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Vaulting to new heights: Carpenter family sharing MHS pole vaulting success

Travis Carpenter, front, coaches his son Sutton Carpenter, back, during pole vault practice on Tuesday at Joe Quintal Field. (Eric Mayer / Republic) 1 / 2
Travis Carpenter, right, coaches his son Sutton Carpenter during pole vault practice on Tuesday at Joe Quintal Field. (Eric Mayer / Republic) 2 / 2

The Carpenter family has a knack for soaring through the air.

In the span of 30 years, three members of the family—Travis, Mason and Sutton—have each pole vaulted at least 12 feet, 9 inches with the Mitchell High School track and field team.

"There's nothing like being shot in air between 12 and 14 feet," said Travis Carpenter, who has coached or competed in the unique sport for more than 30 years. "The free fall back down to the mat is a cool deal, too."

In the past two years, Travis has had a front-row seat as two of his sons—Mason and Sutton—surpassed him in the school's all-time Top 10 list.

On May 5 at the Dakota Relays, Sutton joined Mason in passing Travis' top-mark as a Kernel with a vault of 13-3. It was a mark that put Sutton No. 8 in Mitchell's top-10 records.

"It was exciting. Now I have something on him," Sutton said with a grin. "My brother started it and I thought it was kind of cool, so I had to try it."

Last year, both Travis and Sutton witnessed Mason clear 14-6, which broke a 20-year MHS record. Mason, who graduated in 2016, went on to place third at the Class AA state meet.

"When I came into pole vaulting, that's right when Mason was at his peak," Sutton said. "It's really weird when you first come into it because it's awkward. Mason was a great example."

Both Sutton and Mason can trace their passion for pole vault back to their father. Travis started pole vaulting as a seventh-grader at Mitchell, competed one year at Dakota Wesleyan University and starting coaching the sport in 1995. He took a break from the sport in 2006, but returned to coaching in 2011 when Mason started pole vaulting.

"To coach my boys is awesome and to see them have success is very satisfying," Travis said. "It brings out a little bit of pride in the dad aspect of me."

With the state track meet one week away, Sutton, who automatically qualified with his 13-3 leap, said he has a goal of reaching 13-9 before the season ends and hopefully placing at the state meet.

"It's not so much learning as just getting used to feeling it," said Sutton, who added he dealt with back issues early in the season.

Alongside Sutton, Kiel Nelson has provisionally qualified for the state meet with a mark of 12-10.

The two sophomores will look to finish the season on a high note and continue to reach for higher heights.

"We'd like to see Sutton get past (Mason's record), but what's awesome is we have competition within our own team of guys," Travis said. "They are going to be pushing each other for the next two years."

While he's seen his name fade from the school record books top-10 list, Travis is happy sharing his pole vaulting experience and knowledge with athletes.

"I shouldn't be on there at 12-9 anyway," Travis said. "As a coach, I don't want my name on the list. I want all my kids that I'm coaching to be more successful than I was. Hopefully, that's what we are accomplishing."

Pole vaulting at a high level

Heading into the state meet, Travis said pole vaulters across the state are leaping at high levels. He pointed out, in 2005, Mitchell's Jordan Peterson won the state meet with a leap of 13-3. This year, Travis said 13-3 might not be good enough to place.

"There's two kids pushing the state record right now," Travis said. "Seeing that happen, makes a track meet that much more exciting. We get to see that every track meet."

Currently, Huron's Trent Francom (15 feet, 6 inches) and Watertown's Noah Spartz (15 feet, 2 inches) have put themselves on the state's all-time top-10 list in the boys pole vault this season. And pole vault coaches across the state are always willing to share their thoughts and help provide extra insight into every jump.

"The awesome thing about pole vault is all coaches around the state are so good with every kid," Travis said. "You'll see me talking to kids from Huron, Aberdeen, Watertown and you'll see those coaches talking to our kids."

When starting new kids in the sport of pole vaulting, Travis said consistency is key. Pole vaulting requires a combination of speed and strength, but Travis said each competitor leaps differently.

"The runway is so important. You don't have to be fast, but you have to have a runway that you hit consistently and transfer the energy properly," Travis said. "You don't have to be a world-class sprinter, but as long as you are consistent, you can be a successful high school pole vaulter."