Let’s Talk About Pole Vault Safety!
I love the pole vault! I hate injuries. I am a parent, a coach, a pole vaulter, and a fan of the sport.
After a report came out over ten years ago that called pole vault the “deadliest” sport, I decided to research the issue. Something about that didn’t sound right to me. I found the study the article was based on, it was assuming there were 25,000 pole vaulters in the US. That didn’t sound right to me either.
The NFHS tracks participation rates in all of their sports. The problem is, pole vaulting is not a sport. Track and field is a sport. T&F participation is easy enough to track, each school reports to their state how many kids turned out for the track team, each state reports to the NFHS.
Although the state associations and NFHS are not tracking pole vault participation, sites like MileSplit and Athletic.net have allowed us in recent years to be able to get a clearer picture. These sites only count athletes who clear a bar in competition, most high schools end up with kids who try the pole vault, but never compete. Those athletes also count as participants (if they were injured, we would certainly count them as an injury!).
I did an extensive study of these sites, and concluded that we have over 90,000 high school students in the United States who participate in the Pole Vault every year. My data was included in this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22582223
(I am RG Peter).
Now let’s talk about accidents. It is very important that since the VHSL governs high school that they only consider high school accidents. High school pole vaulting is extremely safe. In 2003, the rules changed, requiring the pits to be larger. Since then, catastrophic injuries decreased dramatically, especially at the high school level.
Within the pole vault community, we closely monitor these injuries. Working with Jan Johnson (I spoke to him this morning), I have only been able to come up with five catastrophic (death, skull fracture, other severe head/spine injury) injuries to high school pole vaulters in the past 11 years. Only one of those five led to death. Most of the others ultimately resulted in a full recovery.
That’s five catastrophic injuries nationwide, among 90,000 participants per year, in an 11 year span.
Now let’s talk briefly about the benefits of the event. The pole vault often attracts kids who are on the fringes. It keeps them involved in a sport when they might otherwise be getting in trouble. It inspires passion like few other sports or events do. Many students from Virginia have earned college scholarships for the pole vault.
Let’s stop pretending this is a safety issue. This is an issue of schools who have chosen not to offer the event, being upset they are losing points to schools who offer it.
The excuse is that they can’t afford it. Those who want to make it happen, find a way to make it happen. Maybe you share facilities with another school. Maybe you fundraise for five years to buy a pit. Maybe your kids practice with a club.
Is it fair to deny kids the opportunity to participate in an event they love, simply because some schools don’t have it?
While we all want a level playing field when it comes to team scoring, the truth is, you never have a level playing field. Some schools get more kids to turn out. Some schools have more talent. Some schools have better coaches. Some schools have better facilities. Pole vault is just one of MANY events in track and field. Schools who don’t offer it have MANY other events to make up those points.
It is wrong to deny over 1,000 Virginia high school student-athletes the right to participate in the event they love, and potentially earn college scholarships, simply because some coaches want to improve their team’s chances of winning a few meets.
Please, do what is right for the kids. The pole vault is a safe, fun, and rewarding event. Please do not take it away from your athletes.
Becca Gillespy Peter
Pole Vault Powerhttp://www.polevaultpower.com/