"Girls can fly, too!"
July 3, 2008 · Updated 5:59 PM
"Lesley TePaske raised the pole, which was almost three times longer than the Oak Harbor junior, and started sprinting down the runway towards the bar. After planting the pole in the box, TePaske went sailing over the bar, landing in the mats.TePaske had cleared 7 feet, 6 inches. It was another historic vault for the school's record-holder, who just began pole vaulting on Feb. 28.In fact, TePaske is one of three history-making girls on the Oak Harbor track and field team this spring. Charlotte Milling, Julie Schell, and TePaske are the first girls at Oak Harbor to compete in the pole vault. In fact, the three Wildcats are among the first high school girls in the 4-A Western Conference to compete in the event, and among the first in the state.For several years, pole vaulting was limited to boys. Then two years ago, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) allowed girls to try pole vaulting as an exhibition event. A few girls at schools that already had strong pole vaulting traditions for boys took part in the exhibitions.This year the WIAA allowed girls to compete in the pole vault as a regular event in track and field meets. The three Wildcats are pleased they got the opportunity.It's fun!, said TePaske. I like getting myself up in the air. I'm not afraid of heights or anything.Milling, a sophomore, said there's nothing like it. Even high jumping doesn't compare to it.And Schell says I like it. It's a lot like flying in the air.Milling was the first Oak Harbor girl to ever clear a height at a meet, going 6-0. She has since cleared 6-6 in a meet, and 7-0 in practice.TePaske has gone 7-6 in two meets. Last Thursday at a meet at Marysville-Pilchuck, TePaske equaled her record and finished first.Schell, a freshman, has cleared 6 feet.The three girls answered Oak Harbor coach Seth Hodges' request for pole vaulters in February.I was looking for girls who had an athletic background, hopefully in track, and girls who weren't afraid of being upside down in the air, Hodges said.TePaske, who plays soccer in the fall, decided to try pole vaulting because she said it would be cool to try it. Milling decided to try pole vaulting because her father was a high school pole vaulter. Schell got the desire while watching a commercial during the Super Bowl where someone pole vaulted.Originally, 11 girls turned out for the pole vault. However, other girls decided to concentrate on other events.Hodges has been pleased with the dedication of the three girls, considering that they haven't always had a pole vaulting coach. This is a track and field event that requires a person with special expertise, too.Jessie Petersen, a mechanic with the Navy, worked with Oak Harbors girls and boys pole vaulters earlier this season. However, he is currently stationed in California. Petersen, who cleared 16-1/2 during his high school days, e-mails the workout sheets to Hodges every day.In seven weeks, we've only had a pole vault coach for three weeks, Hodges said. Most of the time, our other coaches or myself just stand by the mat to make sure they don't get hurt. I really admire these kids. They are very self-motivated.Having the right equipment should help the girls in future meets.Right now we have poles that are too big for the girls. The poles are for 160 pounds; we don't have anyone that big, said Hodges, who has ordered some new poles. Once Lesley gets a new pole, I expect her to go a lot higher.TePaske, who also runs long distances and competes on the 1,600-meter relay, said she was a little nervous the first time she pole vaulted in a meet.I didn't know what to expect, TePaske said. The event is so new to everyone in our league. I discovered everyone was as nervous as I was, and that they weren't a lot better. Then I felt OK.When there isn't a coach available, the girls follow the workout sheet and give each other pointers.Milling has learned the importance of getting the hips up high.If you don't get them up high enough, and if you don't concentrate enough, you will miss the height, said Milling.Milling, who hopes to clear 8-0 this spring, said I've done every event in track, and this is the only event I've had any promise in. This is the only event where I feel I can do good in, especially if I work hard at it.All three plan to continue pole vaulting next year.Hodges is looking forward to their return, too.They are real special, Hodges said. They aren't afraid to be upside down in the air."