Birth Of An Event: A History Of Female Vaulting in NY - Pt.5

The seed was planted.

Rick Suhr's training group of Elite Pole Vaulters had now graduated, with Rick leaving the HS ranks behind as well, to focus on training Jenn Stuczynski for the professional ranks. With them, left an average Pole Vault clearance of 13-4.

But the idea Suhr had created was only beginning to sprout.

The idea of a specialized training group had proven to be so successful, that similar programs began to sprout across the State. Nearly by coincidence, Rick's retirement closed a training group, while downstate, another retirement was about to create another.

At the end of the 2005 school year, Tim St. Lawrence, a physical education teacher, as well as the head Track Coach at the Warwick Valley High School, was set to retire. However, becoming inactive was not part of the equation. Teaming up with Coach Hugh Cauthers, who helped bring the event to the State before his own retirement at Monroe-Woodbury, the pair created the Hudson Valley Flying Circus, a Pole Vault Club based out of an old Dairy Barn in the hills.

Little did they know at the time, but they would go on to account for more than 50% of all State Titles won, Indoors and Outdoors combined, between their start in 2005 through the end of the 2019 School Year.

Success Came Quick

The group would rise to relevance relatively quickly, buoyed by prior success alongside some new found talent. Chief among them was Washingtonville athlete, Stephanie Duffy.

Like many, Duffy started her life as a gymnast, a passion that would soon transfer over to the vault. But it was the Swim & Diving team at Washingtonville that served as the catalyst for change.

"Lindsay Rosales (right) and I dove together as Washingtonville. She was a few grades above me, and was doing this thing called Pole Vault in the off-season. She managed to secure a scholarship to College for vaulting, and I wanted that same opportunity. I soon began to focus solely on the vault" Duffy said.

Rosales won the Indoor State Title for Washingtonville in 2003, winning over an up-and-coming TIffany Maskulinksi.

"Lindsay would train with these coaches outside of school in her free time. Coach Cauthers and Coach St. Lawrence.

Duffy would soon join Rosales during the sessions, and continue to do so after Rosales graduated in 2004.

"We were just a group of vaulters all looking to get better, and have fun doing it. There was nothing official about it yet"

In 2005, that would all change.

Newly retired, Cauthers and St. Lawrence had an idea. What if they could create a facility that would allow local vaulters to train year round? As with much of the Northeast, the upper Hudson Valley routinely would find themselves under a foot of snow from November through March, not quite conducive to the vaulting conditions needed to match the Southern States. And with Indoor Track held at such a priority in New York, but facilities mostly scheduled full with meets Season Long, a private facility was needed.

The Coaches were in luck. Just a few minutes away, at the Warwick Valley Conference Center, an attached Dairy Barn was up for rental. It would need some work to be ready to go, but with the inherent high ceilings and long straightway, the vision was there. It would take a few years before heating was added to the facility, and a few more before the well-known video playback system was there. But the foundation was set.

The Hudson Valley Flying Circus at the Barn was born.

"That first year, we had about 10-15 girls join [The Hudson Valley Flying Circus]. It was a different kind of atmosphere. Despite being from different schools, we all had a partnership together to get better at the event. Even bigger, the coaches made the training fun. It was the place you wanted to go to, to train" Duffy recalls.

The idea paid off. Duffy, as a sophomore in the Spring of 2005, made her first State Meet in the Pole Vault, where she would clear a season-best 10-3.

"I was just happy to be there. It was all so new to me. At the same time, I was able to see Mary (Saxer) win the vault in 13-0, then go on and compete in the Long Jump as well. Not only did it show me what Pole Vault could be, but that you could also be more than a single-event athlete."

That sense of wonderment would continue into her Junior Year. Duffy was getting better. By Indoor her Junior Year, she would clear 11-0. It would place her third at the Indoor State Meet, up nine places from the Spring before. She would clear the same height at the Outdoor State Meet, this time winning her first State Title, based on a threeway tie-breaker. The drive was there.

"That Junior Year, I was still in that mind-set of just 'being happy to be able to get to the State Meet'. You were able to travel to a new place, compete against the best in the State. There was really no internet coverage back then, so I wasn't able to see where I ranked in the field. I just went in trying to do my best. Looking back, it was probably for the best I didn't know how close to the top I really was."

Senior Year would be different. After winning her first State Title, the world of Vaulting began to open for Duffy."That Fall [of Senior Year], I had a really good training block. We were introducing new pole sequences and approaches, and the results were definitely showing. It allowed me to move to bigger poles, which led to heights in practice that I hadn't seen before," Duffy said.

