Looking to revive the popularity that pole vaulting once had, Kayden Cecil and Simon Weardon had an idea.
Cecil, a 2018 Gulf Coast graduate, and Weardon, a 2021 CSN graduate, saw multiple events across the country featuring pole vaulting and wanted to bring a similar one to Naples.
After years of thinking and months of planning, that idea became reality Saturday, as the two put in countless hours to prepare the inaugural 'Pole Vault in the Plaza'. It was held at the Mercato Shops in Naples, where passersby could watch pole vaulters showcase their skills.
"There's a meet down in Key West, that maybe is one of the biggest pole vaulting meets of the year in America," Weardon said. "I saw this, and I turned to my partner Kayden and said, 'Kayden, I don't care what we have to do, we're bringing this to Naples, Florida. Whatever it takes'. We've seemed to accomplish that."
"We've been talking about having a street meet for over three years," Cecil said. "We finally made it happen, but we needed a lot more people than just us."
Cecil and Weardon started planning after seeing the Pole Vault in Paradise firsthand down in Key West, to get a sense of logistics. It was hard for the two to find a venue that would be willing to host them, until Valerie Cope, the Senior Director of Marketing at Mercato, let the two host the event.
"We started planning this in January, right after that (Key West) meet," Weardon said. "The toughest thing was trying to get a venue. When you think of pole vault, the average person doesn't understand the sport as much, what it looks like. We went to Valerie here at Mercato.
"She was able to understand our vision, and helped us make this day possible. She was the only person in Naples willing to host us. She took a risk on us, and she made this happen."
The event didn't just feature locals like North Fort Myers' Anika Homolka (placed 5th in Class 3A last month) and Fort Myers' Raegan Miller (T-12th in 3A), but other attendees from out of the area as well. Archbishop McCarthy junior Sydney Nicholson, who placed third in the Class 3A meet this spring, was one of the notable attendees, as well as Miami Palmetto's Camryn Givens (6th in 4A).
Homolka, who graduated last month from North, set a new personal record of 11 feet, 5 inches while taking home first in the event. She received a first-place prize of $600, something she didn't expect.
"It was so fun," Homolka said. "I hadn't practiced for like six weeks, so I was scared I was going to do bad, but it all worked out and I'm so glad I participated. I was ecstatic about hitting that PR. I hadn't PRed in a couple of months
"I hope this raises more awareness for the sport. I think a lot of people don't know what it is, and I hope it brings more attention to it."
On the boys side, CSN senior Nick Molloy was in attendance, as was FHSAA state record holder Stone Baker. Baker, now at USF, set a mark in 2018 of 16 feet, 8.25 inches, breaking the state record by a quarter of an inch that year. TCU signee Sergio Rivas made the furthest trip, driving 21 hours from Austin, Texas to participate.
It wasn't Molloy, Baker, or Rivas that brought home first-place honors though. Georgia signee and Atlanta resident Alon Rogow, one of the top pole vaulters in the United States, finished atop the podium. Baker finished second, while Molloy brought home third.
Rogow, who at one point held the United States No. 1 ranking among high schoolers this season, said he received a message from the two organizers, and with his grandparents nearby, it all worked out to where he could see them while spending a few days on vacation in Southwest Florida.
"I found out about this when Simon and Kayden DMed me on Instagram," Rogow said. "They basically said that they wanted me to come down and jump. It sounded like a great time. I have my grandparents who live about 45 minutes from here, it just worked out perfectly.
"I drove down with my family two nights ago, had a little bit of a vacation before this, and felt great. I jumped pretty much as good as I ever have, and ended up coming away with the win."
Cecil and Weardon hope that Saturday's event, which ran for nearly 12 hours, shines a light on a field event that does not get the TV time or coverage that other track and field events do.
"The whole point of this event is to grow the sport of pole vault, and let people understand that this is an adrenaline sport, it's just not showcased anywhere," Cecil said. "It's not televised anywhere, there's not enough money in the event. The important thing is that the kids get to see spectators watch them, it gives them adrenaline.
"It's just good for the whole pole vault community, and it's good for the community in all."
This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: SWFL locals organize Pole Vault in the Plaza at Mercato in Naples