By Heather Regula, Correspondent
The Bell County Expo Center hosted pole vaulting athletes at the Texas Elite Expo Explosion IX on Saturday, December 30. Jack Chapman, the owner of Killeen’s Texas Elite Pole Vault Gym, provided coaching and support to his athletes while he oversaw the logistics of the event.
“1982 was the last time I pole vaulted. I worked with athletes at Ellison High School as a volunteer for 17 years before opening the pole vault gym in 1985. We have 37 athletes coming to the gym, and we train Sunday through Thursday. We are usually at track meets the other days,” explained Chapman. “Thirty-two of our athletes are competing here today. Our four core values are faith, family, academics, and athletics. These kids work hard, and they’re very passionate about what they do. I’m blessed in so many ways.”
The event featured five pits set up in the Garth Arena and over 290 vaulters divided into 16 different divisions. Volunteers working the floor were coaches and families of past and present athletes.
“Each division is different – beginners start at the height of five feet four inches and Elite men open up at 16-feet two inches. Elite Men are guys who are in college or even going for the Olympic Trials. The Texas Elite Expo Explosion is the second largest pole vaulting competition in the United States. We started nine years ago with 88 athletes, and we have grown significantly over the years,” explained Keith Martin, a volunteer. “The oldest jumper today is Don Isett – he is 78 years old, and he cleared nine feet two inches. Another older athlete is Bubba Sparks – he is 64, and he cleared nine feet eight inches today. Both Don and Bubba have several world records in their age groups.”
Pole vaulting is a family affair for many attendees, including Doug Severson, a volunteer at Saturday’s event, who pole vaulted when he was younger.
“I’m a pole vault fan – my son Blair was a pole vaulter at Holland High School, and he graduated in 2011. He broke his neck while pole vaulting during his freshman year in college. While he recovered from the injury, his pole vaulting career pretty much stopped then. We all still volunteer with this event though,” stated Severson. “Jack coached Blair, and we appreciate everything he does. There are very few places to practice during the winter, so this is a great event for athletes to come to. We even had Olympians competing here today. The camaraderie is amazing – pole vaulting athletes are one big family.”
Fifteen-year-old Megan DePew of Holland has been pole vaulting since she was 10 years old.
“Pole vaulting is in my blood. My dad pole vaulted in both high school and college, and he broke a record previously held by Mr. (Doug) Severson. Blair Severson broke my dad’s record in high school. Blair took me under his wing and encouraged me to get into the sport,” remarked DePew. “I am a sophomore, and I pole vault in high school. Last year, I made it to the regionals – my highest vault last year was nine feet six inches. Flying is the best part of pole vaulting – it’s the coolest feeling.”
Wolf Mahler, a 2013 Belton High School graduate, is a fifth-year senior at the University of Texas and has been pole vaulting for 10 years.
“I’m a decathlete, so I do 10 events – and the pole vault is one of those events. There is so much to pole vaulting – it’s one of the hardest events in track and field. It isn’t as simple as just seeing what your body can do – it involves using another object to propel you higher than you can go with just your body,” explained Mahler. “I’m not competing today. I sang the National Anthem this morning, and I’ve spent today watching and catching up with old friends. I’m currently ranked third in the nation going into the outdoor season, and I’m looking to make the Olympic Trials and go professional as a pole vaulter.”