Sports Elite 1

CJ McKenzie, left, and Nate Wright, right, stand in front of one of the murals in Sports 1 Elite. CJ is a co-owner of Sports 1 Elite and one of the trainers who has furthered its success.

Along the Kanawha River in Fayette County sits the quiet suburb of Adena Village. A place not known to allure an outsider’s interest for detour off Route 61. Only homes and apartments can be found amongst its streets as businesses continue to depart the bustling mining areas of old. A bit of lingering sadness in the minds of those that remain. Senses blessed still by the overwhelming beauty of the surroundings. The true, lone attraction for many, residents and deserters. That was, until earlier this year.

In January, a fading building near the train tracks was rented out. Concrete walls with hollow meaning. A place being left to the fate of inevitable nature. Destiny altered from becoming one more forgotten building of a former time. How could a change come so quickly? From desolation to hope? Those answers lie up the waters of Armstrong Creek, the holler meeting the village.

It was there during the 1980s and ‘90s that athletes were being bred by their own efforts. Weight rooms, gyms, trainers, and all were found non-existent to accessibility. Kids left to backyards and half done concrete courts to measure up and expand their skills. At a young age, it was apparent that there were two types of athletes to be found. Those blessed with natural abilities and those without.

On a field off the main road, I found myself in the face of one of these blessed athletes. It was during another sweaty afternoon of tackle football with the neighborhood kids. There I was near the sidelines standing in front of what could only be described as an incoming train. With my team blocked off by opposing players, I was the last line of defense. I had a choice. Either I could hit him head on or attempt to force him out of bounds. Being the latter of the two types of athletes and from the smile on the face closing in, I quickly decided that a shove was in my best interests. With all my meager strength I tried, but the train never even left his planned course. Straight on into the end zone for another touchdown of many while I stood in embarrassment to be chewed out by my teammates. A reason I normally found myself watching from the sidelines when participants arrived in odd numbers.

We were the youngest two kids in the area playing sports during those times. That’s pretty much where any comparison ended. Nate Wright was a sensation to witness even at a grade school age. Regardless of being one of the youngest with me, he consistently put the older kids to shame. His legend grew from that day in the holler on to organized sports while I never attempted trying out for anything until 8th grade. Saved from being cut by the generosity of Joe McCoy’s decision to keep 20 basketball players on his team, I continued my sideline standing from the holler to bench riding in the gyms.

Nate shined on every kind of field he touched whether it was baseball, basketball, or football. I went on just trying to find success of some kind on the basketball court. No matter how much I practiced, I couldn’t get ahead on my own. It wasn’t until during our high school years that this finally changed. In a small building by Valley High, I went under the tutelage of John “Coach” McGinnis. The majority was a focus on strength training but he put extra effort in helping me develop in other areas as well. It was there that I took my dreams. It was Coach McGinnis who began bringing them closer. I had a long way to go but he laid the groundwork for my success. The lessons I learned in that room were what carried me to Washington, DC, throughout the U.S., and on to Brazil.

• • •

Nate continued inspiring me from time to time as we got older. One thing he probably doesn’t know about was when he convinced me to join the high school football team in 2000. The coach, Benny Hopkins, had been requesting me to try out for the team while I was around the weight room the summer prior. McGinnis had molded me that much already. Something that speaks volumes of his training aptitude if you saw me before that first summer session. I kindly refused Hopkins each time though.

Eventually the first game of the season came around with Valley playing our rivals up the river. One of my friends drove me there to watch. For anyone who never saw Nate play football in person, the best way to explain it precisely was poetry in motion. All night I watched him accelerate up and down the field, weaving and dancing. At one point during that night, a rival’s defender found himself alone on the sidelines and decided he was going to hit the train head on. No more than 20 feet away from where I was, I witnessed what happened when you did so. With a crunching thud, helmet and shoulder pads went flying back and the train kept chugging.

The following Monday, I showed up at Coach Hopkins’ office ready to join football for the first time in my life. After a short talk, he explained how I had to have so many practices in before I could suit up and requested I focus on the basketball season instead. On the way out, he mentioned he wished I had agreed to join in the beginning and he was curious as to what changed my mind. I simply told him: I watched the game and saw Nate play.

During some point after a storied football career that spanned the nation, Nate came home and began giving back to the community that we grew up in. I watched from a distance through the windows of social media. By January of 2021, a larger training area was found and Sports 1 Elite had a home. It was then that I let him know how proud of him I was and still do. He’s doing something he loves but I’m not sure he yet understands the impact in lives that he’s going to make. For the kids that grow up like me, he’s giving them an early start to grip the world a little tighter. A place to carry their dreams on further.

These miles of the river valley haven’t produced many pro athletes but it’s given a few legends to the sports world. East Bank produced Jerry West. DuPont grew Randy Moss and Jason Williams. Further up from that part of the river where Armstrong Creek flows, there hasn’t been someone of this caliber yet, but if any place has the potential to make it happen, it’s going to be in Adena Village. The wisdom and passion for teaching is already there waiting and providing. The students just need to come forth.

Anyone with a growing athlete or even a child somewhat interested in sports, find your way off Route 61 to that once desolate building. Tell your child to bring whatever dreams they may have. No matter how big they are, those walls will hold them all. In this house of dreams, Nate and his staff will begin forging them into reality.

• • •

Sports 1 Elite is located at 593 Adena Drive, Mount Carbon, WV 25139. It houses a 12,000+ square foot indoor turf facility that offers football, soccer, baseball, and softball coaching at a high level for all ages. Speed and agility classes are available which benefit all sports. They can be reached at sports1elite@yahoo.com. They can also be found on Facebook and Instagram.

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