High vault-age

Gainesville High senior Charlie Cotton is hoping to break the state pole vault record this year.

MICHAEL C. WEIMAR/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 12:55 a.m.

The world of sports has seen its share of athletic families.

Auto racing has the Andrettis, baseball had the Ripkens, tennis has the Williams sisters, football has the Grammaticas and Gainesville track and field has the Cottons.

This season, Gainesville High School senior Charlie Cotton has emerged as one of the state's top pole vaulters. He is ranked No. 1 in Florida, regardless of classification, following a towering vault of 15-01 at the Alachua County Track and Field Meet.

Younger brother David is just a sophomore, but has lofty goals of a career in pole vaulting.

"It's fun having (Charlie and me) winning a lot of the meets," David said. "I think I'm going to keep improving, and it's good that he's already had jumps higher than me. It always helps to have someone to go after."

The one person they will both be going after is their father, Mike, a former University of Florida standout (1969-73), who set the bar with the 1973 outdoor SEC championship with a vault of 17-01.5. Mike was also the AAU National Champion in 1973 (17-06), as well as a member of the USA Track and Field team, traveling to Europe and Russia, before finishing the season ranked No. 5 in the world by Track and Field News. Mike was a member of the U.S. team again in 1976, but his career ended with a knee injury two years later. His career best jump was 17-08.25.

"My dad taught me how to jump in the back yard when I was in fourth grade, and I used a bamboo pole that he cut down from a neighbor's house," said Cotton, whose father, Jim, jumped at Ocala High School, but missed his senior year because of World War II. "I taught my four sons how to jump when they were little, but none really took interest until two years ago. I just hope they have as much fun as I did."

With the support of GHS track coach Larry Holsey, who helped raise $10,000 this year to give GHS the only certified pole vault/high jump pit in the county, Mike and his wife Debbie have succeeded in bringing the local pole vault community together.

"We've got a top-notch coach, and everything they do is from their hearts," Holsey said. "When you've got people doing what they're doing, you can't help but support them. You can feel their spirit when you talk to them, and I feel real comfortable with the kids in their hands because of their knowledge of the sport and the amount of care they show with the athletes."

For now, the Cottons live and breathe pole vaulting, spend 3-4 hours each day either talking about it or practicing it, and train from as early as October, according to Charlie, whose goal is to claim the 3A state title with a record jump of 15-10 before heading off to Florida State University.

"Pole vault has a lot of variables, but I think he's ready for any type of conditions," said Mike, who added that he feels that most of the dangers in pole vaulting are caused by a lack of coaching and knowledge. "Charlie works hard and deserves to do well. My goal is just for both of them to jump higher than I did."

Matt Cannizzaro can be reached at (352) 374-5066 or sunpreps@hotmail.com

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