Boys' Vaulting-Poles




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By Dan Beard

In the olden time, when the boys had a regular calendar of sports, these poles were much used; but you must not understand that they are in any way related to May-poles or are decked with flowers and planted on the green for the boys to caper around. Each boy carried his own pole when pole-vaulting time came, and it used to come as regularly as marble time, top time, kite time, and stilt time. 

Each lad in those days, as he sped on his way to the little log or frame school-house, made a short cut, and by the aid of his vaulting-pole cleared the brooks, ditches, and even the fences that barred his path. It is a fine and exhilarating exercise, and you boys of today must not let it be forgotten or relegated to the athletic contests alone.

The boys' playground vaulting-pole is not the big stick still used by athletes in their record-breaking leaps over strings, but each rod is made in proportion to the height of the boy using it. Formerly the favorite pole was made of a hickory sapling which was then known as a hoop pole. This was not because the pole was bent in the form of a hoop; on the contrary, the straighter the pole the better it was for our purpose. They called them hoop poles because the hoop-pole man used such saplings from which to cut, with his drawing-knife, the long, limber strips of wood and bark used by the coopers to make barrel hoops.

Hickory poles today are sometimes difficult to procure, but ash or any tough wood that will not break easily will answer the purpose. If you make your vaulting-rod of dressed lumber you must be sure that the grain runs parallel with the outside of the pole, that is, runs lengthwise with the pole, for if it runs crosswise or diagonally it may break and give the vaulter a bad fall. 

A good way to decide upon the length of your vaulting-pole is to set the pole up alongside of you, hold your arm aloft, mark the spot where your finger-tips reach, then measure two hands higher and cut it off at that point. 

The diameter of the vaulting-pole must also be governed by the weight of the boy using it.  It should be thick enough to do away with the danger of breaking and not so thick as to be a heavy and clumsy burden. 

If you make your vaulting-pole of saplings you may decorate the top with the designs cut in the bark while it is green, and the effect is better if a bunch of different-colored ribbons is fastened to the top end of the pole by a tack.

Since pole-vaulting was a pioneer sport, the tail of any sort of animal, or a bunch of feathers attached to strings, may be used in place of the ribbons. These things serve not only for a decoration for your rod, but also as a mark by which you can tell your pole at sight even when it is stacked up with a bunch belonging to the other boys in the gymnasium or the hallway of the school.

Long-distance running is now the fad with athletes and boys, but for growing lads there is grave danger of permanently injuring themselves in their efforts to make records in this line. The boys are ambitious, and it is right they should be ambitious, consequently they do not like to be beaten in anything they undertake to do. 

But this very ambition, laudable as it is in itself, makes long-distance running dangerous for small lads.

You must understand, boys, that your body is a machine and your heart supplies the power; the faster you run and the longer you run, the greater the strain there is upon the pump, which we call the heart, and the greater the danger there is of overtaxing its powers.

Here is where the vaulting-pole will come in as a good, wholesome exercise, even for a long-distance jaunt, because when you start out with your poles you do it for fun and not for a time record. You go across country leisurely, now walking, now running, now vaulting a brook or a hedge, now resting on the greensward, and, in fact, making a regular picnic of the excursion. Of course pole-vaulting is also adaptable to athletic contests, but in such a case the racecourse should not be too long and this will do away with some of the danger of overexertion.

After you have practiced running and vaulting make up a team and challenge some other team to a contest of skill. From three to five boys form a team. The pole-vaulting field should be comparatively level and open, but it should have some obstructions, either natural or artificial, such as hurdles, ditches, brooks, hedges, or golf-link bunkers. 

When the time comes for the contest let the captains of the two teams toss for position. A short distance from the starting or taw line another line is drawn parallel with the first. The distance must be determined by experiment. Since each contestant must cast his vaulting-pole (as he would a spear) over this second line, therefore before a match is entered into there should be some unofficial meets where the contestants line up and cast their rods as the savages do their javelins. 

A little practice in this line will give you the figures by which you may judge just how far the average boy can cast his vaulting-pole. This is necessary in order to establish the casting-line or mark at a proper distance from the taw line, for it is evident if you make the distance too great between the two there may be no race at all, and if you make the distance too short every duffer in the team can cast his rod over it.

But this, like a lot of other preliminary work, must be left to the good sense of the boys, for pole-vaulting contests, like all other athletic sports, have so many details that it would require a book to give them all and would make but dry reading at the best.

When all is ready an umpire is stationed at the taw line, the second line, and the end of the course; the opposing teams are lined up, each one standing with his left toe on the mark and grasping his vaulting-pole in his right hand. When the word is given to start, or the pistol fired, each lad casts his rod with all his force. Those whose rods fall inside of the line are "duffers" and counted out of the race: but the boys who have succeeded in casting their rods so that their ends rest over the line, dash after their vaulting-poles, pick them up as hastily as possible, and run down the course vaulting the obstructions. At the end of the course they turn and come back over the same track. The ones reaching the starting-point first win the contest.

If one man comes in ahead of the rest on the A team his team is entitled to two scores, but if two of the B team come in ahead of the rest of the A team that would make a tie race. In other words, No. 1 gets two scores, No. 2 gets one score, and No. 3 gets one score. If there are four or five on the teams the rest get nothing. Each boy to be counted in the race, however, must return with his vaulting-pole in his hands.

If you are fond of excitement and fun, I'll promise you that the pole-vaulting race will delight your heart. Of course a great deal depends upon the number and the character of the hurdles that are to be overcome, but it is great fun for the spectators as well as the contestants, and there is nothing this side of a flying-machine that can give you the delightful sensation produced by a clean, long jump with your vaulting-pole on a summer day.

The Boy Pioneers






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Last modified: October 15, 2016.