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It's Back! | Norwalk pole vault returns to glory

By JAKE FURR Reflector Sports Editor [email protected] • Updated Apr 11, 2017 at 9:45 PM

A freak accident in 1986 put the Norwalk High School pole vault program on hold.

That hold lasted 29 years.

In 2015, the pole vault returned. In 2016, it grew and in 2017, it has become a staple of the Norwalk track and field team.

Back in ‘86, a Norwalk pole vaulter was competing in Galion when an accident put him in a coma for a short time causing wide spread concern over the sport that went beyond just Norwalk High School. Programs around the state hesitated to keep the programs alive, one of those being Norwalk High School.

The program was suspended and soon forgotten about. It remained a sore spot and somewhat of a void for the Truckers when battling for championships.

“We lost an NOL championship and all we needed was one point in the pole vault,” Norwalk coach Ron DeLuca said. “Bellevue had the No. 1 and No. 2 pole vaulters in the state that year and we were a Division I school without pole vaulting. It was a big reason I pushed so hard to get it back.”

Pole vaulting remained on the back burner until 2015 when now Norwalk junior Owen Rhodes picked up the sport. Long-time Norwalk coach Ron DeLuca had to pull some strings, but the pole vault was back, but very limited.

“Owen started everything in bringing it back,” DeLuca said. “He pushed very hard in the sport so we pushed hard on the booster club to get us what we needed in order to bring it back. They got us a great pit. Then Rob (Sommers) came over with Jake and we added Ethan Bird and they each work so hard at it.”

“People are just scared to death of the sport,” DeLuca said. “There is risk in every event in track, but it rises with pole vault. But them going to the training school is a blessing because they are learning how to land and all of that safely. It is a time consuming effort. We have a beautiful setup now.”

The first year, the Truckers couldn’t vault during home meets because there wasn’t a pit or a runway. So Rhodes could only practice by going to Altitude Headquarters, better known as Beamer’s, in Bellevue. A year later, a pit and runway was installed at Whitney Field and pole vaulting was officially back.

“As a coach, I have my certification in pole vaulting, I won’t brag on myself anything after that,” DeLuca said. “There are a lot more people who know a lot more than I do about the sport.”

DeLuca enlisted the help of Rhodes’ father Greg to help him those first two seasons. DeLuca hadn’t coached pole vault since the 1986 season and was a bit rusty and admitted he needed all of the help he could get. But only one thing remained on his mind and that was to provide his athletes with the ability to compete in the even he or she wanted to. Norwalk pole vaulting coach Rob Sommers said he received a lot of support from the athletic boosters.

“We have to give a huge shoutout to the Norwalk Athletic Boosters,” Norwalk pole vaulting coach Rob Sommers said. “A pole vaulter can use up to 10 pole a year and that takes money. The boosters came through when we asked for funds for the equipment. They had a check for us three days later.”

For Rhodes, it was just about doing what he loved.

“It is just a lot of fun and very difficult,” Rhodes said. “It takes a lot of time command. It all starts with the run. A sloppy run is a sloppy vault. There is a lot to it and it is a life style. It takes a lot of practice hours just on the run down the runway itself. It takes thousands of vaults to get it perfect. I am happy they brought it back.”

This season, a young, promising pole vaulter named Jake Sommers and his father Rob joined in on the fun at Norwalk. Jake has already won two meet championships in the event including most recently the Lexington invite with a vault of 13-feet. He admits his start in the sport was based on family.

“My brother (Josh) started his junior year and I was in sixth grade and I just fell in love with the sport,” Sommers said. “We all go over to Bellevue to train and it takes countless hours of perfecting everything. It all started with Beamers and going there two to three times a week. It feels different, but I am very happy it is back. It is a sport that needs to be here.”

On Tuesday, Sommers competed in a dual event against Fremont Ross. After clearing 13-feet yet again, he decided to go after a family record, 13-6. After faulting once, Sommers cleared the bar much to the delight of his brother and family. But he wasn’t done yet. The Norwalk school record was 13-9. So Sommers decided to take another shot at a record with a height of 13-10. On his second try, Sommers cleared the bar making school history in just his first season vaulting at the high school level.

“My brother’s personal record is 13-feet-6 and I always wanted to beat that,” Sommers said. “The past couple of meets I would go up to 13-10 after clearing 13 just to try to get the school record so tonight I went with 13-6 since he was here to watch me. But clearing 13-10 is indescribable. I just kept with it, closed my eyes and tried to clear it as best I could and I got it.”

The feat cemented the decision to bring back the pole vault. With a new record and new facilities, pole vaulting now has a new legacy to leave at Norwalk High School.

 

Twitter: @JakeFurr11

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