There are four jumping events in track and field but that said, only one of them uses what you might refer to as an outside aid.
That would be the pole vault.
The object of the pole vault is, of course, to clear a bar or crossbar supported upon two uprights without knocking it down.
“Pole vaulting is a tough, demanding event,” said Ray Ashworth, who has become a local coaching guru. “It takes a special individual. Not everyone can pole vault.”
Ashworth is the vaulting coach at Rochester Century, a school which has suddenly become a pole vaulting hotbed.
The Panthers will have three vaulters competing in the Class AA state meet Friday and Saturday at Hamline University in St. Paul. Michael Adkins and Liam Kolb will vault for the boys on Friday while Andrianna Jacobs competes on Saturday.
At 14-feet, 6-inches, Adkins has the second-highest qualifying vault in the state while Kolb has gone 14-0 this year. Both are seniors.
Jacobs has vaulted 12-2, the second-highest jump in Minnesota. “She was close to 12-3 at the Big Nine (meet),” Ashworth said. “She hit it with her torso and just wiggled off.”
Adkins and Jacobs are school record holders. Adkins broke Kolb’s old mark.
Last year, Ariel Hayward advanced to state for Century. She is now vaulting at the University of Southern California.
“I can’t say enough about him,” said Jacobs, a freshman with unlimited potential. “He’s constantly coming up with new ideas and new drills and doing everything he can to help us get better.”
Long time in the sport
Ashworth is not a novice. He was a high school pole vaulter at Adams-Friendship, Wis., and back then in the early 1980s, he was on his own.
“I would just grab the pole, run as fast as I could and see what would happen,” he said. “I had no coaching whatsoever, but based on everything I’ve seen over the years, I did have good form.”
Ashworth eventually made it to Rochester and will celebrate his 30th anniversary at IBM next year.
His love for the pole vault has never wavered; its only gotten stronger.
“I started going around the state at these camps where they rent poles,” he said, “and just talked to coaches about pole vaulting. I took notes, read books and just got absorbed in the sport.
“It helps that I had vaulted before. I have a good understanding of how it works.”
He brought that knowledge to Century four years ago.
“I showed up to assist and I admit there was some selfish thoughts on my mind because my son (Hayden) was in eighth grade and I wanted to help him out,” Ashworth said. “The coach at the time was excited that I was there and after that he decided to move on. They handed the reigns over to me.”
Ashworth still travels the state, picking the brain of any coach willing to talk. About four weeks ago, he was in the process of renting some poles at a Flight Deck Athletics camp and met with University of Minnesota coaches.
They talked and talked and talked some more
“It was quite a learning experience,” Ashworth said. “Not coincidentally, about the same time we started to break all of our PRs (personal records) at school. I learned a great deal from them and passed it on.”
If you’re willing to listen, Ashworth will talk pole vault 24/7. He knows his stuff, and he loves to teach.
“It’s exciting,” he said, “and this year especially because we’ve had some success. We’ve had five kids go over 12 feet, three seniors and two juniors. Some of our sophomores and freshmen have made nine feet.”
The younger the better, he said, and the more the merrier.
“We’ve had as many as 20 pole vaulters,” he said. “We load up the runway with as many as we can. There’s no physical requirement. We don’t turn anybody away.
“An eighth grader may find it tough to get over the bar now, but as a junior or senior, who knows. That’s why I’m here.”
At the state meet, he said all three of his vaulters have a good chance to step up on the medal stand.
“They’ve all had unbelievable seasons,” he said. “One more time for them, is certainly not out of the question.”