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Track father and son separate relationship from competition

FAMILY AFFAIR: ASU redshirt freshman pole vaulter Cory Kraft (left) is currently in the Sun Devil track and field program headed by father Greg Kraft. The duo has been able to separate their relationship on and off the track. (Photo by Kyle Thompson)

When members of the ASU track and field team heard that a pole vaulter from nearby Desert Vista High School had committed to be a Sun Devil in the spring of 2008, they immediately tried to think of a nickname for him.

They eventually came up with “Cheese” for that freshman, who had finished second in the state meet as a senior, hitting 15’6” as a personal best, a fine mark for a high schooler.

The team members weren’t necessarily picking on the kid, but they knew he was certainly different than anyone else on the team, mainly due to his last name, which is aptly associated with the cheddar stuff.

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The young man’s father didn’t need a nickname, though. He is easily identifiable as the head honcho of all things ASU track and field.

“[My teammates] thought it was funny,” Cory Kraft says of his moniker. “But they keep the nicknames away from him.”

The truth be told, Greg Kraft said he wouldn’t have let Cory walk on to the team unless he vaulted at least 15’3” during his senior year.

Kraft said he didn’t want others to think he was just allowing his son to be on the team due to their family connection.

“For him, just because he’s my son, I felt like he needed to be more established,” Greg Kraft said. “He earned the right to walk on, but he needed to understand what he was getting into.”

Cory said he didn’t pick ASU just because his dad was the head coach.

He knew that he wanted to be a Sun Devil, and ASU’s recent dominance didn’t sway his decision, either.

“Obviously the success of the program was a big attraction,” Cory said. “But it’s nice to be on my own, yet still be close to home.”

Once he was on the team, Cory, who redshirted last season, was welcomed with open arms by teammates and coaches alike.

He said that his teammates and event coach, Ron Barela, helped ease him into what could have been a difficult spot — being looked at as the coach’s kid.

“They don’t treat me differently at all,” Cory Kraft said.

Barela, who had been interested in Cory vaulting for ASU for some time, said Cory has embraced his role on the team.

“He’s actually the kid that keeps everyone having fun,” Barela said. “He’s kind of a goofball.”

The biggest challenge, both Cory and Greg Kraft note, is separating the role of coach and athlete from father and son. While they talk about the sport away from practice and meets, Greg Kraft said the family knew what they were getting into before Cory joined the team.

“All of us had to go in with an open mind,” Greg Kraft said. “There was a chance that it might not work out, but so far it has.”

Cory Kraft said his father’s role as a coach is now second nature to him, since the elder Kraft has been coaching for nearly 30 years.

“I’ve always know him as a coach, so it hasn’t caught me off guard,” Cory said. “We know what our roles are. He’s a coach and should be treated as so.”

It has helped that Cory is a pole vaulter and Greg coaches the jumpers. While they are at the track together, Cory is given his space and doesn’t have his dad hovering over his every move.

“It’s best for both of us,” Greg Kraft said, noting that Coach Barela has done a great job working with Cory since he arrived. “I think it would be harder on him because you are the ‘coach’s kid’, your dad is the culprit because he is the head coach.”

Greg Kraft said his goal is to to treat every athlete the same, whether they are an All-American or a walk-on.

“I want them all to be relevant,” he said. “I try to identify with each student-athlete and what they get out of our program.”

Cory, who lives in a house off-campus, even admits that he doesn’t mind having his father around — something most collegiate athletes can’t say. There have only been a few instances where parents have coached their children beyond high school.

“It’s nice seeing my dad on a regular basis, whether it’s on the track or at home,” Cory says. “It’s nice having him around.”

While Cory said all of the coaches act as a whole for the Sun Devils, it has been Barela who has worked with him since he first arrived on campus.

Barela said Cory struggled with some bad habits last year, but he is making great improvements and is exceeding expectations.

“He worked hard in high school to get here, but he is starting to get a lot better,” Barela said. “He has stuck with it and done a good job and is coming on really strong”

Barela, who is a parent himself, said both Greg and Cory should savor the chance to be around each other during Cory’s college years.

“As a parent, I think it’s neat and exciting,” he said.

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