Payson High School pole vaulter Levi Sopeland practices his track and field skills on June 17, the final day of the “Kiss the Sky” camp held at Camp Tontozona. Sopeland was one of four PHS vaulters to attend the week long camp.
Bo knows pole vaulting.
That’s why former Payson High School three-sport star Bo Althoff was a guest coach of the Sky Athletes Pole Vault Club Kiss the Sky Summer Camp held June 13 to 17 at scenic Camp Tontozona east of Payson near Kohl’s Ranch.
On the staff with Althoff were some of the finest pole-vaulting instructors in the United States including Greg Hull who coached Althoff during his high school career (1988-92). Hull also coached 2000 Olympic gold medalists Nick Hysong and Stacy Dragila. Hull has long held a prestigious USA Track Federation Master Coach designation.
Todd Lehman, also on the staff, was the 2003 National Collegiate Pole Vault Coach of the Year and Robert Tilley was the 2003 National High School Coach of the Year from Las Vegas Green Valley High School.
The presence of the high-powered group of coaches attracted 116 high school and collegiate vaulters from around the country. The participants paid about $500 each to learn from the experts.
Althoff said the goal of the camp was to provide vaulters with supervised instruction, training and competitions that will enable them to jump higher and safer.
To attain the goal, the staff spent the week “coaching up” the campers in proper training programs designed around learning progressions for the pole vault.
In addition to actual vaulting at the east end of the former football field at Tontozona, the campers were put through other training exercises including running, plyometrics, gymnastics, strength training and mental preparation.
When not on the field, the campers were in classrooms doing video analysis and absorbing as much learning as possible.
“It’s a tough camp, but it’s worth it if you want to be a good vaulter,” said Althoff, who was one of the country’s top four pole vaulters during his senior year when he vaulted 16 feet, 5 1/2 inches.
He also starred in football as a safety and was a tough rebounder, defender and scorer for coach Jim Quinlan’s basketball five.
At Tontozona, if there was some fun and good-natured rivalry occurring, it took place during friendly vaulting competition among coaches, who the campers in jest called “the old men.”
The ex-Longhorn proved there was still a tiger in his tank by winning that showdown and later out-vaulting the collegiate campers.
Word swirling about Tontozona was that the collegians were more than a bit hacked off losing to a 36-year-old “old man.”
During the camp, the young vaulters resided in the Tontozona dormitories where former Arizona State University football players lived during the fabled “Camp T” summer training camps. They also ate catered meals in the Tontozona cafeteria much as Devil players did from 1959 to 2008.
When not practicing or in the classroom, the young vaulters — six of whom were from Payson High — could be found swimming and diving in one of the pristine clear water pools of Tonto Creek that runs through the high country camp.
“The kids tried to coax me into going swimming with them, but that water was too dang cold,” said Althoff.
Heat-weary Valley area parents also took advantage of the cool temperatures of the ponderosa pines lining the sidelines for each session to relax, kick back and cheer on their children.
The camp wrapped up Thursday with somewhat relaxed competition, in which the campers showcased the skills they learned throughout the week jumping over bungee crossbars.
At the conclusion of the competition, parents, coaches and campers met on the sideline to enjoy a barbecue lunch of hamburgers and hot dogs while reliving the challenges and excitement of a week at Tontozona.
Althoff said the camp was a type of step back in time for him and he is eager to return next summer to again lend a helping hand.