Girls making strides in pole vault as boys lag

Special to the Mercury News

The achievement was hardly noticed at the time. Aptos High's Kirsten Loftin had not only won her league pole vault title May 10, but had beaten the boys' champion, as well.

That had never happened in the Central Coast Section since girls began vaulting in 1997. And although girls continue to improve, their success masks the difficulties in keeping the event alive in an area where boys pole vaulting was once king.

From 1983 to 1994, CCS boys won state pole vault titles seven times, by far the area's greatest success in any event. But heading into today's CCS track and field finals at San Jose City College, no CCS boy is even close to cracking the state's top 10.

``The first section you always looked at was the CCS,'' said Fresno State Coach Bob Fraley, president of the North American Pole Vault Association. ``You knew the nation's leaders would come from there.''

Not anymore.

In the past, it often took 16-foot clearances to win a CCS title. Over the past five years, the best CCS-meet mark has been 15-2. This year, the best mark is 14-7.

Of the 13 leagues in the section that compete in track, eight offered the pole vault at their championship meet. One league had only one vaulter, and in another league, the only ones to clear a height were all from the same school.

Of the nine CCS schools represented by boys state pole vault champions, only four still offer the event. Equipment costs for poles and pits, combined with safety concerns, are reasons most often given, but those in the know say the lack of on-campus coaches has done the greatest damage because potential talent on campus goes unnoticed and part-time coaches don't have the influence to fight back when cuts are proposed. And some coaches simply don't have expertise and let the event die.

``We have to fight,'' said Mt. Pleasant Coach Steve Nelson, whose team belongs to the Mt. Hamilton Division, the only division of the three-tiered Blossom Valley Athletic League to keep the event. Nelson credits Overfelt's Monty Steadman and Yerba Buena's Chuck Bean because they ``believe that track encompasses all the events and are doing all they can to keep it alive.''

Another disturbing trend is that schools that don't offer the pole vault campaign their leagues to drop the event to avoid being outscored by schools that offer it.

``That's the easy way out,'' Santa Cruz County vault coach Joe Miyoshi said. ``We can't let that happen. Otherwise, all the work we're doing is for nothing.''

The inclusion of girls has prevented a total collapse. Their introduction has given many schools a reason to continue.