“With the right coaching, it is as safe as running on the track.”-Joe Hammond, Youngstown Vindicator, March, 2002.
Joe Hammond, the pole vault coach of Youngstown-Austintown Fitch High School, recently died after battling with pancreatic cancer for a year. Joe was my pole vault coach, and he certainly knew pole vault (this was iterated after eating dinner at Joe’s Crab Shack with him where we saw “Joe Knows Crabs” shirts everywhere).
Pole vaulting is a science, and Joe certainly was an expert. To be an above average vaulter, you must be extremely quick, perhaps the fastest on a track and field team, and you must drive your knee. Though Joe scrutinized many other technicalities of the pole vault (planting high, initiating a turn, and throwing the pole) you would always hear DRIVE YOUR KNEE, DRIVE YOUR KNEE on any occasion. Joe had such a devout love for pole vaulting that he constructed a pole vaulting area in his backyard for when the pits were removed from the track in the summer. Though the landing area consisted of “donated” high jump mats, the runway was a dirt path, and the box was rusty, it was awesome. In the fall, we would work on pole vault drills in his garage where a mattress-esque wooden contraption to practice invert drills was housed. In the winter, he would have practice at 5:30 in the morning BEFORE his 7-3 shift at the General Motors car plant where he installed the windshield on Chevy Cavaliers and Cobalts for 35 years. Of course, we would complain at the time, but in hindsight, I am certainly grateful for his commitment. Joe was even interviewed by our local news about the recent freak pole vaulting accidents in 2002 and whether or not a helmet would reduce the risk of related head/neck injuries. They could had interviewed any coach in the area, but they chose him. Note: helmets don’t matter if the fall is greater than 6 feet.
Joe was also the only person I know who could pole vault 13 feet at the age of 52. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to jump with him at an open meet at Kent State a year ago before the pancreatic cancer had spread. He kicked my ass.
You will be missed Joe.