MIDDLETOWN — When the championship moment finally arrived for Ellenville’s Justin Farrenkopf, all he could do was cup both hands over his mouth, and then he pumped his arms in restrained joy.
You don’t celebrate in front of people who just failed because there is a lot of respect in pole-vaulting circles, but the emotions were hard to keep inside.
“I wanted to burst and scream,” Farrenkopf said, “but you take it with pride, you don’t celebrate and you don’t be obnoxious about it.”
If anything, it was a great relief at the end of a four-year hunt for a state medal. There have been bad seasons, like last year, and injuries that derailed Farrenkopf’s earlier bids but this season has gone just about perfect. As long as he performed to the best of his abilities, Farrenkopf believed he would win the Division II (small-school) title on Saturday but he never imagined he would win the overall Federation championship.
This season Farrenkopf has been Section 9’s most consistent vaulter and he made yet another 15-foot effort seem easy, going over on his first tries at 14 feet, 14 feet and six inches and then 15.
“This was probably one of my most competitive days,” Farrenkopf said. “I was clean all the way through.”
“I saw Justin go out and show everybody what I knew he could do,” said Ellenville coach Phil Althouse. “I knew he was going to do this. I had no doubt in my mind.”
The task was made easier when his good friend and chief rival Todd Uckermark of Warwick failed on his only three attempts at 14 feet — with the top overall seed out of the competition early, Farrenkopf felt a bit more at ease.
Shaker’s James Steck and Riverhead’s Dan Normoyle also jumped at 15 feet but never cleared. When Steck took the bar down for the last time, Farrenkopf was on the opposite end of the runway, crouched over in muted joy.
With the gold medal in hand, Farrenkopf had the bar raised to 15-10 in an attempt to tie the Section 9 record but he missed on three tries. “It was actually very close,” Farrenkopf said of his first attempt. That’s when the realization hit that he had won the Federation title. “It hit me and my nerves got over me,” he said.
An injury late in the 2012 season derailed Farrenkopf’s state medal bid. Four weeks ago, he tweaked his back vaulting on a cold day, and the pain got so bad that he saw a chiropractor and had some acupuncture. The pain alleviated recently and Farrenkopf was able to get back to his championship form. He will compete at nationals next weekend and in a summer competition before heading off to Manhattan College.
For the longest time, a banner hung at Ellenville touting the school’s only state championship by pole vaulter Frank Sluka and his winning jump of 14-6 back in 1982 (sprinter Tyler O’Bryant added to that last year).
“It’s been a long time coming,” Althouse said. “It couldn’t go to a more worthy individual.”