Several Piketon track and field athletes were reaching new heights this past season.
Those new heights were achieved by the return of an event that had been absent from the school track and field program since the early 1990s.
Thanks to funds from the Piketon Athletic Boosters, those athletes wanting to fly-away can now do so by participating in the pole vault.
Three high school track and field athletes went to work, putting in extra hours throughout the season to be the best they could be. Senior Stephen Royster went out with a bang, qualifying for regional competition as a first-year vaulter. Sophomores Maddy Reed and Jordan Cutler both enjoyed some success as well and have two more years to perfect their craft. There were also several junior high pole vaulters training to learn the event.
Chuck Reed, who is also Maddy’s father, is the pole vault coach at Piketon High School.
Reed was pleased with his first-year competitors, who got a late start to their inaugural season as pole vaulters, due to inclement weather during March and early April.
“They’ve taken to it like a pole vaulter should,” said Reed of his three high school pupils. “They are always the first ones to practice and the last ones to leave. That always happens with pole vaulters, at least everywhere I have been.”
Piketon boys head track coach Greg Shepherd was thankful to have Chuck Reed join the coaching staff.
“Chuck is very good pole vaulter. He has probably never been a pole vault teacher before, but he hasn’t forgotten anything. He goes home and studies about it. I coached it for 14 to 15 years. We had good vaulters for a long time. I had guys who went 12 to 13 feet all of the time,” said Shepherd, who noted that Reed cleared 15-feet, 3-inches as a pole vaulter.
“Chuck has brought them along so fast. I could get them over six or seven feet, maybe a little more, but Chuck knows all of the techniques. I can get the fundamentals down and get them off the ground safely, but he can take them to new heights.”
Coach Reed is enjoying his opportunity to teach the pole vault, which is considered by many to be the most technical event in track and field.
“First of all, it is a blast to teach them. The kids absolutely love it. Anybody who comes out to pole vault has a tendency to be kind of reckless. You can see every time you coach a kid that there is still a little restraint there because they are doing something that is unfamiliar to them. They are wonderful to work with,” said Reed. “I’ve been blessed. I have three really good ones (pole vaulters) here at the high school.
Since pole vault is a very technical event, Reed explained that every step is dependent on the one before it for the vault to be successful.
“They have to start out very basic with how to hold the pole — the grip, the carry and the run. That is how to run with the pole in your hands, where you hold it in your hands, how it is going to feel when you jump, what to expect and what not to expect, just to give them a sense of comfort that everything is going to be okay,” said Reed.
“Every step of this is choreographed. It is a six-step process. They have to do everything very accurately to allow them to do the next step as accurately as well. They can’t do step two without doing step one right, nor can they do step three without doing step two right. It is a dance. They have to do every step right. If you mess up the preceding step, then the vault will be messed up.
“I would take a kid who has moderate speed and good core strength over a kid who has brute strength and power. Brute strength and power will not get this done.”
Coach Reed was thrilled at the early strides his high school pole vaulters were making during the season. All of them placed in meets.
“I’m stoked. I had goals coming in. I have a goal for Maddy. it is a noble goal. I’d like to see her get to 13 feet. I want to get Jordan to 13-6. I understand that will beat his dad,” said Reed. “And Stephen, unfortunately being a senior, I wanted to get him to 12 feet. It is difficult for me, because he’s definitely talented. If he had a few more years, Stephen would be an excellent pole vaulter.
“We want them to get 15 good vaults every practice. After that, they start getting tired. They don’t want to admit it, but that really affects them.”
Coach Reed also wished that he would have had more time to work with the junior high vaulters, which is the age when learning the sport should start.
“We have two pole vaulters in junior high in Jamie (Jamison Neal) and Creed (Bentley). I haven’t had much opportunity to practice with them, because the time has been conflicting with the high school practices,” said Reed. “I have been able to work with them a couple of times and I can see some serious potential with both of them. That’s the key — getting them started at that age rather than waiting halfway through high school.”
Making sure the athletes are safe is of utmost importance.
“Of course, safely is first and foremost,” said Reed. “Ohio does a good job in making sure that anyone coaching pole vault has to go through a certified class and make sure the kids’ safety is in the forefront.”
Coach Reed was also thankful to thrower J.J. Hudson, who stayed after his practice to help the vaulters reset the standards (equipment that holds the bar at a particular height) and bar after their vault attempts.
“J.J. is out here all of the time. He has been a super help and friend,” said Reed.
The three high school athletes talked about learning to pole vault and how much they were enjoying it.
“Pole vaulting is just fun. It is a rush when you get in the air — crazy and really exciting,” said Maddy Reed. “I like that my dad is coaching me, which is a plus.
“You have to be a little bit crazy to pole vault. Your core has to be ridiculously strong to swing yourself up in the air. You have to have a good run, carry, plant and drive. If you have a bad carry, you have a bad plant. If you have a bad plant, you have a bad drive swing.”
Of course, there is a price to be paid for all of that fun.
“Pole vaulting takes every single muscle in your body to do well. You have to do push-ups, sit-ups and core work,” said Maddy Reed. “You have to be fast, so you have to sprint.”
“You have to have a lot of patience to be good at it,” said Cutler. “If one thing is wrong about it (a step), then everything is wrong.”
Since Royster only had a limited amount of time to participate as the only senior, he was soaking up everything he could.
“You have to have moderate speed like a sprinter, upper body strength and mainly core strength. If you don’t have core strength, you can’t do it. You also have to have flexibility. There are a lot of keys that go into vaulting,” said Royster.
“(To be a pole vaulter) you have to have the speed of a sprinter, the power of a thrower, the coordination of a basketball player, guts of a daredevil and the flexibility of a gymnast. Everything is built from the quality of the steps before it.”
Royster is thankful for his opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to do it (pole vault), ever since I started track. I always pushed Coach (Greg) Shepherd to get pole vault and we finally did my senior year. I’m lucky. I’m loving it. I have an awesome coach in Chuck (Reed) and I’ve done real well. I just wish I had more years.”