CALEDONIA – Kevin Keller envisioned the day six years earlier.
In a sixth-grade gym class at River Valley, Keller administered fitness tests and liked what he saw out of the tall kid. He envisioned a future pole vaulter in the 12-year-old.
“I saw all the attributes, which is good agility for a boy that size, which is quite unusual,” Keller said. “He had good power in his legs and good shoulder strength. I knew what kind of boy he was, a solid kid.
“I liked working with him. He ended up being our middle school pole vault record holder at 12-foot. With all these good kids we’ve had, 12-foot is a pretty good jump.”
Keller was a pioneering pole vaulter in Marion County, winning a state championship for Elgin in 1973 and then starring as an All-Big Ten pole vaulter at Ohio State. As an adult he became a pole vault whisperer in the area, helping send more than a dozen kids to the state meet.
So Keller knows a potential prospect when he sees one, even if that prospect looks to have grown out of the sport.
“You usually don’t have an all-conference defensive end on the pole vault runway,” the coach admitted.
But Brock Wooten has made it work.
“I wanted to succeed,” the RV senior said. “Obviously I’m not the type of person that usually does pole vault. Usually it’s a little smaller person who weighs a little bit less, so I wanted to push myself and do something that people told me I couldn’t do.”
He is 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds on the football field. While the height is an asset in pole vaulting, the weight can be a hindrance. He’s cut it to 190 pounds for track and thinks losing five more pounds before the end of the season will only help.
“It’s mainly core strength,” Wooten said of what helps him vault. “That’s a big thing. You need to be all-around strong, so I try to strengthen everything. Every little bit helps.”
On Tuesday, Wooten popped a big one.
His personal best was 14 feet, but at Pleasant for the Marion County Track Meet, he soared 14-4 to set a new mark.
“It was a good day. I was on a smaller pole, but I made it work,” Wooten said.
Until this week, the weather made the season disjointed which hindered his rhythm.
“Practice has been nonexistent the last couple weeks because of the bad weather, so it’s just been meet by meet,” he said. “But today I was feeling good, and obviously it gave me the confidence to jump a PR.”
Keller sees greater heights for his latest protege.
“When he gets on the next bigger pole doing the same things, then we’re going right on up to that 15 foot,” the coach said. “That’s what we want to get. We want to get another 15-footer at River Valley.”
Wooten is taking advantage of his chance as the lead vaulter for the Vikings. Throughout his career he was behind a pair of All-Ohio vaulters in Craig Martin and Ben Waterman, so he’s most looking forward to the next month.
“I’m really excited because I’ve never been able to make that district, regional, state run before,” he said. “I’ve always had people jumping in front of me. It’s exciting. I jumped at conference last year, but I did not get to go on to districts, so I’m excited and nervous and anxious all at the same time.”
An athlete his entire life, Wooten understands he can’t psych himself out. He will focus on the task and only the task.
“Just think you can do it. Don’t let outside factors get in the way. Put all that drive, motivation and anxiousness into your training to get better,” he said. “I’m just thinking about the next week. If I don’t make it past the next week, it doesn’t matter in the long run.”