Jason Kelley arrived at The College of Wooster in 1989 “not quite sure of what to expect,” and quickly learned that “college athletics was going to be more intense than (he) had thought.” Kelley’s first training run marked the start of an “incredible journey,” and thanks to strong perseverance and trust in longtime head coach Dennis Rice’s training process, was always ready to perform on the biggest stages.
“Because of Coach Rice’s expertise, I was able to reach my potential,” recalled Kelley. “He always had a meticulous training plan set for me and had me ready to compete at the highest level. He pushed me and was always able to get the best out of me.”
Kelley quickly became Wooster’s No. 1 harrier as a rookie and thanks to a “great mix of youth, talent, and upperclassmen leadership,” the Scots placed three runners in the top 10 at the North Coast Athletic Conference Championships, and held off Denison University for the program’s third conference crown. At the NCAA Div. III Great Lakes Regional, Kelley exploded onto the scene with a 10th-place time of 25:20, and missed out on qualifying for nationals by five seconds.
“I remember sitting alone in the back of the team van trying to comprehend just how close I had come to making nationals,” said Kelley. “Coach Rice opened the door, looked at me, and said, ‘Kelley, you and I are going to do great things.’” That marked the start of something special.
Fast forward a year, and Kelley was standing at the top of the podium at the NCAC Championships after delivering the winning time of 26:30, and at the time, the blue-ribbon effort marked the fifth for the Scots’ program in the then-seven-year history of the conference. Kelley’s special season continued all the way to the Div. III Championships, where the sophomore placed 78th in the 178-competitor field at 26:19. A sixth-place showing at the Div. III Great Lakes Regional (27:27) punched Kelley’s ticket to the national meet.
The following year, Kelley repeated as the NCAC cross country champion with a 26:11, and to this day, no Wooster men’s harrier has climbed to the top spot on the podium. In winning, Kelley joined fellow Hall-of-Famer Todd Fach as the lone cross country student-athletes in program history to win the NCAC Championship multiple times, and only four other student-athletes across the league can lay claim to that feat.
“Mentally, Jason was one of the toughest competitors in the history of the program,” said Rice. “He earned great respect from his teammates through his hard work and commitment to achieve team and individual success. His hard work paid off in winning back-to-back conference titles to go along with qualifying for the national championships. Kelley also set the standards for training and competitiveness for future Fighting Scots distance runners.”
Kelley’s best showing on the national scene came his junior year with a runner-up time of 25:42 at the Great Lakes Regional, and the distance star improved eight places at the Div. III Championships, where he crossed at 25:52.
An injury held Kelley out of action as a senior on the cross country course, and a combination of injuries, an illness, and a semester abroad led to a limited impact when it came to track and field. He did deliver a memorable final race, winning the outdoor 1,500 meters (4:00.73) as a senior at the NCAC Championships.
“I truly believe if the injuries didn’t occur, especially his senior year, Jason would have won his third straight conference title in cross country and would have went on to achieve All-American status,” shared Rice.
Kelley earned two other all-conference certificates on the track, both of which came at the 1991 NCAC Championships thanks to a second-place time in the three-mile race (15:21.4) and a third-place clip in the mile (4:28.9).
The combination of competing at a high level athletically while earning a top-notch liberal arts education drew Kelley to the College. He double majored in geology and Spanish.
After graduation, Kelley spent a year in the AmeriCorps before working for a nonprofit literacy organization. More recently, Kelley’s settled in Seattle, Wash., earned his J.D. from Seattle University, and is currently a law clerk with a focus on research, writing, and case development.
Personally, Kelley is married to Dana Viernes, and the couple has three children, Adriana (9), and twins Amelia and Anneliese (4).