It’s not easy being coached by dad.
Disagreements flare up when a family member runs the show.
For Luigi Colella, father knows best.
Colella, one of the top prep boys’ pole vaulters in the nation, is coached by his father, Antonio, on the Thousand Oaks High track and field team.
Antonio Colella is a two-time Italian national champion in the pole vault (1983 and 1986), and he advanced to three Olympic trials (Los Angeles 1984, Seoul 1988 and Barcelona 1992).
“I can’t argue with my dad. He’s the expert,” Luigi Colella said. “I have a great bond with my dad, but sometimes I don’t want that bond. He pushes me, but there are times I don’t want to practice.
“To be great you need to be pushed. It’s good to see my hard work paying off.”
Colella’s dedication to his father’s grueling workout regimen paid off in a big way.
The junior Lancer captured a state title after clearing 16 feet, 4 inches during the CIF State Track and Field Championships in Clovis earlier this month.
Colella and August Kiles of Tamalpais tied, but Colella seized victory by clearing 16-4 in fewer attempts throughout the meet.
“I was happy on so many levels,” said Antonio Colella, who vaulted as high as 18 feet in his heyday. “It was a moment that brought me joy as a father and a coach. Luigi has worked so hard and has sacrificed a lot in the last 10 months.”
Luigi Colella’s next goal is to vault 17 feet before the year ends. The 17-year-old Lancer is in Italy getting ready to compete in numerous competitions across Europe.
“We have a saying in pole vault,” Antonio Colella said. “If you can vault your age, you’re really good. So far (Luigi) has met all his goals, and now he’s on pace to vault 17 feet by the end of the summer.”
The younger Colella, who also goes by “Gino,” said he has cleared 17 feet with the bungee, instead of the usual bar used in competitions, during practice.
Antonio Colella was hired as a pole vault coach at the University of Illinois in 1993. His son was born in Downers Grove, Ill., and the family moved to Thousand Oaks when Luigi was 6.
Antonio was also a pole vault coach at Westlake High from 2004-11. He coached his son during Luigi’s freshman year at Westlake.
Antonio, who has designed shoes for K-Swiss, Timberland and Diesel, stepped away from coaching in 2012 to focus on work.
“My sophomore year was weird without my dad,” said Luigi, who placed eighth at state last season, and vaulted as high as 15-9. “Things just didn’t feel right at Westlake.”
The father-son duo joined forces again at Thousand Oaks.
Luigi transferred from Westlake to TOHS in mid-January and was forced to miss the first month of the track season due to CIF-Southern Section transfer rules.
He put his name on the map during his first meet with the Lancers. Luigi cleared 16 feet against Royal on April 11. Luigi instantly jumped to the No. 1 spot in the Dyestat state rankings for pole vault.
The Lancer is currently ranked 17th in the nation.
Joseph Baker, a junior who competes in hurdle races for Thousand Oaks, didn’t know he was befriending a potential future Olympian.
“When I met Luigi at school I didn’t know anything about pole vault,” said Baker, who also suits up for the TOHS boys’ soccer team. “We immediately became friends on the track team, and everyone started telling me he’s going to be in the Olympics some day.
“It’s exciting to see him pole vault. He’s really good.”
Antonio Colella is confident his son will compete for Italy in the Olympics in the near future.
“I know he will be in the Olympics,” said Antonio about Luigi, who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and Italy. “I unfortunately couldn’t accomplish my dream, but he could do it. 2016 is a long shot, but he could do it in 2020.”
Luigi Colella said he feels at home at Thousand Oaks but misses being the vice president of the Italian Club at Westlake. He hopes to start a club at TOHS in the fall.
Colella is fluent in Italian and wants to become trilingual in Chinese.
The state champion comes from a long line of pole vaulters. Antonio’s father, also Luigi, vaulted 10 feet in an era before the poles could bend.
“It’s an honor being named after my grandfather,” Luigi Colella said. “It’s crazy to think he was pole vaulting when the poles didn’t bend. He got the tradition started.”
Antonio’s brother, Davide, is also a former professional pole vaulter. Davide coaches Luigi on a club team in Foggia, Italy, the family’s hometown.
The next up- and- coming Colella pole vaulter is Luigi’s 11-year-old sister, Giulia, who already vaults 6 feet.
“It’s great that my family is into pole vault,” Luigi Colella said. “It’s a wonderful sport. I really want the sport to catch on.”