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Bloom Township pole vaulters eye state track meet medals

Track and FieldHigh School SportsCato CorporationHigh SchoolsSchools

One is a natural, the other doggedly determined.

Put them together and Bloom Township pole vaulters Japheth Cato and Matthew Page are soaring to new heights in a sport Bloom once dominated.

It's been nearly three decades since Bob Dandino won Bloom's last state championship in the pole vault in 1980, which was the Chicago Heights school's sixth in 13 years.

But now, under the guidance of coach Andrew Schmitt and two-time Bloom state champion Tim Johnson, either or both could bring home hardware from the state meet next month at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston.

Cato, a versatile athlete who excels in the long jump, volunteered for the event last year. This season he's already been above 16 feet.

"Japheth just automatically got it," Schmitt said. "He's a gifted athlete with great natural ability. He tries a lot of different things, and mentally he's a kid who's not afraid of anything."

Cato, who hopes to take up the decathlon next year when he will compete for Wisconsin, said he used to watch Page and others working the pole vault in practice. It looked like fun, he said. "So I went to Coach Johnson and he said, 'Pick up a pole.' "

Page came in as a freshman eager to become a pole vaulter. He had been fascinated by vaulters when he watched his older brother's track meets and couldn't wait until he got to high school to try the event. But the skinny 9th grader needed to muscle up. His best vault was 10-6 as a freshman. After hours at practice and in the weight room, he tied for ninth at state last year with a 14-foot-3-inch best.

"If you had seen him as a freshman, you wouldn't have thought he could accomplish anything," Johnson said. "It's been pure diligence."

The vaulters also push each other. "When I see him doing well," Cato said, "I get hyped up. I'm sure he feels the same way."

"There are some good vaulters out there but nobody else can feed off each other like we do," Page said.Johnson, whose brother, Jan, followed up a 1968 Illinois state championship with a bronze-medal performance in the 1972 Olympics, won the event in 1973 and '74 and once held the national high school record in the sport.

After a 20-year hiatus, he returned five years ago to tutor young hopefuls. Two pupils, Mitchell Erickson and Melissa Gergel, both from Marian Catholic, won state titles in 2007.

Now either Page, who will attend Eastern Illinois in the fall on a track scholarship, or Cato could bring home a state-meet medal. But they face a talented field in a sport that is short on guarantees.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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