http://www.boston.com/news/local/articl ... ult_safety
MIAA program aims to boost pole vault safety
By James Whitters, 4/8/2004
Pole-vaulting is track and field's version of an extreme sport. Think about it: Athletes catapult themselves nearly 20 feet off the ground, twist and turn over a bar, and then come to a controlled crash landing on a foam-rubber pad?
It makes snowboarding sound like dodge ball.
One of the fastest-growing events in high school track and field, pole-vaulting can be especially risky when 14- and 15-year-old students are involved. That's why in the mid-1990s the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, with the help of USA Track and Field elite instructor John Hoogasian, founded a pole-vaulting safety course that has become a model for state athletic associations across the country.
The program, which will next be held April 20 at Holy Cross in Worcester, provides coaches with a detailed overview of safety and equipment regulations and instructs them on how to establish what Hoogasian calls a ''safe vaulting environment."
''Pole-vaulting is unique among track and field events because it's the only event where the athlete is the projectile," said Hoogasian, a former two-time New England champion at Worcester State College, who is now the principal at St. Bernard's School in Fitchburg and an assistant coach at Holy Cross. ''It's the opposite of, say, the javelin, where the athlete is doing the throwing."
Pole vaulting has had its share of recent tragedies. In 2002 alone, Penn State's Kevin Dare, 19, died after falling and hitting his head on the metal pit where vaulters plant their poles, while 16-year-old Jesus Queseda of Clewiston High in Florida died during a practice session, and Somoa Fili, 17, of Wichita Southeast High School in Kansas, died during a competition.
Since that tragic stretch, Hoogasian said USA Track and Field officials have been working with coaches and athletes to make pole vaulting safer.
At the urging of the USATF, for example, the size of the landing mat was increased and new equipment regulations were implemented to keep up with athletes who continue to run faster and vault higher.
''There's risk in everything," Hoogasian said, ''but we're trying to minimize that risk as much as possible. USATF has really been at the forefront of this. They've been analyzing injury statistics and acting on it. The want to promote the sport, and safety's a big part of that."
Massachusetts has been lucky. According to Hoogasian, who keeps close tabs on state high school and college injury statistics, there have been no major vaulting injuries in Massachusetts since the MIAA safety course was introduced a decade ago. While he won't take credit, Hoogasian believes his course has helped convince coaches to make safety their top priority.
''If you have to cancel a competition because the conditions aren't right, who cares?" said Hoogasian, who, as an official, was responsible for postponing the MIAA All-State pole vault competition in 2001 when heavy rain made vaulting difficult. ''You have to realize that you can't please everyone. At least those kids will have the opportunity to vault another day."
With the success of its safety course, which has been adopted in states such as California, Nevada, and Maryland, the MIAA is planning to make it mandatory for coaches who haven't taken Hoogasian's course in the past four or five years to take a refresher course this fall.
''The key is being proactive," Hoogasian said. ''When you have good safe vaulting conditions and knowledgeable coaches, that's a good combo. That's when you have success."
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