ST. HELENA – Tim McDonald’s introduction to the pole vault did not come during an after-school practice nor in an official track and field meet.

He got his start right at home. He assembled a small makeshift pit in his yard by digging a hole, piling together a bunch of sawdust for a landing area, and setting up a standard.

The pole he was using was given to him by his older brother, Steve, who brought it home from St. Helena High School. The pole was broken, but that did not stop Tim, who was just 10 at the time, from using it.

“We were pretty rough and tumble in those days,” Tim said Tuesday from his office on Spring Street, where he is president of Centric, general contractors. “We lived out in the country. We pretty much had free reign of what we did.”

Just a few years later, Tim McDonald was playing football and competing in multiple events in track, including the pole vault, for St. Helena. As a senior, he set a school record in the pole vault, going 14 feet, 10 inches, a height that was a CIF North Coast Section Class A record at the time. He also finished second in the CIF State Meet, which was held in Bakersfield.

“When I was a junior, I ended up with a fiberglass pole, which is the first fiberglass pole I had had,” he said. “It bent, so I started jumping much higher with a pole that was actually designed to catapult you into the air.”

McDonald is in rarefied air, all right. He was just the sixth athlete from St. Helena at the time to qualify for the state meet and is one of just eight athletes from the Napa Valley school to advance that far.

“It was a lot of hard work,” he said. “It takes a little bit of focus in a way that you kind of have to be pretty confident in what you do.”

McDonald, a 1976 graduate, will be honored for all of his successes as a two-sport star when he is inducted into school’s Athletic Hall of Fame at a dinner and awards ceremony on Oct. 22 at Native Sons Hall. This is the fourth year of the Hall of Fame, whose motto as an organization is “Preserving history, honoring excellence, and connecting generations.”

The Hall of Fame class also has Kelly Urbanik (Class of 1998), Otto “Tiny” Beringer (Class of 1934), Roy Raymond, Jr. (1954), Chris Schuh (1965) and Ralph Ingols (coach, 1939-1961).

“It’s quite an honor, without question, to be recognized for this,” said McDonald, 57. “I’m the kind of person, that I think most people would tell you, I live for the future, not so much for the past. I focus on where are we going and how are we doing now.

“But I love the idea that I’m recognized for this and it’s very nice.”

St. Helena High years

McDonald played on back-to-back North Central League I champion football teams for the Saints, who were 15-3-1 over that time under head coach Charley Toogood, who is in the SHHS Hall of Fame. The 1975 team was second in the NCS.

He played halfback and safety. He also punted and returned punts and kickoffs. Once in a while, he played quarterback.

For his varsity career, McDonald put together some very impressive numbers:

* 1,197 yards rushing (6.6 yards per carry, nine touchdowns).

* 50 yards passing (one TD pass).

* 372 yards receiving (20.4 yards per reception, six TDs receiving).

* 2,211 all-purpose yards.

* Six defensive interceptions.

* 467 kick return yards (20.6 yards per return).

“I was lucky to be fast,” said McDonald. “My dad (Mal McDonald, a former St. Helena Unified School District administrator) was fast.”

It was in track where McDonald made a name for himself.

Besides the pole vault, he attained personal records in the following events for St. Helena: 100-yard dash (10.5), 220-yard dash (26.2), 120 high hurdles (14.7), 330 low hurdles (school record, 38.8), 440-yard relay (46.4, with Chris Burgstahler, Junior Lomeli, Terry McGrath) and high jump (6-0).

Tobe Wolf was coach of the track team in those days. It was a very special time in McDonald’s life, as he made lifelong friends.

“There was a great coaching staff – all these people had a big impact,” he said.

“It seemed like the community was a little bit different then, that it was a little more tight-knit. There was a lot of support. A lot of those people are still my best friends – iconic names in this community, a lot of families that have been here forever and ever and ever.

“It’s wonderful to have been lucky enough to know those people and their families.”

McDonald played in the Napa-Solano All-Star Football Game in 1976 and was a National Football Foundation scholar-athlete in ’76.

College Years

McDonald was second in the state in the pole vault, going 16-3 in 1978 for Santa Rosa Junior College. He was also second that same year in the state in the decathlon.

“When I went to Santa Rosa, I started competing on a state level,” he said.

He transferred to Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo, earning Division I and Div. II All-America honors in 1979. He was a Div. II champion and an All-American in the pole vault in 1980, going 16-11.

McDonald was the winner of the Bruce Jenner Classic in the pole vault in 1979. He also won the pole vault title at the Stanford Invitational in ’79.

“It was kind of a 24/7 commitment for those years,” he said. “I got in good shape and did a lot of work.

“I started competing on a world level. You realize that with every step, the world gets bigger and bigger and bigger, and there’s always someone a little tougher in the room. I think that’s what I got the most about competition on that level – that we are all surrounded by an enormous number of talented people, and there’s always someone a little more talented just a door away.

“It was quite an awakening for me and made me grow far more than I would have had I just remained in this community.”

McDonald pole vaulted 18-4 in 1980, his highest official jump. He was Top 10 in the world at the time.

He finished fifth in the 1980 U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.

“I got to vault against people who were my heroes. I got to compete against all those guys. It was a great experience for me.”

McDonald graduated in 1982 from Cal Poly with a degree in agricultural business.

McDonald and his wife, Flin, make their home in Angwin. They have two children, Branden, 34, and Mariah, 31.


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