When one thinks about Elite pole-vaulters - I mean those close to 17' - one rarely, if ever, thinks about North Carolina. I mean track aficionados instantly think about California and Texas, NOT the Tar heel state. A perusal of Jack Shepard's High School Annuals dating back to 1979 shows Texas a runaway leader with 360 rankings and California at 207. North Carolina had 8; 1980-1@ 15'; 1982-1@15-2; 1992-1@15-5; 1993-1 @15-9; 1999-2@15-8; 2005—1@15-9; 2007-1@15-11. So what's the big deal?
At the recent Pole Vault Summit, a slender blond headed kid from Northwest Guilford High School in Greensboro, Scott Houston, cleared 16-10.75, a phenomenal 11.75" above his previous best, 15-11 and currently ranking him #2 in the United States! No Tar heel vaulter has ever ranked that high.
As a youngster in Georgia (the family moved to NC at the end of his sophomore year, Houston played the usual sports: T-ball, "Which I hated," basketball, soccer ("I played since I was four") and a little volleyball. As a seventh grader, he failed to make the Middle School track team. "I started vaulting the next year and cleared 8-6," he replied when asked when he started. As a frosh he went over 11' but needed 11-6 to qualify for the state indoor meet. But he couldn't repeat his 11-6 practice vault and failed to make it. "I was pissed and began to really study the event. I watched tons of videos."
As a soph, his understanding of the event began taking hold and he had a best of 14-8. Not overly impressive when you consider the soph record is almost three feet higher at 17-6 by Texan Jacob Davis. But then fate stepped in. Fate was named Eric Morrell. "I watched him vault and thought he had a lot of talent," Morrell explained when asked how he and Houston had gotten together. "I gave his Mom my card, they called and we began working."
Houston attended Morrell's summer vaulting camp. "I was impressed by how hard he worked and his drive to keep improving," Morrell continued. As the interview progressed, the word "we" came more and more into play.
In his junior year, Houston entered the Elite ranks with an indoor clearance of 157.05 and 15-11 outdoors. "I had a lot of little nagging injuries that cost me practice time. I think I could have done better," he went on.
The coach was asked how come the huge improvement? "Scott has a great understanding of the event, has good speed and excellent technique. The biggest thing is his throw off the top." When asked to explain 'throw off the top' Morrell answered, "He uses the pole to thrust (throw) him higher. For most vaulters this is where they fall short. They don't stay back on the pole long enough for it to help them gain height."
All well and good BUT…Houston was asked did he have any expectations of clearing 16-10.75? "Not really. I thought I could make 16'. I'd had some good vaults in practice so I was pretty confident." Morrell agreed, "I'd seen him go over 16' during the week and he cleared with plenty of height."
After the 16-10.75 clearance, the two competitors, Nico Weiler being the other, went to 17-2.5. Weiler made it and Houston, despite a couple attempts that Morrell described as "…very good" had to settle for a PB of 16-10.75. "On his third try he had plenty of height but we had the standards set wrong and he came down on the bar," Morrell explained.
What are Houston's goals for the immediate future he was asked? "At the Nike meet I want to clear 17'. Outdoors, "long pause, I think 17-6 is possible and there's the dream of 18'," he replied. You could hear the smile in his voice.
What will it take to reach those goals? "I need to lengthen my run, get consistent at 17' and get on a bigger pole." It should be noted that on his final attempt in Reno he used a borrowed pole feeling he needed the extra throw to get over.
He's narrowed his collegiate choices to several but the top two, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, stand out.
In closing, Morrell described Houston as "…the kind of kid you wish you had every day." So does every coach at every school in every country. Coach Morrell, count your blessings.