Pole vaulter raises the bar for rivals

If a movie is ever made about Evan Barr of Los Angeles Loyola, it will be titled "The Accidental Pole Vaulter."

The only reason he went out for the sport is that he heard an announcement in English class his freshman year informing students about tryouts, and a friend quipped, "Let's pole vault."

Barr went out for the team and his friend decided to play baseball.

"I had never touched a pole," Barr said.

Now Barr has the second-best mark in the state at 16 feet, 2 inches and has signed a letter of intent with California to be a pole vaulter. Even stranger, he hardly fits the profile of a pole vaulter.

Virtually every vaulter I've interviewed over the years has been a little flaky, because it takes some nuttiness to fly through the air while being propelled by a fiberglass pole.

Barr is different. He's just a normal 18-year-old high school student who happens to have fallen in love with an event that's filled with daredevils.

"I don't skateboard, I don't surf, I don't do crazy things," he said. "The craziest thing I'll probably do is get on a roller coaster."

But he's slowly escaping his shell. He used to dislike the idea of people clapping before he jumped. Now he encourages supporters to clap. And he's added a loud grunt to his runway routine, so perhaps his shyness is dissipating. Then again, he's not ready to audition for his own reality-TV series.

"I guess I'm still kind of reserved," he said. "I'm always that level-headed guy. I'm not the one to push my friends into doing reckless things."

What enabled Barr to become an elite pole vaulter is commitment to the sport. He spent hours watching video. He went into the weight room and improved his bench press by 50 pounds in a year. He went to clinics to learn technique. He improved his speed.

"I saw a lot of the guys who were jumping record heights were big, fast and generally strong," he said. "After that, I decided I was going to commit myself in the weight room."

Studying the sport and learning from others is part of Barr's plan to keep improving.

"Evan is a cerebral vaulter," track coach Mike Porterfield said. "He's in my AP psychology class. He's very attentive. He sits in the front of the class. The same approach he brings to the classroom he brings to the pole vault. He's always figuring out the best way to vault. However, as quiet as he appears, he's very, very competitive."

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Barr finished second at last year's state championships with a mark of 15-9, making him one of the favorites for 2011.

But there's plenty of competition. Barr placed fourth at the Arcadia Invitational, and an improving junior, Connor Stark of Oak Park, cleared a career-best 16-1 to take second place.

Whatever happens, Barr is thankful he found a sport to enjoy. He quit football after his freshman year, and if it weren't for his friend's encouragement, he said he doesn't know what he would be doing right now.

"I had absolutely no idea where pole vaulting was going to take me," he said. "And now, I'm so glad I did it. I know being able to pole vault has opened a lot of doors for me."



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