"That Summer, I had spent a lot of the time looking at different Colleges, and what some of the marks that were needed to get a scholarship. It motivated me to really push myself heading into the Winter."

As Winter came, and the Vaulting competitions returned, that confidence led to a breakthrough.

"We wanted to seek out better competition, to really see what I could do. We found a meet at Boston College, that would allow me to jump against some of the College Girls. In one competition, my [Personal Best] jumped up to 12-6. It opened a lot of doors for me."

Duffy would repeat that 12-6 clearance at the Indoor State Meet, capturing her first Indoor State Title. Outdoors, Duffy would again repeat that clearance to win the State Meet by over a foot and a half. She closed out her HS career with a 12-10.75 Personal Best to take Silver at Nike Outdoor Nationals.

"I always loved those big meets, and seeing what I could do. My favorite meet will always be the Penn Relays. The atmosphere [at Franklin Field] is unmatched, and the Pole Vault community always comes together for it."

In the midst of this success, one important thing had fallen to the wayside.

"I waited quite a while in the College Selection process. Coach St.'s niece was a student down at South Florida University, and I went down for a visit to just look around. When I got there, I saw the training conditions they had. They literally never had to jump inside year-round, the weather was so warm. The idea got me hooked."

Duffy would go on to be a 5-Time Academic All-American for South Florida, as well as the Big East Pole Vault Champion in 2010. She would graduate with a lifetime best of 13-6.5, with a degree in Elementary Education.

However, despite her time in the Sunshine State, the call home was always on her mind.

"After I graduated, I always knew I wanted to come back home. I had married my High School sweetheart, and we moved back to the Central Valley, subbing in the school system where I could."

With Duffy being back in the area, the opportunity to still be involved with the Sport, as well as the Barn, was too good to pass up.

"Tim and Hugh gave me a spot working with the kids while I waited on a full-time teaching job. It started as one day a week, but I loved being involved. It slowly turned to two days a week, three, even more. Eventually, I dove straight in to full-time coaching with the club after I got a teaching job at Washingtonville in 2015."

Duffy has been working there ever since. This past April, Duffy gave birth to her son, Connor, a future vaulter in the making.

The Barn continues to produce vaulters to this day. Even now, they have a pair of Middle Schoolers already making waves, taking over the Class State Records as they head towards High School. Lily Beattie (Warwick) owns the 8th Grade State Indoor Record at 11-0, while her teammate Rachel Venter (Warwick) holds the 7th Grade Indoor State Record at 10-0.

The Barn isn't going anywhere soon.

The Bug Had Spread

Demonstrated by both Suhr Sports and the Hudson Valley Flying Circus, the idea of a Pole Vault Training Group was a bona fide hit. The idea began to spread, with regional groups popping up all over the state, that would be consistently producing talents and titles year-over-year.

In the Southern Tier, Matt Scheffler started the Tompkins County Pole Vault Club. Scheffler, who splits his time between an Assistant at Ithaca College, and a Head Coach at Lansing HS, has helped grow the event in the area over the years, with Lansing putting together a strong contingent year over year. Section 4 has seen the most State Titles outside of protégé's from the Barn, with Lansing's own Emily Gallagher winning in 2012.

Jim Henderson, who had been running the Warehouse Vault Club on Long Island for years, and was now routinely putting out quality female vaulters as well.

Back at Lancaster, home of Mary Saxer, the school saw their second Vault Title in 2013, only the third school to ever have more than a single winner. Jenn Thill would Vault 12-8 Indoors led by the new training group in the Buffalo Area, Six Vaulting, led by Jim Townsend. After his departure, Mac Track PVC has helped fill the void.

More groups began to pepper in. Jason Brocious would create Empire Pole Vault in the Syracuse Area, leading to a State Title by Bethany Cripps in 2016. Neighboring States began to get in on the action, as Pennsylvania saw the rise in nearby Vaultworks as well as Vertical Assault Pole Vault Club. Down in New Jersey, ApexVaulting began to pull people over the border.

And in 2014, hailing from the smallest school to ever win a Vaulting State Title, Karmen Auble (below) of Warsaw cleared 12-0 to defeat the Indoor State Champ at CNS High School. Auble, coached by her father Mike, would go on to compete for Xavier University. Her father kept his small training group of Vaulters going even after her graduation, utilizing a facility created in his own backyard. Little did he know at the time, how much of the spotlight his group would find in the coming years.

Part 6 will conclude the Series on Thursday!