Attempting to grow the sport in the region while also showcasing area athletes, the Southwest Missouri Vault Club hosted a free pole vault exhibition and youth clinic on Monday night inside Webb City High School’s Cardinal Stadium.

“We’re excited to do this because it’s something we’ve never really had in Southwest Missouri before,” SWMO Vault Club founder/coach Nick Popejoy said. “We’ve talked about ways to try and grow our track program here in Webb City and we thought this would be a good idea.

“It’s also about introducing kids to something new,” Popejoy added. “Some kids I have in junior high have never seen a pole vault competition. We want to show them what it’s all about.”

The vault club features athletes from Webb City, Joplin and Carthage. Webb City’s Pryce Mason and Carthage’s Joe Nicholas were two of the local prep athletes who displayed their talents during the exhibition.

A junior to be, Mason was a Class 4 state qualifier and set a school record by clearing 14 feet, 3 inches this past spring. A senior, Nicholas was a sectional qualifier in Class 5.

“Pole vault in Southwest Missouri is about the best in the state right now,” Popejoy said. “At our district meet, there were kids who were seventh or eighth place who would have won other districts across the state. The pole vault is really competitive in Southwest Missouri and it’s really grown in the last several years.”

Local vaulters are preparing for the AAU regional meet at the University of Tulsa.

After an exhibition from the local standouts, youth athletes had the opportunity to complete a 30-minute clinic with vaulters and coaches, gaining technical instruction and skills training.

“A lot of the kids enjoy the vault station at our track camp, so we thought the younger ones would enjoy watching the older boys jump and then get a chance to try it themselves,” Popejoy said.

Popejoy, who coaches pole vaulters at both Webb City High School and Webb City Junior High, hopes to take the exhibition and clinic one step farther next year.

“I was really happy with the interest we had and we’re hoping to grow it into something even bigger next year where we can have more out of town jumpers join us,” he said. “We’d love to turn it into a big event every year.”