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Setting the standard

Some are simple mug shots. Others have props, and even more are in black and white.

More than 170 photographs of all-state athletes and/or relay teams hang in the hallway leading into Park High's activities center. Most of the photographs are of students long-since graduated, though a few of the students are still finishing their high school careers.

Either way, chances are first-year Wolfpack pole vault coach and 1998 Park high graduate Dennis Abernathy wasn't the only student to walk past the photographs and to imagine what it would be like to see his own face up there.

"One of my inspirations when I was here was looking up at the board and seeing different pole vaulters," Abernathy said. "When I was in high school, I always looked up there and thought, 'Wow, I want to be up there. I want to be on that board.' And I think that's a goal of a lot of the vaulters -- to be up on that all-state board."

Abernathy eventually became one of many Park track and field athletes to make the wall.

Out of the 175 total photographs, at least 56 of them -- nearly a third -- belong to track individuals and/or relay teams. There may be even more. Some photographs are missing labels.

The Wolfpack can boast years of successful hurdlers, middle-distance runners and shot putters. But in recent history -- especially 2006 -- the pole-vaulters have been stealing the show.

From the first week of April, Park pole-vaulters have consistently been the breadwinners for the Wolfpack.

In Park's quadrangular on April 11, senior Justin Arndt and junior Matt Masloski both cleared 13 feet to earn first and second place honors, respectively. Senior Jake Erickson came in third-place at 11-6, and Jeff Cadry joined three others in a four-way tie for fourth-place.

"They know our vaulters tend to score points for the team," Abernathy said of the track team as a whole. "In the boys meets, it's not uncommon for the boys to take first and second and the other two getting fifth and seventh. That's a lot of points for the team."

How much depth the pole-vaulters can show off varies from meet to meet. Sometimes a team is allowed four vaulters. Other times only two.

At the Dean Houdek True Team Invite in Cottage Grove on April 22, Masloski (13-0) and Eric Morrell (11-6) represented Park and came in second and fourth place, respectively, out of 21 boys.

In the Wolfpack's third-place team finish at Roseville on April 25, Park had three athletes place in the pole vault - champion Masloski at 13-6, Arndt in fourth at 12-0 and Morrell in seventh at 12-0.

Park's permanent place at the top continued into last Tuesday's meet at Blaine. As a team, Park took third place with 57 points, but all four of its pole-vaulters finished in the top 10 -- Arndt and Masloski took first and second place, respectively, after clearing 13 feet and becoming honor roll qualifiers. Morrell was sixth at 11-6 and Erickson was eighth at 10-0 in the 15-man field.

"We just try hard," Arndt said. "We really want to do good and show that pole vaulters can bring in points too. Because a couple of years ago, when I was a freshman, they brought in some points, but we wanted to bring in more points, so we've tried hard."

The effort showed on Saturday in St. Paul.

Park competed against what may be the stingiest competition it will see in the regular season -- the Hamline University Relays. Mounds View, which was Class 3A's top seed in the state rankings last week, won the meet. Wayzata, which was ranked No. 9, took second. Roseville, ranked No. 3 in the state a week ago, took third.

None of them, though, could get past Park. Arndt cleared a personal best 13-6 -- the same height Masloski cleared at Roseville -- and won the 18-man field. Masloski was second at 13-0.

"We're both at about the same height, so when one of us goes higher, it pushes us that much more," Masloski said. "We're really competitive, yet we're like best buddies on the team. But we are really competitive toward each other.

"We're kind of leaders, but we just help out everyone else and they help us out. So we're all one team."

But how did pole vaulting emerge as a Wolfpack stronghold?

It is a costly event. Poles can cost anywhere from $200 to $400 and are rated by weight. High school athletes are not allowed to compete with a pole rated for a weight lighter than the athlete, so school's need several poles for an athlete to be competitive.

It also takes time and money to set up proper pits and mats. Park pole vaulters boast they are "the first ones out and the last ones in" each night because of how time consuming it is to set up equipment.

Because of costs and potential dangers, there was a time when Park's pole vault program - like many other programs around the state - looked like it was going to the curb, said former assistant coach and meet manager Jim Beecroft, who began assistant coaching at Park in 1986.

But with increased fundraising, like candy machines stationed outside Beecroft's classroom door, the program was able to purchase more modern, safe equipment.

And it didn't stop there.

Before it was a state event, Park High could boast female pole vaulters. In hindsight, making the event available to both genders may have also reduced the pole vaults chances of being cut out of Park's track and field program.

"That was a milestone in Park's pole vaulting -- the addition of girls, as well as fundraisers from concession stands," Beecroft said.

The girls program produced some of the state's best -- literally. Besides holding the school's all-time pole-vaulting records, Jodi Tarasewicz is No. 7 in the state's all-time girls pole-vaulting records after clearing 11-3 in 1999.

As for 2006, Wolfpack senior Staci Paul has raked in honor roll qualifications after winning the vault at 9-0 in Blaine on May 2 and took fifth place in Saturday's Hamline University Relays in St. Paul.

"I think a lot of what makes this program flourish is that it's always been supported," Abernathy said. "It's always had a coach, whereas a lot of other programs don't have coaches. They've always made sure they brought in knowledgeable coaches and it's always been properly funded.

"We have a lot of poles, but it came down to fundraising and little candy sales in the school has helped this track program unbelievably. It was a nice fundraiser and we have almost all the poles our athletes need, and that's huge. A lot of schools have nine, 10 poles -- heck some only have four, and that really hinders the athlete. If more schools were properly funded, you'd see a lot better pole vaulters in the state."

Both Arndt and Masloski were familiar with the vault prior to high school. Both have older siblings who vaulted, and both have enjoyed competing in it.

"It's kind of a rush when you go over and you try to push yourself over a bar and you come down 13, 14 feet in the air," Arndt said. "It's kind of a rush." Masloski said, "Just the fact that pole vaulting is one of the last events to go. Usually when the last few guys are going, the meet is completely done so you get a bunch of people around you and that makes it a little more fun. Pressure and kind of adrenaline; like you want to do that much better."

Sections are May 30 and June 1 at Eagan High School. The top two boys in each section advance to the state meet June 9, or anyone else that clears the automatic qualifying height of 13-10.

Arndt has already been there. As junior he finished in 12th place at 12-6. The winner, Isaac Molin of St. Francis, won in 14-6.

Many of last year's competitors will not return. Eleven of last year's 18 finals qualifiers were seniors -- including the winner.

"Third year is when they start coming around and fourth year is what we shoot for," Abernathy said. "If we get them to the state meet their senior year, our goal has been met. Anything before that is just icing on the cake."