Collegiate pole vaulters add star power to Aurora festival event

AURORA — Seven-year-old Trenten Stevens competed in Friday night’s Street Vault in Aurora because of a friendship he has made with University of Nebraska pole vaulter Beau Simmons.

Stevens was encouraged to give pole vaulting a try by Simmons, who graduated from Aurora High School in 2011. Stevens has looked up to Simmons since the Aurora athlete gave him a wristband after a football game in Simmons’ junior year of high school. Ever since then, they’ve kept in touch, with Simmons serving as something of a mentor.

A year ago, Stevens wore sunglasses while he vaulted, but that didn’t work so well. As he tried to ascend into the sky Friday night, he was attired in a black cape with a bandana around his head.

He wore the cape because he thinks pole vaulters “look like superheroes,” said his mother, Tiffany Stevens. This year, he cleared 4 feet 6 inches, which was 6 inches better than last year.

Husker coaches might want to keep an eye on Stevens, who will enter the second grade this fall.

Stevens, though, was not the youngest of the 25 vaulters who took part in the Street Vault.

That distinction belonged to Eastyn Esslinger. He is the 3-year-old son of Phil Esslinger, one of the leaders of Aurora’s Sky High Vault Club.

Eastyn Esslinger is very interested in pole vaulting, the result of tagging along with his father to track practice and meets. Phil Esslinger is a volunteer coach with the Aurora middle school-age track team.

Like the other adults involved in the Sky High Vault Club, Phil Esslinger likes to see people get involved in vaulting at a young age.

“If you get them started early, then they catch on to it later,” he said.

Experts say it takes seven years for a young person to really get a handle on pole vaulting, Esslinger said.

The Street Vault is part of A’ror’n Days, which runs through Sunday. The oldest youngsters allowed to take part are going into the ninth grade.

The vaulting competition started in Aurora in 2007 and returned in 2011, continuing each year since then. But this is the first year the competition for young people took place on a Friday night.

In the past, the entire Street Vault, including high school and college vaulters, took place on the Saturday of A’ror’n Days. But the day went on too long, so the young vaulting event was moved to Friday night.

Holding the event Friday was “working out great,” said John Pursley, the pole vault coach for Aurora’s middle school athletes.

Having the vault competition take place in the shade of the Hamilton County courthouse made for a beautiful atmosphere. A good crowd of people, seated in bleachers, watched the young people head down the runway, poles in hand, and try to head skyward. Some of the very young vaulters needed help from Jeff Wilson, one of the Sky High Vault Club coaches.

Simmons, 22, was one of five Husker pole vaulters on hand at the Street Vault. Another Husker was Tess Merrill, a 2012 graduate of Grand Island Northwest. The college athletes seated at a table, signing autographs, also included 2012 Aurora High School graduate A.J. Farrand, who vaults at Nebraska Wesleyan.

The Street Vault is put on for the young people.

“It’s just a blast for the kids,” Pursley said. It “gives them something to do.”

For Saturday, the organizers hope to have the college vaulters competing just as the parade is going by the courthouse. Entrants line up for the parade at 10:30 a.m., with judging beginning at 11.

Members of the Sky High Vault Club practice Wednesday evenings during the summer. A main goal of the club is to keep young people involved in pole vaulting year-round. “We love the sport,” said Wilson, who coaches at Giltner and Aurora. Also involved in the club is Chad Carlson, Aurora High School’s head pole vault coach.

Kiya Fort, 13, competed Friday night “because I think pole vaulting is fun,” she said. She’s going into eighth grade at Aurora Middle School. Two other competitors were brothers Wyatt and Morgan Collingham of Beaver Crossing. Wyatt is 12 and Morgan is 9.

The competitor who traveled the greatest distance was Corey Grantham, 14, of Woodbine, Ga. A nephew of Tiffany Stevens, he’s spending several weeks in Nebraska.

The pole vaulters Friday night also came from Henderson, Centura, Boelus, Cairo, Fullerton, Giltner and Kansas.


Miranda Wieczorek

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