Matt Yalung has discovered you can go home again, and he has been doing it for years.
Yalung, a Desert Vista High School senior and reigning state high jump champion, hasn’t forgotten his roots and where it all started at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School, a few hundred yards west of Desert Vista.
Since he was a freshman at Desert Vista he has been returning to Akimel to help aspiring young jumpers find as much pleasure in clearing a bar as he has for the past seven years.
“Akimel gave a lot to me, and it’s the reason I high jump,” Yalung said. “It’s fun being with the kids and teaching them what I love to do.”
During the season, Yalung gets up at 5:30 in the morning and heads for practices at Akimel where he is a volunteer jump coach.
He runs back to Desert Vista for his classes, then the track and field workouts. When he can, he shuttles back down Liberty Lane to Akimel for the school’s track and field meets.
“There are times, when I’m working with the younger kids, that I see myself back there all over again.” he said.
Chris Hanson, Desert Vista’s track and field co-coach and a teacher at Akimel, asked Yalung if he’d like to help out at Akimel when Yalung was a freshman at Desert Vista.
“My freshman year was hard because I was only a year older than they were,” he said. “I’m still not an old person. I’m a kid, so I can relate to them better, and they can relate to me.”
Yalung is also a triple jumper for the Thunder track and field team and jokingly tells people he started jumping because he didn’t want to do the road work runners endure along Pecos Road south of the school.
The reality is that his father was a jumper and encouraged him to try it.
He had been a basketball player, too, so jumping would seem like a natural.
But it’s more than getting air under him, Yalung explained. A lot of the technique involves form.
“There are guys who can dunk a basketball, but I can’t,” he said. “I can barely get the ball in the net. You have to have the hop, but it’s the form that separates the competition.
It’s modesty and humbleness that separates Yalung from most other athletes, Hanson said.
“Success has come his way,” Hanson said, “but you’d never know he was a state champion last year. That’s secondary to him. He wants to give back to someone else.”
Hanson said Yalung’s tutoring program has Desert Vista thinking about expanding the program.
“We’ve had other people do it, but Matt has stuck with it better than anyone else,” Hanson said. “With Matt’s success, we’ve been thinking about starting an apprenticeship program and maybe even help out in elementary track programs.”
Yalung is starting to understand what his coaches feel like when he succeeds.
“It’s fun when (Akimel athletes) ask me questions or clear the bar for the first time,” Yalung said. “It makes me feel like a proud parent, and I never regret the time I spend with them.”
Hanson smiles at Yalung’s proud parent remark.
“I guess that makes me a proud grandparent,” Hanson said. “It makes you feel good when a kid wants to come back and help out. It means they got something out of the program.”