In the 9 years since Clovis East High School, in Clovis, CA, had its first graduating class, the pole vaulting team has produced some talented vaulters; including both alumni and current team members.
The top ten male vaulters are: male School Record Holder and Central Section Champion Michael Peterson- 16’/2009 (currently competing at UC Davis), two-time Central Section Champion Andrew Pancotti- 15’-6”/2006 (Fresno State-WAC Champion 2007), Brad Beekman- 15’-4”/2012 (senior at Clovis East), Louie Pancotti- 15’-1”/2012 (senior at Clovis East), Jacob Ruiz- 15’-1”/2012 (Arizona State-for diving), Central Section Champion Jacob Mersino- 15’/2007 (Air Force Academy), Ryan Vasquez- 15’/2010, Cody Liles- 15’/2010, Lyle Quillen- 14’-9”/2007 (Fresno State) and Aaron Bagato- 14’-4”/2009.
The top female vaulters are: female School Record Holder Casey Campos- 12’-1”/2012 (junior at Clovis East), Jenny Dutton- 11’-9”/2010 (UCLA…did not compete), Andrea Mersino- 10’-9”/2011 (Golf scholarship to Point Loma) and 3 tied at 10’-6”.
As a team, the Clovis East Timberwolves have had some impressive accomplishments. In 2009 they had 5 vaulters jump over 14’ or better (Peterson 16’, Vasquez 15’, Bagato 14’-4”, Oneil 14’-3” and Liles 14’) and they took the 2009 California State Team Title (Michael Peterson-Vault, Willy Irwin-Throws) – it was a 4-way tie at 20 points. In 2012 they had 3 vaulters over 15’-1” (Brad Beekman 15’-4”, Jacob Ruiz 15’-1” and Louie Pancotti 15’-1”) and they placed 3 of top 4 finishers at Central Section Championships (Beekman 2nd, Ruiz 3rd and Pancotti 4th). Between 2005 and 2012 East Clovis has had at least one vaulter represented at the California State Meet, had at least one 15-footer (some years multiples) and won four out of the last 8 Central Section Titles in the Boys Vault.
The above accomplishments would not be possible without good leadership and coaching. Vault Coach AJ Blackburn has had a long history with CEHS. “My coaching career began at my alma mater, Clovis West High School in 1996,” Coach Blackburn tells us. “I coached at CW for four years, before accepting a coaching position at, a then new high school, Clovis East High. I have been a vault coach and Special Education teacher at Clovis East for 13 years. I started my vault career at Sierra High School as a freshman, where Kelly Rodriques holds the school record at 15’. I ended my high school vault career at Clovis West, where Doug Fraley holds the record at 17’-0.5”. I vaulted 15’ at Clovis West. I attended Fresno State, and vaulted under Bob Fraley. I was at the first Pole Vault Summit in Reno, where Vitali Petrov was a speaker and clinician. I was a presenter at the Pole Vault Summit in 2009 and 2010.”
Jumps Coach Mallory Gilbert is another big help to the track and field team at Clovis East. She is a talented athlete with much to offer. Coach Blackburn tells us, “Mallory was hired as a jumps coach at Clovis East High School in the 2011 season. She had been a heptathlete for the University of Hawaii. She had spent the previous three years away from athletics, and focused her attention on biblical studies. Mallory is tall, athletic and was willing to give the vault a try. Mallory picked up the drills quickly, and it wasn’t long before she was on a five stride approach. She absolutely fell in love with the vault. The thought occurred to both of us that this was an event where she could find a great deal of success. Mallory is a deeply convicted Christian, and decided to pursue the vault as her platform to share Christianity with others. Although we knew it was a long shot, we set our sights on London. During our high school season, she trains during my lunch hour and prep period, so that she can coach during our regular practice time. Although she failed to meet the Olympic standard, in her first full year of training, Mallory vaulted 4.10m. In addition to her incredible athletic ability, Mallory is also a gifted writer, who maintains a blog at www.soarintentionally.com. We plan on being in Rio for 2016.”
Even more impressive, when it comes to the leadership at CEHS, is the fact that the leadership goes beyond coaching a sport. Coach Blackburn tells us, “[We have] anywhere between 16-22 vaulters during any given season. As an educator, my mission is to use the vault as a platform to teach the skills necessary for a successful adulthood. These are the skills that transcend the vault and high school athletics in general. Cooperation, determination, perseverance, goal setting and hard work are but a few of the skills students learn when participating in high school athletics. The difficult nature of the vault lends itself perfectly to challenge athletes in ways they could not otherwise be challenged. Our philosophy at Clovis East is that life is about relationships, and we seek to develop the group as a whole. What is unique about our group at Clovis East is the camaraderie, and the high level of commitment our athletes have to each other and the event. We truly are a family. This is the experience athletes come away with, and the memories they will have. Given the low probability that the vault will provide a college education, or even smaller probability that an individual will earn a living in the event, the vault must have a greater purpose or it’s of no value in high school athletics. Success is measured not by winning championships, but by each individual achieving their maximum potential, and doing it together.”
Including Blackburn and Gilbert, there are seven track and field coaches all together at CEHS (Jim Farmer is the head coach) so they have a good group of leaders for support. Fortunately this group is not lacking for equipment either. According to Coach Blackburn they have poles, pits, high bar, weight room, sleds and a lot of slide boxes. “We have two complete pole vault pits,” he says. And the Timberwolves share their good fortune with others in their area. Coach Blackburn tells us, “Our pit is open two days a week during the summer to all those who wish to pole vault. I have vaulters who come from other cities nearby, as well as athletes from Fresno City and Fresno Pacific University. Some evenings, I’ll have 25 vaulters and not one of them from Clovis East.”
This sense of sharing and community is common in the Clovis area according to Coach Blackburn. Here’s what he has to say about what the pole vaulting community is like in the area: “The pole vault in the Central Section is very much dominated by the Clovis Unified School District, which is made up of five high schools (Clovis High, Clovis West, Buchanan High, Clovis East, and Clovis North). All of which have very successful vault programs, led by highly competent and dedicated vault specific coaches. Unlike many areas of California and the country, the vault in the Central Section is truly a high school event, where athletes have access to a high level of training at their high school free of charge. This offers the opportunity for any athlete who wishes to participate, a chance to vault regardless of socioeconomic status or athletic potential. Unlike club and private coaches in other regions, the coaches in our area recruit and develop athletes from the student population on their campuses. And again…it’s free to the athlete and not an exclusive activity.”
Training is offered all through the year at Clovis East as well. “As stated above, we open our pit twice a week for summer practice. During the fall, those athletes who do not play fall sports can join Mallory and me for fall training,” says Coach Blackburn. “This training is periodized and has the same components you would see in a division I college program. It includes Olympic weight lifting, track work outs, hill work, sprint technique and some gymnastic components. This is general and specific conditioning, very little is done with a pole until it’s time to prepare for the Summit in January. When track season comes in January, we reset the training clock and begin a new macro cycle. Our athletes come out better prepared for the rigorous training they will see in college. Fall and summer training is voluntary. However, we have had 14 athletes training through the fall.”
It’s no wonder the Clovis East vaulters are having such success. With such a dedicated staff and community they can’t help but follow the example put before them. We hope this group keeps up the good work and that we see many more accomplishments from these talented athletes moving forward.
By: Michelle Walthall – Vaulter Magazine LLC.