There's More to Pole Vaulting than Meets the Eye
By CHRISTY JOHNSON
Wooster Daily Record Sports Writer
May 1 - It is one of the most entertaining
events to watch in track and field, one of the most difficult to perfect and
near impossible to explain.
The pole vault has appealed to area athletes who are brave enough to conquer
the daunting task of flying over a raised bar with the aid of a fiberglass
pole. In competition, the vaulters are given three chances to clear a
specific height. The bar is raised gradually until there is a winner.
"You have to be crazy to run down a runway with a stick in your hands, put
that stick in a hole, fly over a bar and land on a pad," said Orrville
senior Eric Bowers.
"It isn't something that any athlete can do," said fellow Orrville senior
Elle Vierheller. "Technique is so important, and it takes a lot of time in
practice, you can't go out there and wing it. You have to know what you're
Pole vaulting has been a boys event in the OHSAA since 1908, then in 2002
the girls joined the party.
In fact, many area coaches believe opening the event to girls actually saved
high school pole vault in Ohio.
"When the girls got involved, not only did it renew interest in the sport,
but now when a school invests money into buying a pole, which is very
expensive, it isn't doing it just for a boys event," Norwayne PV coach Dave
Mackey said. "It is hard to imagine a meet without it now, because Alexus
(Mackey) is my only child and she vaults and enjoys it so much. We have a
bond that comes with it."
A rich tradition
So far this year there are five area boys who have cleared 13-feet, while
eight girls are over the 9-6 mark.
"Throughout the season we compete against good competition who push us, so
we are prepared for the postseason," said Orrville sophomore Alexa Jarrett.
"Even with districts, you had to go at least 10-feet to get past districts,
which can be frustrating at times," said Norwayne senior Sam Besancon, "but
it makes you work even harder."
Currently, The Daily Record area boys PV record is held by Orrville graduate
Shelton Riffle, whose 16-foot vault has stood the test of time since he
cleared the bar in 1994. Riffle was also the Div. II state champion in 1993
The girls record is an 11-8 effort held by Dalton grad Chelsey Detwiler, set
in 2008. Detwiler took second place at the Div. III state meet that year,
and also took home a
silver medal in 2007.
"We have always had a strong tradition in Wayne County and Northeast Ohio in
general," Mackey said. "There have been a lot good vaulters who have come
from this area."
Beyond the basics
"It is one of the toughest sports to coach, because of all the things we ask
our athletes to do," said Orrville PV coach Jim Clymer. "There are so many
different elements that are tied in to be successful."
Vaulters have to try and perfect a consistent stride down the runway and
have a takeoff where their foot is always leaving the ground at the same
Then there's the plant, where the vaulters fully extends their body so they
are in a position to use the amount of kinetic energy (the energy of motion)
from the run and convert into energy needed to overcome gravity and,
therefore, get a maximum vertical. Angles are also involved in the takeoff,
as the athlete's body must be driving chest forward into the plant.
Once an athlete is vertical, they have to get their legs and hips over the
bar before falling onto the padded mat below, and they only have about a 1.5
seconds to do all that.
And that explanation is just skimming the surface.
"There are a multitude of other things that happen from the point of takeoff
to the point of clearing the bar, which has to be done in a split second,"
Mackey said. "It isn't like you have time to think, 'Now I have to do this,
now I have to do that.' You have to be mentally prepared when you take off
and know that this is what you are doing as soon as you leave the ground."
"The pole vault is all about physics," Smithville PV coach Don Dravenstott
said. "It is a complicated event, there is nothing easy about it."
All OHSAA-affiliated schools who sponsor the pole vault are required to have
at least one coach with a special training certification in the event.
"You have to have a special mentality to be a pole vaulter," said Dalton
pole vault coach Tim Spires. "It is all in who the kid is and their
attitude. They have to want to do it. What we do as coaches is make it safe
for the kids when they decide they want to do it."
"There is a risk involved in any sport," Dravenstott said. "When the pole
vault is done properly, that risk greatly diminishes."
Athletes have to be aware of the risks and must be willing to follow their
coach's advice to a T.
"You are going 10-feet in the air, which is a pretty long fall, so if you
don't do it right, it's going to hurt," Besancon said. "Safety is always
Many coaches take online courses or attend seminars to gain or renew
certification. Others go above and beyond, attending training camps and
classes to further extend their knowledge.
"The one goal that I have is to send kids home to mom and dad every night
safe," Dravenstott said, "Not that they can't do silly things like roll an
ankle, because accidents do happen, but my goal is to get them home safe."
All about the pole
Of course, there would be no pole vault without the pole, a fiberglass stick
with just enough give to allow some bend -- but not too much -- without
A pole costs $300 on average, Dravenstott said, with some of the longer ones
costing upwards of $600.
"It is extremely important to have the right pole because your body and pole
work together as a machine," Dravenstott said. "The longer the lever and
straighter the lever the more energy you create."
"As an athlete gets better and starts improving, they are going to need the
next heavier pole," Dravenstott continued. "You can have kids move through
five or six poles in one meet based on what is happening and what they are
A family affair
Last spring when Orrville graduate Aaric Milligan's poles caught on fire in
an RV blaze en route to the state meet, dozens of coaches and athletes came
through with even more fiberglass than the Rider had to begin with.
Milligan, who cleared a personal best 14-9 en route to a Div. II fifth-place
finish, said he was relieved that so many people responded to what he
deemed, "the most ridiculous sports story I will ever get to tell."
That is just one example of how close-knit the pole vaulting community is.
Many of the athletes have trained together year-round.
"At meets, it isn't just one coach helping you," said Smithville senior Rafe
Eggeman. "You have multiple coaches coming up to you with tips and advice,
and you know they all know what they are talking about."
"I love the closeness of the sport," Besancon said. "We jump indoors
together and have really gotten to know each other. It is competitive, but
we're all friends, so it is nice to have that friendly competition."
Christy Johnson can be reached at 330-287-1624 or
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