Pole vaulting grows roots in Williamsburg area

Contact Reporterkholtzman@vagazette.com
#GoPro view of a Warhill pole vault from Thursday's practice ... plus photos, via @visualDP #VHSL

JAMES CITY – Around the start of indoor track season, Warhill coach Bill Napolitano called new assistant coach P.T. Hart, who had yet to venture south for the season from his home in New Hampshire.

Napolitano told him "We're waiting for you to come down from New England."

Hart said, "Well, what for?"

"Track," Napolitano said.

Hart, a retired General Electric engineer who lives part time in Williamsburg with his wife, hadn't anticipated an indoor track season when he signed on help Napolitano revive pole vaulting at Warhill, which had been dormant the past several years.

When Hart coached at Lincoln-Sudbury High in Massachusetts, there was only one outdoor season.

"This is unbelievable," Hart thought. "I didn't even think I was going to coach indoor track."

The extra season is one reason why Hart believes there's nothing that should stop Williamsburg from producing quality pole vaulters.

It had the last few seasons with one in particular, former Lafayette standout Kathryn Tomczak. Now a freshman on the Air Force Academy's team, she was the best female vaulter in Virginia, let alone the area, in a discipline that isn't widely popular in the Bay Rivers District and lesser-populated areas around the state.

Some schools around the state petitioned the Virginia High School League last year to eliminate pole vaulting or at least the scoring of it in competitions, largely because of the disadvantage teams that lack the resources or interest from students to support the program incur when the final points are tallied in meets.

That was shot down by the VHSL last April.

Other detractors point to safety concerns, but Hart doesn't buy it.

"I've never had any injuries in the 10 years that I've coached," he said, "because I watch them and if they're getting a little crazy, I fix it. I think it's a very safe sport."

Any pole vault knowledge Hart lacked on the high school level, he absorbed when observing his daughter's club training and it was welcomed by Napolitano, who spearheaded the rebuilding of Warhill's program last year after receiving multiple inquiries from student-athletes.

Hart was the final piece to the puzzle.

Warhill had only two poles before the new coach arrived. His expertise was valuable in selecting five more (An 11-foot, 120-pounder starts at $300.), based on vaulters' weight and experience.

"I may have helped get it started," Napolitano said, "but he's taken it way off in flight. It's great. I'm really thrilled and pleased."

So are the vaulters, eight strong (four boys, four girls) and all underclassmen.

"Fun" seems to be what attracted most of them, including sophomore pals Dana Kiger and Delanie Snyder.

Kiger ran distance last year for Warhill and Snyder sprints along with the high jump.

"The first time I did (pole vault), I messed up and I knew what I did wrong," Kiger said. "And I did it again and made it over. It's just really exciting when you make it over the first time."

"I was so nervous," Snyder said. "I kept asking (Kiger) to go first because I didn't want to go first. And then when I saw she did it I was like, 'OK, I can probably do it.' And I went over and it was so fun."

Snyder hit 7 feet in the last Bay Rivers meet, about a foot and a half lower than the champion from New Kent. That's a far cry from the record-setting 13 feet Tomczak cleared a season ago, but you have to start somewhere, right?

"It's sort of like riding a bike," freshman Anthony Giacchetta said. "You just have to keep doing it to get better at it."

Giacchetta was a gymnast for six years before giving pole vaulting a go. He's been one of the Lions' leaders thus far, tying for seventh in the last district meet with a jump of 8 feet and going several inches higher in practice.

Classmate Noah Dunbar previously played soccer and was encouraged to start pole vaulting by his cross-country coach. So far, 7 feet is his best effort in a meet.

Hart said he's guided both Kiger and Snyder through some recent mental blocks – and conquering that aspect of a jump is at least half the battle.

"I walk them through the process," Hart said. "I tell them it's all a process, just like life, I tell them. So they're getting it and they're coming along."

He also teaches them about respecting the pole vaulting community. One of his proudest moments so far came when his girls lent Warhill poles to some Poquoson vaulters. The Lions were just as excited to help their opponents improve their jumps as they were to improve their own.

Hart and his wife haven't moved to Williamsburg full time yet and he figures their time here this spring may be extended before heading home again because of how much he's enjoying coaching.

"I'm hoping some of these kids will come out for spring track," Hart said, "so I won't have to start the process all over again."

It doesn't look that will be necessary.

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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