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I have no idea why . . . but when I was 14 years old, I decided one summer day that I wanted to learn to pole vault. I had no pole or any money to buy one, so I scrounged around and found an alternative . . . a 10-foot section of a steel TV antenna. Yes, it was heavy, but I figured that it would not break and it would also increase my arm strength, which an athlete needs to be a great vaulter.
In the pasture was a wooden electric pole, which would serve as one half of the standards to hold the crossbar. I then dug a hole three feet deep and planted a 2x4 ten feet away. Into both I drove large nails to hold the crossbar at various heights. But what would I use for a crossbar? A bamboo pole from a new rug would work, but they had none of those left at the Darlington furniture store. So I used a piece of steel rebar that a construction worker had left at our farm. All I needed then was a nice soft mat to land on. Well, three bales of straw would do . . . and I was set!
The first attempt did not go well. The sweat on my hands caused me to lose my grip on the steel pole. I fell on my rear end and the pole knocked down the crossbar. I wrapped the top with duct tape, held on, and tried again. SUCCESS! I cleared five feet. Several jumps later, and I was up to seven feet. However, at the next height, I brushed the rebar crossbar on the way down. The rebar landed on the straw and bounced up, striking me right on the bottom of my nose. It felt like my nose cartilage had been driven up into my brain, and blood gushed everywhere. My summer pole vaulting adventure had come to an abrupt end . . . maybe that was not my sport after all.
Two years later I was a member of the high school track team. Running was not my cup of tea. Every afternoon the coach made the track team run . . . starting at the school, through town to Empire Gas (now the mini-mart), around SR 47, and back past Greenlawn cemetery to the school . . . a total of approximately three miles. A classmate of mine, who participated in the shot put, also hated this daily three-mile run. He came up with a great idea. He jogged to Empire Gas, where a fellow student would pick him up in his car and drive him to the cemetery where he would rest until the other track team members came by. He then joined back up and finished the run, saving himself almost two miles of running!
The coach wanted me to participate in the one-mile run . . . NO WAY!
He then told me he needed a pole vaulter . . . AND . . . the school had purchased a NEW FIBERGLASS POLE to replace the old aluminum one. But there was one problem. The new pole was designed for someone who weighed not more than 150 pounds, and I weighed 170. Oh well. I found that I could REALLY bend the pole and flip myself over the crossbar. I had no form, but I became pretty successful at the track meets, normally finishing in the top three. During my senior year, I was much stronger and could clear 10 1/2 feet on a consistent basis. However, in the County track meet, held at Wabash College, I had to compete against Dale Conrad of New Market, who had previously cleared 11-9 and was the odds on favorite to win.
The event started with the crossbar at 9 feet. By the time it reached 10 1/2 feet, there were only two vaulters left, Conrad and myself. Then a miracle happened. The sky became cloudy and a misty rain covered the track field. Conrad's hands slipped on all three of his attempts. After missing my first two attempts, I drenched my hands in pine tar, held on tight, and cleared the crossbar . . . the new Montgomery County pole vault champion! Poor Dale Conrad shook his head in disbelief.
That was the end of my pole vaulting days until 1998 when I was 50 years old. I had retired from the Sheriff's department and was teaching at Clinton Prairie High School. One of my classes was 10th grade PE, and the kids were doing track and field.
"Hey, Mr. Dale, did you run track?"
"Well, I was in track, but I was a pole vaulter," I replied rather proudly.
"I bet you can't pole vault today, can you, Mr. Dale?"
Without thinking too clearly . . . "Give me that pole!" I insisted.
That fall day, at age 50, in dress shirt and tie, with Wellington boots on, I cleared the crossbar at 9 feet.
The students were amazed.
I was amazed.
I drove home that afternoon feeling pretty darn good about my accomplishment. When I went out that evening to feed some livestock, I decided that it would not be necessary to open the gate. I could just LEAP OVER the three-foot high panel fence. Thoughts of youthful track greatness entered my mind . . . until my right foot caught on top of the fence and I landed HARD on the concrete below with my right knee striking a broken-off steel fence post. It honestly felt like someone had hit my knee with a hammer as hard as they could. After lying there in sheer agony for 15 minutes, I finally limped to the house. I think I may have chipped a bone in my knee, but being a Dale, I have never had it X-rayed. The knee still hurts today . . . at certain times . . . 21 years later.
When I turned 70 years old in 2018, I informed my wife that I wanted to see if I could still pole vault. "You'll break your neck!" she warned me. I really thought I could do it. I had my doctor check me over. He said I was in great shape, and I could PROBABLY pole vault, but that I had better do some stretching exercises first. "If you tear every muscle in your body, at least you have Medicare coverage."
Hmmmm.
As the old Shakespeare saying goes, "Discretion is the better part of valor." My pole vaulting days are over . . . UNLESS some kid DARES me to do it!

John "Butch" Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history.