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Ridge jumper last of kind in Trumbull

March 30, 2008
By JOHN VARGO Tribune Chronicle
Nathan Miller is the last of an era — Trumbull County pole vaulters.

The Mineral Ridge standout won the only Trumbull County title, when the event was at Lakeview High School, in 1995.

Miller later went on to finish second that year in the Division III boys pole vault at 14 feet in his senior season. Newcomerstown’s Jamie Lewis went 16-1 to capture the state title and set a new Division III standard.

Because of some fatal injuries at the collegiate and high school level, the Ohio High School Athletic Association raised its standards and mandated high schools get bigger mats in the late 90s. That cost, the cost of the poles and the rising cost of insuring each athlete didn’t fit into area athletic budgets.

After talking to area track and field coaches, the money and safety factors were the two prevailing reasons why the pole vault disappeared from the Trumbull County map.

In fact, Randy Miller Sr., Nathan’s father and pole vault coach, said Nathan’s points didn’t count in the former Inter-County League because he was the last vaulter to compete in this now defunct league.

“Everybody I’ve talked to has told me because of the expense of it,” Randy Sr. said. “The poles I bought, the good ones I bought myself for the kids. Back then, they were running $300-350 a pole.”

But the costs didn’t deter Randy, whose son Randy Jr. also excelled at the pole vault at Mineral Ridge. In fact, being their coach was fulfilling.

“The communication factor was the biggest thing, being able to talk to them when you got them in high school — when they go through dating girls and all that stuff,” said Randy, who coached pole vaulting at Mineral Ridge for more than a decade.

It’s something Nathan appreciated during his high school years.

“He knew my ins and outs. I have most of what I got due to him,” Nathan said.

Earlier this decade, Penn State University sophomore Kevin Dare died while competing in the Big 10 indoor championships. It was just one of a couple catastrophes publicized.

According to the January 2001 American Journal of Sports Medicine, it said there were 31 deaths in the pole vault from 1982 to 1998.

Because of this, some are wanting their athletes to wear helmets for their safety. Pole vault coaches must be certified by the Ohio High School Athletic Association. Coaches can either attend a clinic sponsored by the Ohio Association of Track and Cross Country Coaches or go through an on-line course.

Knowledgeable coaches are a must for the athletes to be safe.

“Definitely if it is done properly and they don’t try to push them more than they’re ready to do,” Randy said. “There’s a lot of technique to it, like the hurdles. You’ve got to learn the technique and do it the best you can.

“In the 12 years I coached, I may have seen two poles break. I’ve seen injuries in it, but I’ve seen injuries in the hurdles — a lot of cinder rash.”

Nathan, who also raced stock cars, said he had more injuries from that than he did while doing the pole vault.

“Most of my injuries are from doing other things,” he said. “I can’t tell you any injuries from the pole vault, a few sprained ankles. But, who doesn’t have those? ...

“I think hurdles is far more dangerous than the pole vault and they’re still running hurdles.”

His efforts and that of his older brother, Randy, landed them at Youngstown State University. Nathan earned a scholarship, while Randy was a walk-on, but eventually earned a partial scholarship.

“I broke my brother’s record at (Mineral Ridge),” Nathan said. “That pretty much set up me getting my Bachelor’s degree on YSU’s bill there.”

But it was expensive to compete in the pole vault, even at YSU.

“It was easier for my dad to get a couple of poles and they weren’t cheap,” Nathan said. “For me to excel, I had to get the right kind of pole. We ended up donating those poles to YSU. That was a couple thousand dollars worth of poles to give to their program so they can keep on going.”

If it weren’t for pole vaulting, would Randy and Nathan have went to YSU?

“Sure. Somehow we would have gotten them through college,” Randy Sr. said. “But it sure did help out.”

Nathan has a 6-year-old boy and 2-year-old girl and would like them to experience the joys of the pole vault as well.

“I’d like to see the pole vault come back in this area. I’d love to coach it. I’d like to see it back for my kids,” Nathan said.



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