BELTON — Looking more like an art than a sport, the feat of clearing the bar was repeated many times on Saturday during the 7th annual Pole Vaulting Expo Explosion at the Bell County Expo Center.

About 300 male and female athletes from all over the U.S. competed in the tournament. Seeing the youngsters enjoy the sport was the only reward the tournament staff members needed, said Jack Chapman, owner of Texas Elite Pole Vaulting in Killeen, which sponsors the event.

“It’s amazing how close these kids are to each other,” he said. “This is truly a family event.”

Doug Severson of Holland worked in the awards booth along with his son, Blair, a former three-time pole vaulting champion for the Holland Hornets. Blair trained at the elite facility for six years, his father said.

“I’ve got four grandsons,” he said. “It won’t be long. Hopefully we’ll get the next generation.”

Some of the best vaulters in the world were in the arena, Blair said. Among them was Shawn Barber of Canada, winner of the 2015 International Association of Athletics Federations world championship in Beijing with a vault of 19 feet 5 inches. Barber’s 19–3½ vault on Saturday set a new meet record, Chapman said. Barber then had officials set the bar at 19-8¼, but scratched three times.

Demi Payne, a senior at Stephen F. Austin University in Nacogdoches, won the open women’s division with a vault of 14-10. She and Becky Holliday of Arkansas both cleared 14-5, but Holliday scratched on 14-10. Payne said this was considered a training event, and that she was vaulting higher from a shorter run, which was a good sign.

She started vaulting as a sophomore in high school.

“It’s just one of those sports where you can channel anything you’re going through,” she said. “It’s a great stress reliever. And it’s fun.”

Bubba Sparks, 62, of the Woodlands and California won the men’s division, ages 60-64, with an 11-foot jump. He and Don Curry, 59, of College Station, who was at the event but didn’t compete, started pole vaulting together 50 years ago, he said.

“When he was in the eighth grade, I was in the sixth grade,” Curry said. “He was dating my sister. That’s how we met.”

They set up for pole vaulting in their backyards, Curry said. Once a week they would gather the neighborhood kids and have a backyard Olympics, including such other events as running and high jumping.

They had both been out of pole vaulting for a while when they learned a lot of old timers were still able to enjoy the sport, Sparks said. “When I found out I could vault again, it gave me a reason to get in shape.”

In their age group, he said, the two of them are always in the top 5 ranking in the world.

“The most important part is the plant,” he said. “You’re just really trying to jump up with the pole and go in the direction it’s going.”

Sparks said he was on the 1996 Olympics coaching team.

“All of us now coach kids,” he said. “It’s a re-investment, to keep the sport going.”





Shawn Barber of Canada

Shawn Barber of Canada clears 19 feet 3 inches to win the men’s open pole vaulting division on Saturday during the 7th annual Pole Vaulting Expo Explosion held at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton.

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