The senior twin brothers have no place they’d rather be.

“I’m addicted to it,” James said. “A lot of people dread track practice but for me it’s the best part of my day.”

James and Mark are pole vaulters for the Tiger track team and are the main reason Aztec is one of the deepest schools in the state in the event this year.

James posted the highest jump in the state this year at 14-feet six-inches and Mark edged out his brother to earn the bronze medal in the event at last year’s state championship meet.

“When you’re in the air and everybody’s looking up at you,” James said, “it’s just like, Wow.'”

The Ritters got hooked on the pole vault years before they started competing.

Their older sister was on the track team and as elementary school students the brothers spent Saturdays watching the high school students pole vault.

“I thought they were jumping 20-feet in the air,” James said.

When they were old enough to join the middle school track team, the Ritters headed straight for the poles.

For the first few years, the vaults weren’t memorable.

“They were sketchy, but it was the funniest thing,” Mark said. “You learn to fall … it comes with it when you’re trying bigger poles.”

When track athletes propel themselves high into the air with a long pole, they have to Pole vaulting “is something not everybody can do,” Aztec coach Steve Lanier said. “It requires a lot of courage and a little lack of common sense.”

After several years of pole vaulting, the Ritters started to make big improvements in the event their sophomore year after attending competitive camps to specialize in the pole vault.

Pole vaulting is a fast-moving event where tiny adjustments are often made to the approach, launch, follow through and equipment as the athletes try to go higher.

After making the micro-adjustments to their own jumps on their own time, the Ritters became pseudo pole-vaulting coaches for the rest of the Aztec and Koogler Middle School track teams, Lanier said.

“We’re just helping them with their running and the takeoffs so they have a base to go off of,” Mark said. “The best way to learn is by coaching.”

The Aztec track team is reaping the benefits.

In addition to the Ritters, senior Josh Martinez and sophomore Greg Passarelli already qualified for the state meet in the pole vault. The Tigers hope Brandon Hall qualifies for the event at Aztec’s track meet today.

The Ritters have one goal left for the final athletic season — jump as high as possible.

Neither one has set a specific height goal.

“I’m never satisfied with a height,” James, who is the school-record holder, said. “I just want to go as high as I possibly can, that’s my goal.”

Several college track coaches have expressed interest in bringing on one or both of the Ritters to compete at the next level, Lanier said. The brothers haven’t finalized any post-graduation plans.

“I think they were a great influence (on the rest of the team),” Lanier said. “When guys are down they say We’ve lived through it.’ They’re a good influence all the way down to the second-grade level.”

By Ryan Boetel

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