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Coaches Question Future of Pole Vault After Death

May 01, 1997|JOHN ORTEGA

The death of a Hart High pole vaulter has some track and field coaches in the region concerned about the future of the event.

Heath Taylor, 17, died after a practice vault. After clearing the bar at 10 feet, he slid off the back of the landing mat and hit his head on asphalt.

He was the second American high school athlete killed this season in what track experts consider the most risk-filled event.

"I think it's a beautiful event but there is an element of danger involved, so you need to take the proper precautions," said Mel Hein, the Taft track coach.

When Hein started vaulting in the mid-1950s, the poles were still made of steel. In 1965, he used a fiberglass pole to set an American indoor record of 16-5 3/4.

"I would hate to see some coaches get discouraged and end the event," he said.

But that is exactly what happened in the Channel League, where the eight member schools voted to eliminate the pole vault in 1995. Athletic directors were worried about a lack of qualified coaches and steep equipment costs.

Landing pads cost as much as $6,000. The standards can run $1,000. And a typical boy's pole costs $270.

High prices also prompted the Frontier and Tri-Valley leagues to eliminate vaulting in recent years.

"Should we get rid of it everywhere? No," said Brian FitzGerald, Rio Mesa's athletic director.

"It is a dangerous event but if the proper kind of equipment regulations are followed and you have a competent coach working with the kids, I don't think it is any more dangerous than a lot of sports."

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