Camp breaks it down to help youths get up

By Gus Bode

Brock McGee, a senior at Herrin High School, practices the pole vault at the Lew Hartzog track at SIUC Saturday. McGee, a state pole vault champion his sophomore year at Herrin, was one of a handful of high school students across the area to participate in the last of two pole vault camp sessions. “It is fun,” McGee said. “And I am good at it.” – Steve Matzker | Daily Egyptian

Pole vaulting camps provide pre-collegiate athletes with the necessary tools and techniques to reach higher altitudes.

The Saluki track team members held instructional camps at the Lew Hartzog Track, which was formerly McAndrew Stadium, on back-to-back Saturdays, July 9 and 16. The camps focused on pole vaulting and were open to both novice and experienced middle and high school athletes.

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“We’ve got all ages and all abilities. We’ve got an 8th grader, and we’ve got a couple of seniors and everything in between,” said Dan Digman, SIU pole vault and javelin coach Dan Digman, who led instruction in each of the camps.

The camps aimed to evaluate each participant and provide necessary changes to improve every step of their technique and subsequently their results on the track. Those who attended were subjected to various drills to promote constructive growth.

Pole vaulting as an event, however, has been excluded from high school programs because of its cost and the danger involved. Digman said each pole can run anywhere from $200 to $500 apiece, and a good pole-vaulter needs a series of at least 10 in his or her repertoire.

“What the problem is, is it’s a dangerous sport and it’s really expensive,” Digman said. “The cost is really high, and then it does cost quite a bit to insure this because it is one of the more dangerous sports out there.”

He said his primary concern with youth pole vaulting programs is inconsistent and inexperienced instruction.

“There aren’t a lot of coaches in this area at the high school level, so kids are going out and jumping but don’t have much expertise helping them, and that compounds this,” Digman said.

Although there is limited accessibility to the sport in various areas, the kids who did come out did so to compete and represent their schools in upcoming seasons. A majority of the attendees were natives of southern Illinois and surrounding areas, with one camper from Arizona, who came out while visiting family nearby.

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Kassie Riedle, 15, of O’Fallon, said she was told by her coach and other peers who have attended in the past that the camp would allow her to refine her technique. She said camp counselors break down the jump, and it was as if she was relearning the process.

“I learned new techniques I’ve never learned before,” she said. “I went to a pole vaulting practice recently and it helped. I was getting higher already with just one day here.”

David McCuan, 17, of Harrisburg, said he was new to the sport and saw tremendous improvement in his performance. McCuan said he decided to learn the sport because there was no pole vault position in his school track team. McCuan said he hopes the addition of the pole vault will help his team during state competitions.

“Harrisburg doesn’t have a pole vaulter, and we really need one since we got second in state,” he said. “It could also help us. As long as you get opening height, you can place in invitationals, and it could help us win some more meets.”

Digman said he hopes the camp provided comfort for developing athletes. He said he will continue to be available if they need any help in the future.

“I offer these twice a year because I want these kids to be able to have some guidance, have somebody helping them,” he said. “I’m just trying to make this, especially the ones who don’t have coaches, a resource to help them be as good as they can be.”

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