Grandview’s John Reyes is retiring from coaching track and field

After 21 years coaching high school track and field in Colorado, Grandview boys and girls coach John Reyes is looking for a new challenge.

His wife, Natalie Reyes, will be right there with him.

Reyes, 45, coached his final meet for the Wolves on Saturday at Jeffco Stadium, where the Grandview girls took runner-up and the boys were 15th at the state meet. Assistant coach Natalie, whom Reyes said “deserves every bit of credit for our program’s success as I do,” is retiring with him.

“It’s great to do something you love with the person you love,” John Reyes said. “With us not being able to have kids, it really does feel like they’re our kids. I love to see my wife with the kids huddling around her. She goes to Sam’s Club twice a week, buys them all food, we come to the meets with packed coolers and snacks no other team has. She is such a compassionate person, and a great coach, and it’s awesome for me to watch that.”

For Reyes, Saturday marked the end of an accomplished run at ThunderRidge (11 years) and Grandview (10), as he built the Grizzlies into a contender before leading the Wolves to one girls title (2017) and back-to-back boys crowns in 2021 and ’22. For “Mama Reyes,” as the athletes call her, it’s also the end of an era that began when Natalie came to GHS in 2018. Natalie works with the girls sprinters and also helps her husband run the program.

The couple met through track at ThunderRidge, and both have their own accomplished background. Reyes was a Broomfield prep star who won the 1994 state championship in long jump and the 1995 state championship in the 800 meters, an event he once held the state record in.

Meanwhile, Natalie ran track at Douglas County and then competed at Colorado State. She was previously the head cross country coach at Columbine and then an assistant track coach at Cherry Creek.

Natalie said coaching with her husband “has made our relationship stronger to work as a team and reach a common goal together.”

“One thing he’s really good at understanding what the strengths are in each athlete, and placing them in events where they can find the most success they possibly can,” Natalie said. “And I think we balance each other out really well.”

Over his tenure at Grandview, Reyes has coached nationally elite talent, most notably on the girls side, via athletes such as Bri Oakley, Michaela Onyenwere, Kylee Harr and, now, Gabriella Cunningham.

Cunningham was the star of the weekend for the Wolves. After posting state-best and national Top 25 times in the 100-meter hurdles and the 300-meter hurdles coming into the meet, Cunningham lived up to the hype. She ran a 13.78 to win the Class 5A 100-meter hurdles on Saturday morning, then came back in the afternoon and won the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 42.71. She also ran the anchor on Grandview’s state title 400-meter relay (47.63) and took fourth in the 100 (12.21).

“She might be as athletic as (WNBA player) Michaela,” Reyes said. “She’s right up there as one of the best elite hurdlers in the whole country. She wants to be good and she’s a very hard worker, and it’s showing. She’s got next year to go, and hopefully she’ll break a bunch of state records and keep winning.”

Cunningham is the daughter of the late football star T.J. Cunningham, who played at Overland, CU and then briefly in the NFL for Seahawks in 1996. T.J. was shot and killed in 2019 in an incident in the parking lot at Eaglecrest High School, a loss that defined Gabriella’s fire out on the track.

“It was a traumatic experience for her, and I think it gave her the motivation and strength to push through her (pain) and carry on that legacy of what her dad did in his athletic career,” said Gabriella’s mom, Lissette Ellerbe. “It was tough going into high school without her dad, but she drew from that (adversity).”

Cunningham only started competing in track as a freshman. She emerged as a sophomore at state, placing second in the 100-meter hurdles and third in the 300-meter hurdles — a preview of the dominance to come this year. Cunningham is receiving serious interest from a variety of Division I schools.

“I know my last name Cunningham holds weight, so I hold that high expectation of myself, and belief in myself that I’m worthy of it and that I can do this,” Cunningham said. “I show up every day for it, just me against the clock.”

Cunningham said that John and Natalie Reyes have been “absolutely influential” in her development from a raw track rookie as a freshman into a multiple-time state champion as a junior.

“They’ve guided me, given me so much track wisdom, taught me so many lessons on a day-to-day basis,” Cunningham said. “Even when they don’t think they are impacting me, I hear them, I see them, I listen to them and I take notes from them.”

Elite athletes such as Cunningham enabled Reyes to build his legacy at Grandview. But as noted by Broomfield track coach Craig Boccard, who gave Reyes his first coaching job as an assistant at BHS in 2000, Reyes has proven he can build a program in multiple ways.

“At ThunderRidge, he was working with better mid-distance talent, field events, specialty events because he didn’t have the raw speed he has at Grandview,” Boccard said. “But he’s able to teach the technical events so well. He can build a team that way to win, or he can construct a team by integrating the technical but also working with kids with a different type of speed.

“They’ve had good talent at Grandview, but he harnessed it, he made them much more technically sound, much more focused. His team can score in ways other than just off of natural talent.”

So what’s next for Reyes? The track addict, who is planning on retiring from teaching in three years, said he and his wife “want to figure out what our other passions are.”

“I don’t really know what that is right now, and I’d like to find out,” Reyes said. “In the meantime I’d like to spend some more time with my wife, our dogs, and enjoy life and get a little free time — heck, maybe even take a vacation.”

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