CHARLO — The Charlo track program has been one for other schools in the state to reckon with for years.

A strong junior high program and good coaches are part of that formula for success, which culminated May 26 with a third-straight state title for the boys team. The girls had a strong showing too, taking fifth overall.

Part of the winning combination is pole vault coach Jim Petersen, who has coached a vaulter to a medal each of his seven years coaching at Charlo. Two-time vault champion senior Webb O’Neill won this year’s state event, edging out teammate, and Petersen’s son, Jacen Petersen. Vaulter Jordan Ludeman also placed at state, taking fifth for Class C girls.

Petersen had to learn how to pole vault himself when he began coaching 34 years ago.

Scobey High’s head coach asked if he knew anything about it, and Petersen, who was a hurdler and javelin thrower in college, said no.

“And he said, ‘Good, it’s yours.’” Petersen said, laughing.

Petersen, who’s also a teacher at Charlo, said coaching is just another facet of teaching and seeing kids progress is why he enjoys coaching.

“And that’s what you hope for all your kids is that they get progressively better.”

Each athlete he coached this year did just that, he said.

“They’ll have their bad days just like anybody does, but they get their chance to grow, and we’ve been so lucky to have kids that are willing to learn. And that’s exactly what you ask for.”

Pole vaulting sets athletes up for future successes, said Petersen, who coached two high schoolers who went on to be national champions. And O’Neill, who broke Charlo’s school record this season, plans to attend Montana State University Billings on a scholarship for pole vaulting.

Petersen, who also coaches long and triple jump, credited the school’s willingness to support the track program with proper equipment and the other coaches who he works with as ingredients in his success.

“It’s not just me, I work with guys who are phenomenal in their own rights,” he said.

Head coach Bret Thompson, who has been at the program’s helm for 26 of the 27 years he’s coached track at Charlo, said Petersen and fellow assistant coaches Mike Krahn and Jared Miller are a critical part of the program’s success.

The program has seen three first-place titles, one second-place trophy and two third-place finishes at state since he’s been involved with the program, Thompson said. As recently as five years ago, Charlo dominated in throwing events, and in the past six years, hurdlers have finished at least in second in the high hurdles, Thompson said.

Kids are willing to put in the time for success, and so are coaches, he said.

“It’s a pretty good combination we have going,” he said, adding he appreciates Petersen’s positive attitude.

“A big thing, he’s always positive. Around the kids, he’s always the one who seems pretty positive.”

Petersen’s positive attitude is appreciated by Ludeman, the vaulter who placed fifth this year at state. She’s been vaulting since her freshman year and said she loves it.

Petersen’s criticisms don’t feel like criticisms, she said.

“He’s just there to help me and support me,” the rising senior said.

“He’s really fun. I love him to death,” she added.

Petersen himself said joy in coaching a key element in his success.

“The success comes from enjoyment of coaching the athlete and feeling their success — feeling their failures as much as their success,” he said.

“Every time they pole vault, every time they run, they take a piece of you with them and you want them to do their best and every coach can say that for anything.”

Petersen said he feels that way about his former athletes’ successes and hardships once they’re out of high school, too, and said a former vaulter called him one more morning to tell him he was performing his first open-heart surgery that day.

“They take a piece of you wherever they go as you take a piece of them wherever you go.”


O’Neill  Vaulter Magazine
O’Neill Vaulter Magazine

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