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Air Devil

Oakwood's Fearless Evan Bacon Puts Some Sizzle Into the Pole Vault

March 08, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

At 5 1/2 months, Evan Bacon put his tiny hands on top of his crib and flipped himself onto the carpet.

At 1, he tried to climb out of a window and was stopped by a woman clinging to his diaper.

Mike and Susan Bacon concluded they needed to turn their house into a baby-proof fortress to protect their mischievous boy wonder.

The years went by, but nothing has changed. Evan, 16, is still doing flips, still challenging gravity, still acting as if he should be wearing a crash helmet wherever he goes.

"I like to fall from 15 feet in the air," he said.

Guess what sport he has come to admire?

Pole vaulting.

Bacon is a junior at North Hollywood's Oakwood School and could become the school's best athlete since basketball player Mitchell Butler.

He cleared a school-record 14 feet at the L.A. Invitational indoor meet last month and ranks as the favorite to win the Southern Section Division IV championship.

Of course, every time Bacon clears a career best, it's a school record, since he's the only pole vaulter at Oakwood.

"The school has never had a pole vaulter," he said. "I've asked around and no one wants to do it. I can't imagine why."

Finding pole vaulters is difficult because they have to be nuts.

"I prefer insane," Bacon said. "What other type of person would rather chuck themselves into the air than do anything else?"

Anthony Curran, UCLA's pole vault coach and Bacon's private instructor, said the sport attracts a certain type of individual.

"You have to be crazy," Curran said. "You have to have a screw loose. You have to have that lack of fear. The scary thing about pole vaulting is bending a pole 90 degrees and hoping it throws you in the right direction. Your best athletes are the ones able to harness the energy."

Bacon is only 5 feet 5 and weighs 110 pounds. He excels because he has gymnast skills, broad shoulders, good upper-body strength and generates exceptional speed down the runway.

But his size puts him in a different category. In 25 years of coaching, Curran has never had a pole vaulter so small soar so high.

"I can't explain the physics," Bacon said. "I just do it."

One day in physics class, Bacon came up with an interesting proposition.

"We figured out if I was on the moon, I could jump 75 feet with a 60-foot pole," he said.

Don't think for one minute Bacon wouldn't volunteer to board a space craft with his pole.

This is a daredevil planning some special trips when he gets out of high school.

"First I'll go skydiving," he said. "Then bungee jumping, then hang gliding. I once asked my parents if I could be a stunt man. They said, 'No way.' I figure once I'm 21, I can make my own decisions and try to jump over the Idaho river."

Bacon has received strong support from his parents, who adopted him at birth. He took gymnastics lessons for more than six years. He was drawn to the pole vault after seeing the event on television during the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona.

He's so light that Oakwood shotputter Scott Cooper has been known to carry Bacon over his shoulder with one hand.

Oakwood, with an enrollment of 310 students, doesn't have enough members on its track team to compete in dual meets. But the Gorillas could score well at the Southern Section championships with Bacon and freshman Treani Swain, one of the region's top girls' competitors in the 800 meters.

"We've had Mitchell Butler and that's it," Bacon said. "We're like a little artsy school. I can't act worth beans and can't sing."

But give him a pole and watch out.

"Pole vault is my calling," he said.

*

Sportswriters are not supposed to cheer in the press box, but I would have trouble remaining neutral if John Wilson were at the plate. The former L.A. Baptist High catcher is one of the great success stories in college baseball. Wilson, who survived shotgun blasts fired through a door by his father and left Cal State Northridge when the school briefly dropped baseball, has overcome adversity to put himself in position of fulfilling his dream of reaching the major leagues.

He has become an All-American catcher at Kentucky (13-0). He's batting .371 and leads the Wildcats with four home runs and 16 runs batted in. He has 36 career home runs, five short of the school record. In June, he'll be a high draft pick. No one is more deserving or has worked harder to earn his chance at baseball success. . . .

Former El Camino Real first baseman Brian Somoza is batting .257 as a freshman designated hitter at Iowa State. . . .

Attention postal workers: Be on the lookout for nervous parents waiting at their mailboxes Saturday. That's the day parents learn whether their child has been accepted to the private school of their choice. Acceptance letters go out Friday.

The competition is tougher than ever. Notre Dame had 650 applications for 310 spots. Harvard-Westlake had 1,200 applications for 225 spots for its middle school and 350 applications for 50 spots in ninth grade.

Coaches are keeping their fingers crossed waiting to see if any 6-8 twins show up or someone with a John Elway-like arm gets into school. . . .

One coach who should be celebrating is Jim Bonds, St. Francis' new football coach. He's got quarterbacks lined up as if he were coaching at Hart. John Sciarra, the Golden Knights' returner, is being heavily recruited. Backing him up is sophomore-to-be Kevin Davies. And arriving this fall is highly touted Alex Gonzalez, a 6-2 freshman.

*

Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

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