BLAIRSVILLE — Best athlete at the recent American Legion state baseball tournament in Plymouth?
Perhaps a spectator.
Leverkusen, Germany, resident Jonas Efferoth, a North Posey High School exchange student the first half of the 2009-10 school year, attended Princeton’s three state tournament games along with Cindy and Joe Stolz, parents of Post 25 infielder and pitcher Tyler Stolz, starting his high school senior year at age 17.
The rural Posey County family, including oldest son and current University of Southern Indiana student Zach Stolz, began serving as an exchange student host family the 2007-2008 school year.
Returning to visit, Efferoth arrived July 31, along with girlfriend and former Leverkusen coed Olivia Bodnar. They’re staying until Sept. 2, shortly before college classes start in Cologne, Germany.
He’ll also resume practicing the pole vault, an event in which he has cleared 17 feet 5 1/2 inches and will contend to represent Germany in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
“When you’re talking with Jonas you’re talking with my son. All the students we’ve hosted are family and they’ve all come back to visit,” said Cindy Morris Stolz, Wood Memorial softball player in the Class of 1984 and the daughter of former Minnesota Twins and Evansville Triplets pitcher Danny Morris.
“Cindy is mom to me,” said Efferoth.
“When Jonas left after his term as an exchange student, I cried myself silly,” said Cindy Stolz, whose husband Joe works in Mount Vernon as an electrician.
“Linda Fetcher, who is in charge of the Posey County chapter of AYA (Academics Year in America), was looking for a host family a few years ago. I volunteered. It’s just a different culture, and more kids in the house.”
Lucas Leite of Brazil became the Stolz’ first exchange student resident the 2007-08 academic year, when now 22-year-old Zach was a North Posey senior. Felipe Netto, from Leite’s Brazil high school, followed in fall 2008. Florian Efferoth, cousin of Jonas, became the guest the 2010-11 school year. Earlier, Jonas’ brother Vincent stayed with another Posey County family.
Unlike in the United States, sports are played in clubs, not in schools.
“I got into a sports club when I was 6 months-old. I followed Vincent — now he’s 21 — into the club,” said Jonas, a 19-year-old with a 6-foot-4 3/4 frame.
“Mom said there was no way to get me to bed early if I weren’t in sports.
“At 6, I went into gymnastics at the club. I wasn’t very good at gymnastics because I’d grown so fast, but the program helped me. You learn body control and how to do things like flips.”
A chance happening sent Jonas into vaulting.
“Bayer Aspirin, which sponsors our club, cut the gymnastics program,” he said.
“The gym coach said I should go into athletics. I went to one practice and told that coach that I’d been going gymnastics.
“He sent me to the pole vault. I was about 11. I started practicing once a week. Other times I did general athletics.
“At 16, you specialize in what you’ve found out you can do. Until then I did everything. I did the decathlon, but didn’t like it. So I started practicing vaulting Monday through Friday and knew it was my thing.”
Unable to enter international competition at 16 because “my coach said I was too young,” Jonas became an exchange student. “My last three weeks here I worked with Marty Rogier, a pole vaulting coach in Evansville. This was after playing soccer, and scoring 13 or 14 goals as a striker, at North Posey, where our team lost to Gibson Southern in overtime in the Princeton Sectional championship match.
“I vaulted 16-2 3/4, and Marty Rogier said it would have been the state record.”
Jonas’ 17-5 1/2 vault won the European Championships in Tallen, Estonia, in 2011, before he had to take a break from his avocation.
“In Germany we have 13 years of school, and the last four tests you write constitute 50 percent of your graduation grade. I spent a lot of time studying.”
By then he was a veteran in international competition. He placed eighth in a 2010 competition in Moscow, Russia, to advance to the August 2010 Youth Olympic Games in Singapore, where he placed third.
“We watched that online,” said Cindy Stolz.
“A good experience,” said vaulter. “Athletes from a lot of countries, including the United States, were there. Meeting all the people was a lot of fun.
“After the Youth Olympics, my feeling to get to the real Olympics are real strong.
“One qualifier in Germany is making 18-9. Within four years, I should be at that height. This year I planned to jump a foot higher than my best, but I didn’t get to it. At the Under-20 World Championships in Barcelona, Spain, in July, I did 17-0 3/4.
“My goal for next year is 18-0 1/2.”
Keeping close tabs on his sport, Jonas knows that the world record is 20-2 by Sergey Bubba of Ukraine; that Renaud Lavillenie of France became this year’s Olympic champion by clearing 19-7; and that Germans won the silver and bronze medals. Bjorn Otto and Raphael Holzdeppe each cleared 19-4 2/3, Otto winning silver on the basis of fewer misses.
“Germany can take three vaulters to the Olympics,” Jonas said.
“You must be in the top three at the Germany Championships and you must clear 18-9 at least once that season. After our national championships, it’s a decision of German Athletics whether you go to the Olympics.
“Bjorn Otto is 34 and is planning to end his career after this season. Raphael Holzdeppe is 23 and he holds the under-20 world record.
“If I don’t get injured, I’d say my chances are good. But in competition for the Olympics, everything can happen.”
Upon returning home, Jonas will start process technology studies as an engineering major at FH Cologne. But vaulting thoughts won’t go away.
“My goal is to go to the Olympics and win a medal,” he said. And:
“Everyone dreams of a world record.”
by: Pete Swanson