Truth be told, Jana Landreth never stood a chance.

Going into the final lap of the 1,600-meter run at the KSHSAA State Track and Field Championships, Kinsey Baldwin of Parsons was in 11th place. She trailed Landreth, who was in eighth place, by five seconds — the top eight finishers earn medals at state track.

Baldwin passed two runners before bearing down on Landreth.

In the final 50 meters, Baldwin passed Landreth to earn her medal. As Baldwin crossed the finish line, she fell into the arms of officials and asked what she finished.

“She told me I got eighth and I started crying in that moment,” Baldwin said. “I sprinted that last 200. I was very tired. My legs had never hurt as bad as they did.” 

That race was an embodiment of efforts underway at Parsons High School to rebuild girls’ athletics.

It was also an affirmation — Baldwin demands your respect.

As a junior, Baldwin won SEK League titles in both cross country in the fall and track in the spring. She was the only league champion in multiple sports at Parsons.

“It’s amazing for her. Those are two very different races,” Parsons athletic director Rob Barcus said. “There’s a different mindset and she’s conquered both of those.”

Baldwin’s rise to prominence has gone with little fanfare. Cross country and track often fly under the radar of football, volleyball, basketball, baseball and softball.

“Adults at our school respect it. The kids at our school, not a lot know about it,” Baldwin said. “Even my friends. Cross country is overlooked. State track happens after school lets out. It doesn’t bother me a whole lot, but I wish my classmates still knew.” 

A back-to-back league champion in cross country, Baldwin has a claim to being the most decorated athlete in the school.

Her legacy, which is still being written, started as a freshman.

Perhaps the best lesson came during one of the most grueling seasons.

Baldwin played basketball during her freshman and sophomore years. That freshman season, Parsons didn’t win a single game.

“It was so hard. We were expected to keep a positive attitude,” Baldwin said. “But that’s hard when the score is 60-10. We were just drained. But I learned to keep pushing. You can turn it around. You just have to keep trying.”

That was the low point for girls’ athletics at Parsons. Volleyball won one match. Basketball and softball didn’t win a game.

There were exceptions, though. Gracen Friess was a league champion in tennis and state qualifier in track. Hollie Marlow was an accomplished distance runner. Both have gone to compete at the college level.

Baldwin gravitated to the pair.

“She came in as a freshman with her brother being a runner. She grew up at track meets,” Barcus said. “She came in with Hollie Marlow and Gracen Friess on the team, and they were really hard-working. She followed their lead and ran every workout they ran to try and get better.” 

Friess, now a tennis player at Fort Hays State, recalls the energy Baldwin brought.

“I remember Kinsey being a spitfire. She kept Hollie and I on our toes,” Friess said. “Hollie and I knew we had to work hard to set the right example for Kinsey. But she’s the one that set the example for us. She pushed us.” 

Baldwin is working up to running 50 miles in a week over the summer as she prepares for her final season donning Parsons colors.

She wants to run in college, in the same mold as Marlow who competes at Emporia State.

“I still haven’t decided if I want to run cross country or track,” Baldwin said. “I didn’t used to think I could do it. But I’ve looked at the times. I’m in the middle of the pack of Division II schools. I know I have the potential, especially if a college coach develops me further.” 

Baldwin has emerged as a leader by example.

“She goes about leading by just being coachable,” Barcus said. “You don’t have to worry about her saying anything bad about the coaches or questioning them. She believes in the people around her.” 

Baldwin’s ascent has corresponded with the girls around her. The volleyball team finished in the middle of the pack of the SEK League. The girls basketball team won 12 games, more than the boys. And the softball team snapped a five-year losing streak under a new head coach.

“It’s nice to see my classmates’ programs being built back up,” Baldwin said. “I’m happy that I’m succeeding along with them.” 

Baldwin is still seeking her first state medal in cross country — she finished two places shy of one last fall. And she wants to move up the podium in track.

Her successes are her endowment to Parsons.

“It’s exciting what she’s doing. She sets an example for all of the girls and all of the athletes,” Friess said. “She works her tail off regardless of anything or anybody around us. She didn’t let the rebuilding nature affect her at all. She keeps her head down.”

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