Risk factors keeping pole vault away from District 51 track teams

Pole vaulting has been a good source of points for track and field teams in western Colorado, but the event is forbidden in School District 51 due to safety concerns.

One by one, pole vaulters sprinted down the runway, then vaulted themselves upward toward the bar.

Some showed promise but many, maybe even most, were borderline hideous at the sport. Mere beginners in a difficult track and field event.

That track and field meet earlier this season in Rifle saw schools from around the Western Slope with pole vaulters. Not every team, but quite a few.

The four schools from District 51, however, are not pole vaulting and will not any time soon.

The school district’s policy is no pole vaulting because of the danger and the liability of the sport.

“Our risk management department said that’s not something we can to do right now,” said Paul Cain, D51 athletic director. “It might be something we can add at a later date.”

Sheila Naski, the risk manager for School District 51, said it comes down to evaluating the risks.

“Needless to say, there are tremendous risks to pole vaulting,” she said. “We’re not anti-pole vaulting. But before we would consider a program, we would have to have top-notch safety equipment, plus certified coaches and officials.”

Cain acknowledged that more school districts are adding the sport.

“It has been a trend over the past few years that more and more Colorado schools are adding the event, and there’s been a little bit of a shift on the liability stance with pole vault. Our risk management as well as a lot of other school districts are not to the point where they are comfortable with adding it,” Cain said.

But there will be pole vaulters — the good, the bad and the ugly — competing in Grand Junction.

“There will be meets that we host where there will be a pole vault event,” Cain said. “Our risk management stance is that they can use our facilities as long as they have certified people running it.”

There is a pole vault pit at Grand Junction High School that is primarily used by the Colorado Mesa track and field team.

With the Class 2A, 3A and 4A league meets in Grand Junction this past weekend, if schools have pole vaulters, they went to Grand Junction High School to compete and score points for their teams.

Palisade coach Tim Reetz has been a big advocate of the event and hopes it will someday be allowed by the school district.

“First and foremost, it’s a (Colorado High School Activities Association) recognized event,” he said.

“The kids love it. It’s cool and different than what they are used to. It’s just another draw for kids and it helps grow your team.”

Phil Wertman coached track and field at Fruita Monument High School for 33 years, 26 as the head coach.

Growing up in a small town in Iowa, Wertman was a pole vaulter and a good one.

Back then competitors didn’t even have a soft gigantic pad as a landing spot. Instead they landed in saw dust and sand.

He went on to compete at the University of Iowa.

“Back in my day, if you missed the pit and broke an arm, you were done for the year and you moved on. Nobody raised a big stink about it or anything,” he said with a smile.

He would like to see the event return to area schools.

“Well, I’d love to see it come back and I think it’s great for high school but in this litigious society we have today, I understand why it’s not (here),” he said. “You now have to pay for the pit, the poles, the coaching and the liability.

“It is very expensive and I understand why we don’t have it but I wish we did,” he said. 

From a competition perspective, teams that don’t have pole vaulting are at an immediate disadvantage when it comes to team points for both boys and girls teams.

“Certain teams can rack up big-time points,” Reetz said. “So that’s frustrating because even beginners can get points in pole vault.”

Reetz is optimistic that the school district will eventually allow pole vaulting but for now, Palisade, Fruita Monument, Grand Junction and Central will not have athletes competing in the event.


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