PROSPECT — Kevin Keller has come a long way from his humble beginnings as a pole vaulter.
A man whose first vaulting pole was made out of bamboo and whose pit was filled with saw dust will be inducted on Jan. 24 into the The Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches Hall of Fame.
The induction will occur at the association’s annual hall of fame banquet at the Hilton at Easton in Columbus.
The other inductees for 2014 will be Wayne Clark, Gary White, Chuck Kyle, Angela Homan Thomas, John W. Scott, Bob Hollen and Doug Henwood.
Keller retired in 2012 as a science and physical education teacher at River Valley High School after 35 years of service. He is still the school’s girls track and golf coach.
He got his start in track and pole vaulting at age 7 behind his home on W. Water St. in Prospect and in a neighboring field along Farnum St.
“My start came in my back yard with my brothers Fred and Jeff,” Keller said. “We built a dirt runway, we dug a hole in the ground for a pit, and we built standards.
“Then a farmer (Bob Jones) donated some ground to us just down the street. We hauled in saw dust for the pit, and we had bamboo standards and a bamboo pole which I got from the hardware store up town.”
Keller was coached in those early years by his uncle Paul Keller and his father Charles Keller, who were both pole vaulters in the 1920s and 1930s for Prospect High School.
Kevin Keller took over as head boys track coach at River Valley in 1985. During the next 16 years, his teams were 88-14-1 in dual and triangular meets and won 47 major championships, including 10 Marion County titles, seven conference championships, and two Central District crowns.
He later served for several years as a track assistant at RV before taking over as girls coach in 2012.
While he was coaching, 39 school records were set and his athletes qualified for the state meet in 43 events. His pole vaulters qualified for the state 12 times, and in 2005 River Valley’s Bryan Chard won the Div. II state crown with a vault of 15 feet, 3 inches.
He had also helped coach Dan Schlitt of Marion Catholic, who went on to win a state vaulting title as well.
Even though he stood only 5-foot-8, Keller was able to win his own state title, the 1973 Class AA state pole vault championship while competing for Elgin High School with a state record of 14 feet, 5 3/4 inches. The second-place finisher was a foot and a half behind him.
A week later, Keller topped his previous mark by clearing 14-11 in the All-Ohio Track Classic at Mansfield.
A 1973 graduate of Elgin where he competed under the guidance of coaches Dale Kinsell, Don Bumgarner and Les McMillen, Keller’s prep pole vault mark is still a school record.
He continued his pole vaulting career at The Ohio State University and set a freshman record of 15 feet. He won numerous competitions including the Ohio State Relays, the Ohio State Indoor Invitational, and the Pittsburgh Invitational.
An All-Big Ten performer from 1975-77, he was selected team captain his senior year and was recognized as an OSU scholar athlete. He capped off his senior year by winning the prestigious Carmel Track Classic in Indiana by vaulting 16-6.
At his senior track banquet, OSU head coach Frank Zubovich presented Keller with the Frank R. Castleman Memorial Award which was given to the outstanding senior student for excellence in scholarship and leadership.
During his time at OSU, Keller was also coached by John T. (Terry) Green, a 1965 graduate of Marion Harding High School who also graduated from OSU in 1969 and from the OSU dental school in 1973.
“He would spend a couple of days each week at OSU teaching in the dental school, and he would also spend time coaching me in the vault and reviewing my pole vault videos,” Keller said.
After his graduation from Ohio State in 1977, Keller continued to compete nationally for coach Wayne T. Armbrust with the Ohio Track Club. He vaulted a career-best 17-1/4 in 1979 in the All-Ohio Meet in Dayton’s Welcome Stadium to set a stadium mark.
During his career, Keller competed in the national AAU indoor and outdoor championships. He placed in the top 10 twice in the National USA-TFA Championships in Wichita, Kans., and was selected to be the athlete representative on the national track governing council for USA-TFA.
He has been selected district track coach of the year several times, and in 1998 was the Ohio Track and Cross Country Coaches District 6 coach of the year. He has served as district coordinator for summer Junior Olympics track meets and has conducted pole vault clinics.
During the winter months, Keller coaches vaulters at the indoor Oak Creek Pole Vault Training Facility, located one mile east of Kilbourne.
Keller admitted he was surprised when notified of his impending induction, even though he knew there was a move to have him considered.
“It started a couple of years ago when I was sitting with my college roommate and good friend John Millisor,” Keller said. “John said he was going to get me into the hall, and he started the process of gathering and submitting information.
“When I got the letter from the association recently, I was completely surprised. I had kind of forgotten about it.”
Keller said he is the fifth person from Prospect to be inducted into the hall. Paul Keller (1926 Prospect grad, inducted 1982), Donald “Red” Emery (1923 Prospect grad, inducted 1969), Warren “Pete” Anson (1924 Prospect grad, inducted 1999), and John Jones (1969 Elgin grad, inducted 2001) are the others, he said.
In addition, Dave Kirk of Galion, a former Prospect resident and 2012 hall inductee, used to catch Keller’s pole at his homemade pit.
“This honor puts me in the company of some pretty elite athletes and coaches,” Keller said.
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