In the City Section, the pole vault is an event that's having a hard time clearing the bar

Eric Sondheimer
Contact ReporterVarsity Times Insider

For the first time in the 83-year history of the City Section track and field championships, pole vaulters will be absent from next Thursday’s finals at El Camino College.

In a clear sign of an event in decline, the pole vault finals will be held Friday at noon at Birmingham High, almost one week before the regular championships.

Any competitor who made any height during league finals qualified for the City finals. One girl cleared 5 feet 9 inches to earn a spot. One boy is in the final after clearing 6-6. Those would be considered good marks for the high jump, not the pole vault.

In a year in which a high school student in Louisiana cleared 19-4 1/4, the City Section should be sending out an SOS that the pole vault is in extreme distress.

In the City Section, there are 12 girls and 20 boys who qualified for the varsity finals.

“You could see this coming,” said City Section administrator Vicki Lagos. “Every year there’s less kids.”

Lagos said the reason the pole vault will be held separately is that there weren’t enough officials to run the event during the championships and coaches were having to participate instead of coaching.

“Essentially, it’s because they don’t have qualified coaches to teach the vault,” said former City Section Commissioner and longtime track official Hal Harkness. “It’s something that happened. It’s unsatisfactory, but there are a lot of contributing factors.”

There are fewer than 10 schools in the City Section that have pole vault pits, which cost close to $15,000 each. The poles cost more than $300 each. And there also are liability concerns.

The longest standing record in the City Section is in the pole vault, where Bob Pullard cleared 16-7 in 1969. Will that record ever be broken?

“I won’t say it will never be broken,” Harkness said, “but it would be very, very, very unusual based on the current state of the vault.”

There are a group of pole vaulters refusing to believe the doom and gloom. One is Allan Gramajo from Birmingham. He’s the boys’ favorite with a best of 14-7. He’s also an example of why some administrators want nothing to do with the pole vault.

During a practice session this season, his hand slipped and the pole struck him in the head, leaving him dizzy and sending him to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a frontal sinus skull fracture. He was supposed to be sidelined eight weeks.

“Being as persistent as I am,” he said, “I was determined to get back out on the field because I know as a pole vault, the longer you’re off, the worse it is later in the season. Two days later, I managed to sneak into a meet.”

He achieved a then-personal record of 13-9 and also received a chewing out by Birmingham athletic director Rick Prizant, who banned him from competing until a doctor cleared him.

That’s the typical fearless attitude of pole vaulters. They’re daredevils who thrive on the challenge of trying to fly through the air on a pole.

Gramajo was recruited for the event by Birmingham coach Scott King as a freshman. King told one of the pole vaulters to give a quick lesson to Gramajo, who was a football player.

Wearing jeans, sneakers and a Hawaiian shirt, Gramajo charged down the lane and vaulted.

“I was hooked,” he said. “I loved it.”

Gramajo wishes he and his fellow pole vaulters could compete with the other athletes at next week’s finals, because crowd noise always helps.

He has no complaints about the participants with opening heights that might prompt laughter.

“Everything is respectable as long as you put in the work and effort,” he said. “I respect every athlete no matter what they clear.”

eric.sondheimer@latimes.com

Twitter: latsondheimer

Copyright © 2017, Los Angeles Times
64°