JT pole vaulter faces unique challenge

Jim Thorpe’s Sean Mendez wasn’t a well-known name in the pole vault around the Schuylkill League when the season began.

That quickly changed.

Mendez certainly opened some eyes at the Tamaqua Invitational on March 30 when he won the event with a final height of 11 feet, 6 inches, beating Blue Mountain’s Eric Gavalis (10-6) by a foot.

What makes Mendez’s situation unique, and a different challenge for the junior, is that Jim Thorpe doesn’t have a pole vaulting pit at Olympian Stadium. Not only does it mean he can’t compete in the event at the Olympians’ home meets, including last Friday’s Olympian Invitational, he has to hit the road to practice the event, too.

Mendez’s family moved from Harlingen, Tex., to Albrightsville and into the Jim Thorpe School District in early September. For those wondering, Harlingen is on the southern tip of Texas, about 30 minutes north of Brownsville and around two hours south of Corpus Christi.

Mendez, whose personal best in the event is 13-0, started pole vaulting when he was a freshman at Harlingen South High School and it quickly became his favorite event. He just missed out on a trip to states as a sophomore during the high school season, finishing third in his district.

“The coaches looked at me and said you have the upper body,” Mendez said on why he started the event. “It is always upper body, not lower body. I always had upper body strength. Obviously, it worked out pretty good.”

At an indoor meet over the winter, Mendez told Jim Thorpe coach Frank Miller that he competed in the pole vault in Texas. With the approval of athletic director Dustin McAndrew, Miller started contacting other schools to find places for Mendez to practice the event. Tamaqua’s Tom Kanger agreed to it and Mendez is able to work out at Tamaqua with Raiders’ pole vault coach Andy Smarr two times a week, usually Tuesday and Thursday.

Not only is his practice time limited, so are his opportunities to compete. But Mendez has made the best of it.

In addition to winning at the Tamaqua Invitational, he also took first in the event at a dual meet at Blue Mountain last Wednesday, clearing 11-0. Mendez might have been able to go higher, but with first place locked up, the event was stopped due to a rain shower.

He also competed at the Palisades Invitational on March 23, finishing fourth at 10-6.

“It feels good to go out and go around and show people what I can do,” Mendez said. “Some of the guys are like ‘You are going to beat me.’ I told them ‘Hey, you got competition, try to keep up.’ That’s what I train to do.

“I would like to do it at home to get home meets in to get us the points there. The school is talking about in the summer time getting the vaulting pit re-done, and I am excited about that.”

According to Miller, there is a proposal to resurface the track at Olympian Stadium. That also includes adding a pole vaulting pit at the south end of the stadium next to the high jump area. The proposal is scheduled to be discussed at a school board meeting tonight.

For now, Mendez will continue to work out and compete in the pole vault when he can. He’ll get his opportunities at Pottville on May 2, the Schuylkill County Relays on May 4, the Schuylkill League and District 11 meets, and perhaps beyond that.

One of Mendez’s goals for the season is to get over 13 feet.

“It’s the way the pole bends to me,” Mendez said on why he enjoys the event. “When it gets that bend to it, it feels nice. I know I can get up there and get over that bar. The achievement gets you going.”

By: Mike Carnahan

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Sean Mendez

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