Coach: It's time to cross off a bucket list item -- pole vaulting
I couldn't resist. There it was in big, bold, stark headlines on the Glenbrook South Booster Club website: free pole-vaulting clinic, with the ever-so-tempting sub-headline reading, "It's awesome, everyone can do it!"
Really? Everyone? Sweet! I figured this could be a great chance to maybe remove another notch off the old bucket list.
The pole vault has always had a strange attraction for me. Watching these unique, out-of-the-box athletes sprint down the runway, carrying their spear-like fiberglass pole, then firing the pole into the way-too-tiny hole before bending the pole -- seemingly against all odds -- and thrusting themselves upward, hurling high into the air while arching barely over the horizontal bar. It is truly fascinating.
Oh, and don't forget the best part: The return to earth, landing when you beautifully bounce on that wonderful big foam pad.
I mean, how cool would all that be?
Basically, my bucket list dreams right now are down to two. One is to travel into space, the other is knowing what it would feel like to go aerial on the pole vault. Since the space mission currently costs a couple million and the Glenbrook South pole vault clinics are free, I figured maybe the pole vault dream might be more reasonably accomplished.
You can only imagine my disappointment upon discovering the upcoming pole vault clinics are for Glenbrook South students and not open to the general public, which I am assuming includes a recently Medicare card-carrying journalist.
They will, however (and more importantly) be a recruiting tool from GBS pole vault coach Jim Lonergan, who is seeking to get more kids in the school to compete in his favorite sport.
Doing my due diligence here, I decided to go to the source himself, Coach Lonergan, and soon found I was talking to pole vaulting royalty. Not only is Lonergan the GBS pole vault coach, but he is literally the face of this fascinating sport for the entire Chicago area. Over 40 years coaching!
Titan football fans who are stuck with "Maine South envy" (and yes, I know you are out there), hold your breath here, when I tell you that Lonergan is a born-and-bred Hawk. He went to Maine South as a student, then came back to coach, first at the now closed Maine North High School, and then for -- hang on here boys and girls -- 32 more years all at Maine South.
He has had multiple state qualifiers in the pole vault during his years with the Hawks, and he built up such ultimate respect from other coaches that he was named to the state of Illinois Track and Field Hall of Fame.
Pole vault royalty, indeed.
"I had some great mentors," said coach Lonergan, "so many of the local coaches that went out of their way when I was a young coach and were more than willing to take me under their wing and give me advice and help in any way.
"When I started coaching, I really didn't know much about the pole vault at all," he explained. "I never tried it in high school, but a lot of my friends were pole vaulters, so I hung around with them and picked up some stuff. Then, when I started coaching at Maine South it was books, library materials, videos, coaching clinics, and simply talking to other coaches that I was able to really learn the technique and skills required."
So, after 32 years, how did Lonergan go from the dreaded red and black of Maine South to now proudly wearing the Titan blue and gold?
"I finally retired from teaching and wanted to take a break," he explained. "But coaching was still in my blood, so after a year off, I went back to coaching over at Niles West for seven years, but then that gig also ended."
"I knew Kurt Hasenstein (Titan head track coach) from many years of coaching against him and always respected Kurt. A few years ago, Glenbrook South had an opening for pole vault coach and Kurt asked me if I was interested. I jumped at the chance, and here I am."
Even though this is Lonergan's third official season with the Titans, it really is his first full season. Due to the pandemic, the first season never even happened and last year was a shortened season with no ability to run off programs.
But this year? A different story. He is going full steam ahead, and thus the reason for the clinics and trying to recruit new jumpers.
The indoor field house will be open to all girls and guys interested in giving it a try. No pressure, no hassles; just a chance to try this unique sport. And who knows? Maybe find out you like it.
The next clinics will be Tuesdays and Thursdays, today through Dec. 16 at the GBS Fieldhouse. The Tuesday clinics run from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.; Thursdays will be 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Finally, I asked coach what kind of kid is he looking for when recruiting a pole vaulter -- what kind of skillset and mental aspects?
Sprinters or hurdlers typically make good ones, he said; natural jumping ability is an asset as well.
"You don't have to be super strong," coach said, "but you do have to have what I call gymnastic-type strength. Bouncy, with some explosiveness"
What about the type of kid typically drawn to pole vaulting?
"Yeah," the hall of fame coach said with a laugh, "usually our pole vaulters are a little 'adventurous' shall we say. Just sometimes cut from a little different cloth than the other typical high school athletes."
He described one of his unique recruiting tools to me. Lonergan would hang down the old climbing ropes in the gymnasium and then, very sternly, tell all the kids in the class to leave the ropes alone and not go anywhere near them. He would then leave the gym for a little while.
"When I came back," he said, "the ones who were fooling around and trying to climb the rope? Those guys (or girls) were my pole vaulters."
So, there you have it. Maybe more than you ever cared to know about the sport of pole vaulting.
Thanks to Coach Jim Lonergan, we now have one of the best experts in the state coaching our kids right here in Glenview. My advice: Take advantage of it, and if you are even thinking about or ever considered trying it, show up to the free clinics and give it a whirl.
As for me and my dream? It is not dead yet. Lonergan informed me that, while the winter clinics are for GBS students only, he will conduct summer clinics that are open to anyone interested.
Open to anyone? Makes you think ...
"65-year-old journalist tries pole vault for first time." Not bad for a potential headline.
• Jon Cohn of Glenview is a coach, retired PE teacher, sports official, prep sports fan and now, perhaps, a future pole vaulter! To contact him with comments or story ideas, email firstname.lastname@example.org.