Lakeland senior Josh McDaniel is a self-professed pole vault “nerd.”
Ever since he picked up the sport as a sophomore, he’s deluged himself in the history of it, the specifics of the best gear and the training to get him to where he wants to be: a contender for a state title.
He’s getting there, and mostly with the help of a supportive family who fosters the expensive niche.
“My dad doesn’t want me to know how much he spends,” said McDaniel, who tied for second place in the state last year in Class 3A.
“But I know it’s a lot.”
“Well, I wouldn’t tell you, either,” his dad, Ben McDaniel, chuckled during a phone interview. “But it’s an expensive sport to be involved in because the coaching side of it can be expensive. The poles can be expensive, too. It can get nuts.”
The poles can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 apiece.
Here’s the nuttiest part: Ben drives Josh to Melbourne twice a week so that his son can get the best training possible. That’s a 117-mile trip (one way) that takes about two hours, the pole bungee-strapped to the side of Ben’s SUV because there’s no room for it in the car.
In Melbourne, Josh trains at Pole Vault City with Bobby Haeck, a former state record holder in the event who has coached 37 state champions and nine All-Americans. Haeck set the Florida Class 3A state record in 1987 when he jumped 15 feet, 5 inches, a record that stood for 11 years. He also jumped 16 feet during the regular high school season and competed for Florida State in 1991 and ‘92.
The training, which often takes two to three hours – Ben and Josh don’t get back to Lakeland until nearly 1 a.m. — has paid off.
Josh is first in the state in all classifications in the event this season after jumping 15 feet 6 inches at the Brian Jaeger Invitational in Winter Park on Saturday.
Josh’s interest in the sport started after he watched a video online about it.
He was a freshman then, wanting to try something new and interesting.
“He came in my office one day and he said, ‘I need you to go to this website,’ and it was a pole vaulting website. And he said, ‘I want to do that.'” Ben said. “I thought it was a little strange at first, but he went at it full speed. And if you know anything about Josh, it’s not surprising that he did — it’s the way he does everything.”
Haeck was impressed with Josh’s natural ability even though he thought he wouldn’t be very mobile.
“He’s a large boy and has a football build,” Haeck said.
“And sometimes when you have a guy like that, they don’t move as well, especially when they get in the air. But I was impressed with his ability to maneuver when he got up there,” Haeck said.
Josh, who was also a wide receiver at Lakeland, stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 170 pounds.
His desire to get better has helped him to be successful, too.
“There’s no quit in that guy,” Haeck said. “He’s always looking for the next pole, the bigger pole, the stronger pole, the pole that’s going to give him the better result. He’s not satisfied in making the bar that he’s at.”
Josh watches film often and studies his and others’ techniques.
His knowledge of the sport has brushed off on some of his friends, too.
“It’s a lot more popular in Europe,” Forrest Cunningham, who played football with Josh, said while his buddy talked about a DVD the two had watched in class one day of a group of pole vaulters who toured the world doing it.
While it would be nice to win a state title in pole vault while representing Lakeland, a school known more for being a football powerhouse, Josh is more interested in doing it, period.
More so for his dad.
“He’s the key to this whole operation,” Josh said.
“I’m blessed to have a supportive family to help me reach my goals.”
By Polk Preps Staff
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