BLACK SPRINGS - In the suburbs of nowhere, somewhere between Mena and Mount Ida, the state's top 12 male and female high school pole vaulters are gathered around a 125-foot runway, swatting away mosquitoes in between vault attempts in Morry Sanders'
..."If you'd have asked me five years ago if I would have thought that we'd have six 15-footers, I'd have thought that there was no way," said Sanders, an assistant coach at Lake Hamilton and former Wolves vaulter.
"If we were to have a meet with the state of Florida, right now, we'd have the top five heights," Sanders
"I remember seeing him jump in the 1984 Olympics and I was 14 at the time," Sanders
said."I had already decided that I wanted to jump, but seeing him jump in Los Angeles really was the first time I had seen somebody on TV in the pole vault.He
had a huge impact on me.I went to [Arkansas State ] Coach Guy Kochel's camps as a kid growing up and Earl would be there helping out.I would say he
definitely had a huge impact on my decision to vault."
Kochel, who coached two American and world record holders and three Olympians, recruited Sanders
to Arkansas State.When Kochel left after Sanders' freshman year at the school, Bell continued to play a role in Sanders' development.
"Once [Kochel ] left, the vaulters there coached each other," Sanders
...Sanders founded the Arkansas Vault Club in 1999 and employs a similar philosophy with his students.
"That summer, we had three kids that wanted to do some AAU pole vaulting," Sanders
said "...We had T-shirts made up, and we did the AAU circuit that summer.The next summer, we had 18 kids on the team." Sanders
teamed with Steve Irwin, Stephanie's father, and decided to build a facility.
said the club is totally self-sustaining.
"We probably have about 60 poles in stock that are owned by AVC
"Besides, we have the bungee rule," Sanders
"Most of these kids we're able to get them when they are young enough - seventh or eighth grade - that we can really shape their vaulting knowledge," Sanders
said."Physically, they may not be at the point where we need them to be, but we are teaching them the technique.
" Watching the kids who are perfecting the model - like a Spencer or a Stephanie - that helps them a lot.It used to be where kids would jump 14 feet and they would think that they were accomplishing a lot, and now we have kids that are jumping a lot higher and it's pushing the others to do that." Sanders
and Jones agree that studying a student's vaults on film allows them to address problems in the run or takeoff and try to correct them.
"We try to determine which is the most important thing to fix right now," Sanders
said."Once they've fixed that, we try to figure what the next thing we have to work on is."
Those dedicated to the sport will make it part of their lives to improve and practice.It's nearly a three-hour drive from Fayetteville to Black Springs, but Faulkner makes the drive almost every week.
"My wife says we need to name our house the Pole Vault Inn," Sanders
said."We've had kids that come up from Texas and stay a week while they're training with us."Safety first Sanders
works hard to keep his
students safe and just as hard to assure parents that their children are safe.
"The first thing I let the parents know is that we work on a progression."Sanders
said."When they first start, they don't even work on a pole.You've got to have safe equipment.By national rules, you have to have a box collar [padding around the box where the pole is planted ], you have to have pads that go over your standard bases.A lot of these kids that are getting hurt, they are getting hurt at facilities that aren't up to standards."
Three deaths by amateur vaulters this spring have raised questions about safety in the sport again, but Sanders
said that inherent risks are there with any sport.