multi-sport athlete.
After all, Wheeler is always in motion.
“The time that I choose one sport or when college is over and I’m not doing a sport, it’s going to be weird,” Wheeler said. “I’ve done three or four sports my entire life, and I couldn’t imagine not doing that.”
THE BEST OF THE REST
Colby Cooper, Kelso
The senior earned All-Region honors in football, started on the Kelso basketball team and was a 3A state javelin finalist in track and field.
Max Cox, Kalama
The senior was All-Region in track and field, was a first-team all-league receiver in football and a third-team all-league player in basketball.
Adam Deeney, Columbia River
The senior was a first-team all-2A Greater St. Helens League catcher for the state runner-ups, and he placed fifth at state at 145 pounds in wrestling.
Jackson Esary, Kalama
The senior was the All-Region quarterback in football, leading the Chinooks to a state title. But he will play basketball at the University of Providence.
Alex Ford, Prairie
The junior was All-Region in wrestling, winning a state title. He was second-team all-league in football and placed third at district in track in two events.
Landon Gardner, Castle Rock
The senior was All-Region in football as the Trico’s defensive player of the year. He was second-team all-league in basketball and a state placer in the shot put in track.
CJ Hamblin, Mountain View
The Oregon State signee was the All-Region wrestler of the year after winning his third state title. He was a first-team all-league defensive back in football.
David Kailea, Evergreen
The senior was All-Region in football as a standout defensive lineman for the Plainsmen. He was a 3A state finalist in the shot put in track and field.
Jacob Martin, Mountain View
The junior was a three-sport star as a first-team all-league receiver in football, second-team all-league in basketball and a first-team all-league outfielder.
Tobias Merriweather, Union
The Notre Dame signee (football) was All-Region in football and the All-Region boys track and field athlete of the year after winning a state title in the 200.
Brady Phillips, Kelso
The senior was an All-Region lineman in football, placed eighth at state at 285 pounds in wrestling and was first-team all-league in track at the discus.
Holt Williams, Camas
The junior was an All-Region defensive lineman in football and was a first-team all-4A Greater St. Helens League catcher in baseball.