Shaw Barfield thought his sport was football.
As a freshman, he was a third-string receiver for Lake Taylor. But a few weeks into the season, Titans coach Hank Sawyer told cross country coach LaShundra Carter that he thought Barfield might be a better runner.
“He could run forever and never got tired,” Sawyer said. “He also had a great attitude and an unbelievable work ethic. He just didn’t have the physical attributes for football.”
So Barfield gave cross country a try and ended up earning All-Eastern District honors. But he wasn’t satisfied.
It wasn’t until the end of his sophomore year that Barfield found his niche. The Titans were looking for pole vaulters.
“No one else wanted to do it,” Barfield said. “So I volunteered to do it.”
Barfield admits to being scared at first but ended up clearing 8 feet at the Eastern District outdoor meet to place fifth.
“It was more like trial and error,” he said. “But I kept doing it, and it became fun.”
Barfield, now a senior, enters today’s Eastern Region indoor meet at Boo Williams Sportsplex as one of the favorites in the event. He and Kempsville’s Andrew Tran have cleared 12-6 this season and are ranked 13th in Group AAA.
Barfield’s progression has been a surprise.
“I really enjoy him,” Carter said, “because he comes to practice and puts the work in.”
Lake Taylor pole vault coach Ryan Owens thought Barfield could be successful because of his strong upper body and leg speed, but he said Barfield’s best characteristic is his patience.
“He wants to learn more about the event,” Owens said. “The other good thing about him is that he’s never satisfied.”
Barfield wants to be successful because he knows there aren’t many pole vaulters like him.
“I enjoy doing something that’s not common,” said Barfield, one of few black high school vaulters in the state. “I’m not another sprinter and I’m not another jumper. I’m a pole vaulter. I realize who I’m representing. I want to make everybody who supported me proud.”
Barfield hopes to become the first Eastern District male vaulter to win a region title in more than 20 years.
“I think it’s really impressive how far he’s come in a short time,” said Owens, a former All-Beach District pole vaulter at Princess Anne. “But he’s not even there yet.”
Barfield, who has a 3.1 grade-point average and hopes to vault in college, has a goal of clearing 13-6 by the end of the indoor season and 14-6 in the spring outdoor season.
For now, he’ll just take a region title since he missed out on a state title with the football team this past season.
“I actually thought about playing this season and, of course, they win the state title,” he said with a chuckle. “But I really feel I can (win a region title). I just have to stay level-headed. I expect to win but train like I’m not going to win.”