Wichita State junior pitcher Clayton McGinness (far left) spends some time with his Young Life high school group at a summer camp. Photo Courtesy of Clayton McGinness.
Once practice ends for Wichita State, many of the players drive home to wind down for the day.
Junior pitcher Clayton McGinness has a similar routine, but he is driving in the opposite direction.
When McGinness is not throwing strikes on the mound, he travels to Andover, a small town 12 miles away from Wichita, to meet with high school students.
While managing a schedule of classes, practices and games the last three years, McGinness has also served as a leader in Young Life, a youth group that reaches out to students from around the world.
“Division 1 athletes have a very limited amount of free time,” Wichita Young Life metro director Matt Shepherd said. “When most division 1 athletes are given that limited amount of free time, they need to sleep or they want to be selfish with it.
“Friday nights and Saturday nights, Clayton doesn’t go to the bars. He goes to a high school game. How does Clayton do it? I think he chooses to be selfless instead of selfish with his time.”
McGinness first got involved with Young Life while attending Savannah High School in Missouri. A girl he was dating during his junior year had invited him to the youth group and McGinness discovered that he wanted to devote his life to Christianity.
After finishing out his senior year as a Young Life leader, McGinness stepped foot on Wichita State’s campus wearing his Young Life backpack. Current teammate Josh DeBacker spotted the backpack, seeing “an absolute perfect opportunity” to connect with McGinness.
DeBacker also served as a Young Life leader at Andover during that time. He encouraged McGinness to join him as a leader, saying that some former WSU players got involved with it and it turned out to be a life-changing experience. McGinness immediately connected with former player and Young Life leader Andy Womack and decided that he wanted to make an impact by serving as a leader once again.
“It just seemed like a great fit,” McGinness said. “I loved the atmosphere and the leaders that were around me and I just loved being around the kids. It was easy to go right into it and take over as a (Young Life) leader.”
As a student-leader, McGinness spends time in Andover talking to high school students during their lunch period, with the conversations being anything life related. The Amazonia, Missouri native builds relationships with the students, typically high school junior boys, and serves as a mentor for the kids that need someone to talk to or need a friend.
Being a full-time student and a pitcher for a ranked college baseball team can present some exhaustion and stress for McGinness. There are some days, he said, where it might be easy to say “no” to one of his group members’ requests to be at their event or help them with homework.
McGinness’ passion to be in an influence in the kids’ lives, however, overtakes the exhaustion he is feeling in his own life.
Photo courtesy by Clayton McGinness
“It’s a desire to want to be around the kids,” McGinness said. “Yes, it’d be easy to say, ‘Hey I’m busy today. Hey I can’t do it,’ or ‘I’m tired or I have homework.’ I just love being with the kids, love spending time with the kids and anytime you’re around them I feel like you have an inspiration in their life.”
McGinness said that making an impact on the students’ lives was something he valued, striving to be a positive influence. McGinness did exactly that just a few weeks into starting his leadership position. His students approached McGinness to tell him that they appreciated what he was doing.
From what DeBacker sees, the more McGinness has been engaged with his students the better understanding and perspective that he has for his own life.
“I think it’s been an extremely good thing for him,” DeBacker said. “There’s a huge difference between doing (youth group) and leading it. I think he’s grown in every aspect. It’s just been really cool to see him grow closer to kids and really impact them. It’s been a tremendous thing (to watch).”
As a veteran of a seasoned Wichita State team, McGinness has been a leader to the Shockers’ bullpen this season. McGinness’ leadership to help the younger pitchers adjust to college baseball has given Wichita State’s bullpen a major lift, with two of the freshman pitchers having an ERA of under 3.00 and collectively obtaining 76 strikeouts.
Improving from an 8.49 ERA in 2017 to a 5.30 ERA this season, McGinness has struck out 22 opposing batters in 18 2/3 innings pitched. McGinness’ effort in relief has helped the Shockers obtain crucial wins over teams like Nebraska, Creighton, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and East Carolina.
Head coach Todd Butler said that it is not his numbers that influences the team. It’s his work ethic.
“Clayton McGinness…I think he’s really good,” Butler said. “His numbers do not reflect the pitcher he has been…he has good stuff, he has a very good breaking ball. We definitely need him to have confidence going out for us. His work ethic has been unwavering for three years. He has a chance to be (an MLB) draft pick, like many of our juniors on this team.”