MUSKEGON, MI – Zack Sutton had a choice to make in the winter.
The choice was to play basketball, the sport Sutton had played and loved since he was a kid, for the Orchard View varsity team or to focus on improving his pole vault so he could be ready to excel in his senior track season.
Sutton picked pole vault, and he’s glad he did after he broke the Orchard View school record with a jump of 14 feet, six inches on April 17.
“I was really tempted to play basketball but my dad and my coach convinced me that if I wanted to be good and get the record that I needed to totally focus on the pole vault,” said Sutton. “Instead of having to catch up to where I was at the end of last season I would be able to start there and move up quickly.”
In his junior year Sutton started around 11-0 and was clearing 13-6 by the end of the year and won his second consecutive city title.
But Sutton wanted more. The school record and possibly city and area records were tantalizingly within reach.
The 18-year-old senior watched his brother Garyt narrowly miss out on the former school record of 14-5 in 2010 and knew he couldn’t afford to backtrack if he wanted OV’s record, let alone the city record (15-4) or the area record (16-4), both set by Oakridge’s Zach Burrington.
Watching both his brother and Burrington, whose dad Len Burrington is now an assistant at Orchard View and gives pole-vaulting tips to Sutton and others, inspired Sutton.
“Watching guys go so high when you’re at a younger age is so motivating,” said the son of Scott and Kris Sutton. “Watching Zach made me want to go that high. There’s just something about it.”
Motivation was just one thing Sutton had going for him.
Sutton had the work ethic and dedication to match.
“Zack’s definitely committed to what he does,” said Cardinals coach Neil Sladick. “He truly loves it. He showed up during spring break and put the time in when he wasn’t even asked.”
Sutton committed to going to Grand Rapids twice a week during the winter to train and put three total days of work into practicing and competing in the MITCA circuit, where vaulters can pay a fee and participate in meets at colleges.
Because of his work Sutton feels like he can already clear 15-0 and the sky’s the limit. He set a personal record the first meet of the spring season and has gone up from there.
Sutton’s thin, wiry-type 5-10 frame is also perfect for pole vault.
The two-time all-state second team soccer player is athletic, flexible and strong, and he has the right mental approach to attack the sport when it comes time to fly.
“Zack’s done his weightlifting and he’s got a good arm reach,” said Burrington. “He’s also got that care-free attitude you need to be able to go upside down 14-15 feet in the air. He has that self-confidence., and with his soccer background he’s great shape for everything he needs to do in the pole vault.”
Sutton’s prowess and athleticism has allowed him to move up to using a 15-foot pole. Most high school vaulters use a 14-foot pole.
For the last two seasons Sutton ran events in addition vaulting.
This season Sladick is allowing Sutton to just focus on pole vault.
“Zack did everything he was asked to do the past few years,” Sladick said. “He’s sacrificed for us and I think he can just focus on pole vault this season.”
Given how he improved so much as a junior while running, Sutton is hoping to improve at least that much this spring and challenge the city and area marks.
Sutton’s also hoping to make a splash at the state meet.
“I think the potential is there,” Sutton said. “It’d definitely be great if I could get those records and get top-5 in the state. We’ll just see how it goes.”
Sutton has some soccer scholarships already offered to him.
If he gets close to 16-0 though in pole vault he’ll likely get more track scholarship offers, so as of now he’s undecided on where and what he’ll be doing next year.
His focus at this point is vaulting higher.
By Scott Brandenburg
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