After a 29-year hiatus at Norwalk High School, the pole vault is going to get its justified due on the biggest stage. Senior Owen Rhodes and sophomore Jake Sommers will both compete in the Division I state track and field championships at 12 p.m. Saturday in the pole vault.
Two athletes in the big-school division championships in the fourth year of the pole vault returning to the school isn’t lost on either competitor.
“We got it back my freshman year, and I’ve worked hard at it ever since then,” Rhodes said. “This year, Jake and I were the main two and we’ve also had a few others as well. Then we opened it up to middle school and had 10 kids down there vaulting — and got more girls involved in it this year, too.
“That really helped establish the sport again here, and Carson Bauman (eighth-grader) was second at the state middle school meet,” he added. “They’re coming, and we can be proud of that.”
Rhodes cleared a personal-best 15 feet last week at the Div. I Amherst regional, which placed him second behind Toledo Whitmer’s Ben Scharf (15-feet-4). Sommers was right behind him in third place at 14-feet-8 — his best jump during the outdoor season.
Sommers has cleared 15-feet-3 at the indoor track state championships.
“I can tell we’re still getting back into the sport, but obviously we’re both going to state now, and that says something,” Sommers said of the pole vault success at Norwalk.
“It’s coming along pretty well,” he added. “Obviously with Carson at the middle school, he’ll be up soon and has been getting the hang of it.”
Also not lost on Rhodes or Sommers is where last week’s regional effort stands with the rest of the 16-person field on Saturday.
The jump of 15 feet by Rhodes is fourth-best among the field, trailing only Whitmer’s Scarf, Powell Olentangy Liberty’s Luke Bendick (15-feet-4) and Centerville’s Colin Jasin (15-feet-2).
Meanwhile, Sommers is tied for the sixth-best jump with three other competitors, based off the regional jumps from a week ago.
“It’s been four years of hard work and it’s paying off in a big way now,” Rhodes said. “With hitting the PR last week, it was the right day and the adrenaline was going from the competition.
“It was the most competitive meet we’ve been at all season, and it just all came together,” he added. “The podium is a great possibility, especially with the new poles the (Athletic) Boosters (Club) just got us. We just got three brand new ones to help us on our way.”
Added Sommers, “We’ve all mostly vaulted against each other at indoors, so we kind of know who jumps what and who is who. But we just need to jump the way we are capable and we’re pretty confident of where we can finish.
“It’s a nice track, so it’s going to be fun,” Sommers added. “It also isn’t supposed to be too hot or cold, so the temperature and atmosphere should be perfect.”
Longtime Norwalk track and field head coach Ron DeLuca talked about the return of pole vaulting to the school, and what it has meant.
“It was tough to lose a league title because we didn’t have pole vaulting a few years ago,” he said. “That really brought to light that we couldn’t continue as a Division I sport without it. There wasn’t a lot of support for it at the outset, but there was an interest by Owen and others, we communicated with St. Paul about it — and we decided to approach the Athletic Boosters for support.”
DeLuca noted the first season (2015) was just practicing the run with poles, as there was no pile of sand to jump in. A year later (2016), a pit and runway was installed at the north end of Whitney Field.
“And Owen has gone from seven feet to now 15 feet in that time,” DeLuca said. “And you’re in the elite when you can hit 15 feet in pole vaulting. It was hard to convince some parents at first about it with safety, but many improvements have been made for safety.”
Rob Sommers, Jake’s father, is the pole vault coach, and DeLuca also noted he has worked long hours with both Rhodes and Jake Sommers to become state-caliber jumpers.
“I’m happy we brought it back, and I like the recognition these two kids are getting because of the hard work,” he said. “They’ve really put the time in — which has helped generate interest in it.
“The Norwalk Athletic Boosters have just been outstanding with their continued support once we got going with this,” DeLuca added. “We got them all the details and showed them there was an interest in doing it, and boy, they never backed down. And again, Owen and Jake through a lot of hard work and practicing have now seen it pay off for them.”
To that end, Jake Sommers noted it has been easy to keep improving by working out side-by-side with Rhodes, and vice versa.
“We definitely push each other a lot,” he said. “We have basically broke the record for every meet we’ve jumped in just about. We just keep going back and forth, which is also a lot of fun.”