When Northgate assistant track coach Adrian Anderson tries to find pole vaulters to join the Vikings’ track team, he knows he must recruit a special breed of athlete.
“I am not real sure what it is,” Anderson said. “I guess they want to be in the circus or something. Once they see somebody do it, and then they develop that daredevil mentality, they get hooked on it.”
Anderson’s love of pole vaulting is personal.
The Stone Mountain High School graduate still holds the Pirates’ pole vaulting record nearly 30 years later. His ability to excel in the event earned him a track and field scholarship to Auburn University after he graduated in 1984.
Anderson’s goal now is to pass on his knowledge to pole vaulters at Northgate, who are making strides at each meet.
This season, he has five athletes who are working hard to put Northgate on the map in the event.
“We started with about 10, but we had to whittle it down to a workable number,” Anderson said. “One thing about pole vaulting, it’s not for everybody.”
Seniors Alex Anderson and Conner Bergh are literally rising to new heights for the Vikings.
They hope to advance at next Thursday’s Region 4-AAAAA meet, through sectionals and hopefully on to Jefferson and the Georgia Olympics.
Alex, Adrian’s son, recently set both the county and Northgate’s school record with a height of 13 feet, 7 inches at last month’s Coweta County Championships.
Bergh turned in his personal best this week when he cleared 13-6 at the Fayette County Speed Meet on Tuesday.
The Northgate duo went 1-2 at the Fayette County meet, with Bergh edging Anderson (13-0) as they together collected 18 team points for the Vikings.
“I just want to see these kids have some fun,” the Vikings’ coach said. “It would be great to see Alex and Conner do well at region, sectionals and state. Alex and Conner are good enough to take it to the next level.”
Adrian also had the chance earlier in his coaching career to work with his son Aric, who also tried his hand at pole vaulting.
“Coaching my sons has been the highlight of my career,” he said. “I can’t really put it into words. It been great to see how hard they worked.”
Both sons also wrestled for their Dad, who recently completed his final year as the Vikings’ head wrestling coach following 400-plus career victories.
For Alex, setting the county record is something he is glad to share with his Dad.
“It felt really good,” he said. “It was a good vault, to have the county record is really exciting.”
Bergh says setting his personal best earlier this week is a sign that his hard work is paying off.
“Pole vaulting is the most fun thing for me to do. I started out because my dad was a vaulter and I figured I would try it,” said Bergh, who started in his sophomore year. “It is such a unique sport and that is what love about it.”
This year’s collection of Northgate pole vaulter have both the athletic ability and mental capacity to excel in the sport.
“It takes speed. If you don’t have speed, you can’t do it. You find a guy that is almost fast enough to be a sprinter, but he still has that dare devil mentality. Then you can make a pole vaulter out of him, but number one, you have to have speed,” Adrian said. “You need to be tall and skinny.”
As Alex admits, he approaches each event the same way.
“Going into a meet I like to get my head straight,” Alex said. “I don’t talk to too many people right before a event. There is no greater feeling than synchronizing with the pole and then falling 15 feet. “
Bergh agrees with his teammate’s mental approach to being a successful pole vaulter.
“It calls for a lot of upper body strength,” he said.”You spend a lot of time working on the proper form, but it is really a mental sport too. Your head has to be in the right place. Every day can be different for you, so consistency is also key.”
Pole vaulting is also a family tradition for Bergh.
“I started out because my dad was a vaulter and I figured I would try it. I started pole vaulting my sophomore year. It is such a unique sport and that is what love about it. “It is not every day you come across a pole vaulter,” Bergh said.
Although Bergh and Alex should have no problem getting out of the region and advancing to the Class AAAAAA sectionals, Vikings pole vaulting future is bright with some younger athletes improving under their coach’s watchful eye.
Among those expected to contend in the future the Vikings are Johnny Gilbert, Harrison Griffiths, and Tristan Parker. Gilbert placed third on Tuesday in Fayetteville with a season-best vault of 11-6.
Hannah Schafer is also competing on the girls’ side in pole vaulting, winning first both at county and in Fayetteville.
“Pole vaulting for girls requires the same thing,” Adrian said. “Speed, height, and daredevil mentality and good body control make girls good pole vaulters too.”
Through hard work, the Vikings are showing signs of improving.
“They are all getting better each time they compete,” Adrian Anderson said. “That’s what we want to see. Other than Alex and Conner our other vaulters are preparing for next year.”
The Vikings’ coach know both Anderson and Bergh have the ability to compete in college.
Depending on how he does at regional, sectionals at state, Alex could get an offer from a major college.
He could also wind up at a Division II or III school.
“I want to take it has far as a I can,” Alex said. “I just have to wait and see what happens. I definitely want to keep doing it.”
Bergh’s pole vaulting career could end at the state meet almost by default.
Although he has the ability to compete at the college level, Georgia Southern, the school he will attend, doesn’t have a men’s track team.
“I would love to keep doing it, but it may not happen.”
That makes Bergh’s goals of turning in a strong finish at the state meet even more important.
“I didn’t clear the bar last year at sectionals, so I am looking to redeem myself this year and make it to state,” Bergh said. “That would be a great way to finish my high school career.”
Bergh and Anderson bring unique personalities to the sport.
“They are so different, but they are great competitors,” coach Anderson said.
Bergh and Alex will test their pole-vaulting skills against some of the best in the state when they participate this week at the annual Carrollton Relays.
“We just want to have a good showing,” Adrian said.