Wests – a pole vaulting family
Wed, 06/07/2017 - 9:06am admin
When I was going down that runway I was thinking I had to get my hips up higher, because that’s what my coach told me."
At the 2017 Region 7B Track and Field Meet, May 18, Philip’s Cooper West broke the school record as well as the region record in the pole vault event, clearing a height of 14’6”.
Technically, he broke his own school record, which he had set late in the season. And, technically, he broke the region record held by him and by graduated Philip friend, Austin Pinney.
Cooper continues a family line of pole vault honorees.
In the early 1950s, grandfather Mike West set his own personal best at 11’6”. He just could not beat the school’s existing record of 11’9” set by Norman Lamb in 1942. Though Mike qualified to compete at the state tournament each of his high school years, he was not the top dog in the region. “Larry Engles beat me every time,” laughed Mike.
In the early 1970s, Mike’s son, Doug, cleared 11’0”, a great start to a promising career. But, soon after, he went up on the vaulting pole during competition ... and it broke. “After that, I was done,” admitted Doug. He stayed in track, but did not continue in the pole vault event.
In 1985, Cooper’s uncle, Pat West, did break the school record. Pat shattered it at 13’1”. A couple of years later, Mike Carley beat Pat out by a quarter of an inch.
Cooper’s father, Branden, started pole vaulting while a seventh grader. “I had it in my mind that I wanted to get the record back into the family,” said Branden. His senior year, 1993, he reclaimed the record while at the state meet, clearing 13’6”.
“I almost had that record my junior year,” said Branden. “My senior year I prequalified the first meet, at Little Wound, at 12’6”.”
Then, Branden ended up under a horse during a bronc ride, he had to sit out while his leg healed.
“We didn’t jump again until we got to state. We skipped region,” said Mike, who was then assistant track coach.
Branden remembers it well, since grandfather Mike and head coach Jerry Rhodes had both told him to “quit messing around with them bucking horses, you’re going to get hurt.”
“You’ll find me in the State A record book. Cooper is the State B champion,” said Branden. From approximately 1989 to 2002, Philip High School was a Class A school.
In 2006, Philip’s John Hart broke the school record, vaulting 13’9”. He was coached by Mike West, and helped by Branden.
Then, at Rapid City Christian’s Comet Classic Invitational track meet May 2, Cooper set the new school pole vault record at 14’0”. He had already qualified for state earlier in the season, and lead the standings at 13’3”. Then at Belle Fourche, he raised the bar higher to 13’9”.
“That day was so windy, I don’t know how anybody did anything, everything was sideways,” said Mike.
“When I was going down that runway I was thinking I had to get my hips up higher, because that’s what my coach told me. I had to get inverted,” said Cooper.
“He packs around four poles with him,” said Branden. “I only had two poles, one a trainer and the other for meets.”
“My big pole, as I like to call it, is for 170 pounds and is 15 feet, said Cooper. “The larger the pole, the faster and the harder you have to plant it, to make it into the pit. I’ve actually vaulted on that pole five times in competition.”
“To be honest, I always thought I could make the record. After you hit the pit and look back up at the bar and see it still there, that is when you know you’ve made it,” said Cooper.
“You have to have confidence,” said Mike.
Doug started, “What has to happen to make a successful vault ...”
Cooper continued the litany as the others mouthed the words, “... you’re going to run fast, plant with your hands high because that’s what bends the pole, then drive through the pit with your knees as far as you can.”
“That gets the most bend out of the pole as you can,” said Mike. “... then get your hips inverted. You shoot from your shoulder. You are going to drive your right leg over the top of your left foot while turning your toes to turn you over on your back.”
When Cooper broke 14’6”, Mike recalled, “Yes! I knew he had the record then. Finally, 14’6”!
Doug said, “I can distinctly remember, that’s the first time I’ve actually seen Cooper hit the box full speed.”
Branden recalled, “ ‘He finally put it all together.’ My next thought was I hope we can keep this going. That was the most exciting three seconds of my life.”
Looking at the others, Cooper said, “What I remember and what really set the standard is if I do everything my coaches tell me to do, the heights will come. It’s extremely hard to stay focused on everything you can do.”
Cooper competed in four events at the state meet, the maximum allowed per athlete. Next school year, Cooper plans to attend his family’s alma mater, Black Hills State University, Spearfish, where he hopes they will let him compete on the track and field team.