There is a Texas Longhorn visiting Port St. Joe over the holidays.
No need to worry about getting gored, though, since Kayla Parker is also a Tiger Shark, having graduated from Port St. Joe Jr/Sr High School in 2010 after being named the Florida Gatorade Player of the Year for her stunning career in track and field.
Director of Operations for the University of Texas cross country and track teams, Parker is visiting her family over the Christmas holidays before returning to Austin for the Winter/Spring semester.
Daughter of St. Joe girls basketball and track coach Kenny Parker, Kayla attended the University of Kentucky after high school, earning second-team All-American awards in the 100m hurdles in 2013 and 2014.
As a Wildcat senior in 2014, Parker won an SEC silver medal in the 4×100 relay and an SEC bronze medal in the 60m hurdles.
After graduating in 2014, she joined the Wildcat staff before becoming a full-time employee as director of operations for cross country and track in 2015.
On Tuesday, December 20, Parker met with the Star for an interview.
Star: What are your duties as the Director of Operations?
Parker: “I oversee travel, our team budget, (and) just help keep the team together. So whatever we need day-to-day, I take care of that.”
“We (also) plan events, but overall it’s just making sure that the coaches and student-athletes have what they need, (and) serve as the liaison between the administration, our staff, and (both men’s and women’s) teams.”
Star: Are you involved in any recruiting?
Parker: “I do not recruit until the student-athletes come on campus for an official visit. At that time, we do have contact, but I do not recruit off-campus.”
Star: When did you take the job at UT?
Parker: “I started in July, 2018 (after leaving Kentucky). When Coach Flo (Edrick Floreal) took the position at Texas, I went with him.”
Star: Why did you choose to go to the University of Kentucky after high school?
Parker: “When I chose to go to Kentucky, they didn’t really have (a winning history). I wanted to build my own path, and I knew it would be an amazing experience. The team atmosphere was like a family, and everyone was always together.”
“Choosing to be a Wildcat was a great decision, (although) the first two years were pretty tough for me, and I didn’t perform the way that I wanted to, or how I felt like I could.”
But then, “Coach Flo took over in 2012, the start of my junior year, and I could tell the change. We went from being last in the conference to being known as ‘Hurdle U.’ He’s a hurdle guru, and that’s what we left Kentucky as.”
“We walked away with two trophies, (and) that’s exactly what I wanted – to help start something and be a part of a trend. I’m super appreciative that I was able to be there at the bottom and help build it up.”
“Now we’re doing the same thing at (the University of) Texas.”
Star: What events did you run while at Kentucky?
Parker: “I ran the 100m hurdles, the long jump, and my first two years I did the heptathlon and pentathlon. But they weren’t for me, (so) once I focused on the short hurdles – 100m outdoor and 60m indoor – I excelled, and made it to both indoor and outdoor nationals. I also ran sprint relays (4×100).”
Star: Let’s go back to your high school years. Who were your track coaches?
Parker: “My dad (Kenny Parker), and Keion McNair.”
Star: What was it like having your dad as your coach in both basketball and track?
Parker: It was fun, but intense. He knows what I’m capable of, so he wasn’t necessarily harder on me (than anyone else). He was hard on all of us, (because) he expected greatness, and that helped me in college and it helps me now. I really appreciated that (about him), and I enjoyed having him as my coach.”
Star: You obviously have a high work ethic. How did high school sports help you form that?
Parker: “In high school, all of my teammates ran cross country, then played basketball and went right to track afterwards. So I feel like continuously staying busy, working hard, and not focusing on one sport but being able to do different things helped me ‘fight to the finish’ in all the sports. Keeping busy helped me improve my work ethic, focusing on the task at hand.”
Star: Coach Floreal was your coach at Kentucky, then your employer there and now at Texas. Talk about him.
Parker: “Coach Flo is a very detail-oriented coach, the same as my dad. He works hard, and he’s going to put in the hours so that if you are dedicated to your craft, he’s going to make sure you are able to excel.”
“Whether it’s athletics or academics, he’s going to make sure that you have all the resources that you need to get those things done. And that’s the same way he is as a boss.”
Star: What has been the most fun and/or the most interesting part of your job since becoming a Longhorn?
Parker: “The most fun thing would be winning our first-ever men’s track and field national championship this year (2022), the indoor championship.”
“I have been a Longhorn for almost five years now, and I have 12 championship rings. Winning is fun, and another exciting part (for me) is designing the rings and thinking about the detail that goes into them.”
“Make sure that you show Keion (McNair) that I have more rings than him (14), counting the two from high school. We always talk about that.”
[When the Star sent that information to McNair, he responded that he “only counted my high school rings and not my college rings.” McNair also wanted to remind Parker that he helped her get those two high school rings.]
Parker continued that “being able to win a national championship has been the most rewarding part of my job. Winning is an experience like no other, and just to see the kids excel (after) planning the events for them and helping them become part of the family are the parts (of my job) that are the most exciting.”
Star: What is the outlook for Texas track and field in the upcoming season?
Parker: It’s going to be a great program, and have really good men’s and women’s teams. We have (next year’s) outdoor track and field national championship at Texas, and hopefully we can come away with two wins at our home facility.”
“I look forward to that.”