The COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of high school spring sports in Georgia and essentially across the country. While the effect on school-sanctioned teams has been well documented, those who spend their time helping supplement athletic instruction have also been severely impacted by the pandemic.
Cartersville-based Georgia Pole Vault Club is one such group that has been hampered during what should be its busiest time of the year, when outdoor track and field is in season. The club closed its doors for more than a month following the spread of the coronavirus, but it recently reopened after Governor Brian Kemp relaxed shelter-in-place measures across the state.
“We shut down, because we considered ourselves more or less a gym than anything else,” Georgia Pole Vault Club coach Scott Arnold said. “… As soon as the gyms were allowed to open back up with the social distancing, that’s when we opened back up.”
As a club that caters to young people, Arnold says it hasn’t always been easy to get the members to follow the social distancing guidelines. But in regards to sanitation, the effort is being made to keep the equipment and facility as clean as possible.
“We’re trying to follow the protocols the best we can,” Arnold said. “… They’re teenagers, in their minds, they’re indestructible and nothing can hurt them. We have to keep reminding them, until all this is over, you need to stay a certain distance apart. With the equipment that we use, you need to wipe down when you’re done with it.
“We’re always there early and staying late, doing extra sanitizing and cleaning to make sure everything that’s used gets an extra dose of Lysol. We try to do as much as we can.”
Arnold and Co. haven’t had to clean up after as many participants as they would have hoped since reopening.
The past few weeks would normally see the highest volume of kids entering the club, as competitors from across northern Georgia and eastern Alabama would be gearing up for the most important meets of the season. Instead, only the most dedicated members have been back.
“We’re getting a lot fewer members [coming in] than we did,” Arnold said. “A lot of the kids, they train with us specifically for track season. When a lot of kids see their track season disappear, they don’t have the foresight to train year round. They just want to train in the moment.
“We did lose a lot of participation and business because of the shutdown. This time of year — because you’re getting into state meets, region meets, sectional meets, that kind of stuff — we usually have 50-60 members up there. Right now, we maybe have a dozen or so.”
Obviously, the shutdown and carryover into the reopening has been frustrating for Arnold. However, he also knows several of his members had legitimate shots to compete for state championships to join the likes of 2019 Cass graduate Stephen Smith, who won a pair of Class 5A pole vault titles his final two years in high school before joining the Kennesaw State track and field team.
“Our club members were having good years,” Arnold said. “We got in about three weeks to a month of the track season before we all got shut down. We were definitely seeing a lot of improvement from our kids. It was probably scheduled to be a pretty good year for some of these kids.”
The toughest part for Arnold has been seeing the number of senior members who missed out on potential collegiate careers, because they didn’t have the chance to clear certain heights that would allow them to compete at their schools of choice.
“A lot of them were really disappointed and not just because they didn’t get to compete their senior year,” Arnold said. “Some of these kids, they were anticipating good seasons. You train for four years. Your senior year is usually when it all comes together and you compete at your best. Some of these kids were looking at colleges and looking at scholarships that basically didn’t materialize, because they didn’t have the marks they thought they potentially could have.”
While it’s too late for some of the seniors to get that college scholarship opportunity, Arnold hopes his younger members see what happened this year as a learning experience.
“This situation tells you that you can never start too early, building those relationships with some of those college coaches and at least letting them know who you are,” he said. “We’ll definitely be preaching that from now on. Make every bit of every possibility. Don’t wait. You think you could have one more year, but you may not.”