Castelein Gets Texas-size Rush From Pole Vault

Posted: March 18, 1998

There isn't a rodeo team at Downingtown, but Mike Castelein has found the next best thing in pole vaulting.

There's danger, excitement and elevation. Fortunately, the pole and the pit can't react, at least not actively.

Castelein, known as ``Tex'' to his teammates and coaches, grew up in Weatherford, Texas, near Fort Worth. His father rode bulls before he was born, and his parents, Mike and Terri, met at a rodeo.

``He has so many stories,'' Castelein said of his father. ``He was kicked in the head by a bull. He's a tough guy.''

The elder Castelein stopped riding bulls when he began raising a family, which also includes Mike's sisters, Courtney, a sophomore, and Veronica, a seventh-grader.

But the elder Castelein's only son discovered that a dash of danger added extra adrenalin to sports. The pole vault is the perfect event for daredevils and high-wire walkers. And no other event in track and field requires as much athleticism.

``A lot of people think you are crazy,'' Castelein said. ``You can't be scared. Just last week, I had a pole break. You are tossed, and you have to do a backflip. You have to be focused and over the edge and daring, a person who likes excitement.

``It takes courage. My dad was a bull rider and I'm a vaulter. You just have to be mentally focused on what you are doing.''

Castelein's courage helped him through a life-threatening crisis several years ago. A genetic condition caused his left lung to collapse the summer before he entered 10th grade.

He recovered well enough to play wide receiver for the football team, but his right lung collapsed near the end of the season. At the hospital, he suffered an allergic reaction to morphine and almost died.

``They said my heartbeat almost stopped,'' said Castelein, who spent two days in intensive care.

Although Castelein missed the indoor track season, he was vaulting again in the spring. At the district meet, he experienced chest pain but still reached 13 feet despite vaulting with what was discovered the next day to be another collapsed left lung.

After another episode in school, Castelein was treated by a specialist at Penn and underwent surgery to repair the damage. He left the hospital after a five-day stay.

``They stitched me up and said after six weeks I could go back to normal,'' he said. ``People said I was nuts to go back to football, but it has nothing to do with getting hit.''

Only 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds, Castelein never let size deter him on the football field or the track. He's never had a problem staring up at opposing players or the towering crossbar.

Castelein, who began vaulting in seventh grade, has gone higher every year. He cleared 8 feet, 6 inches in seventh grade, 9-6 in eighth grade, 11-4 as a freshman, 13-0 as a sophomore and 14-1 as a junior. This past indoor season, he reached 14-3, breaking Frank Hunter's 1991 school record of 14-2.

Chris Watson's 1992 outdoor school record of 15 feet even is within reach, and Castelein has set his goal beyond the 16-foot barrier.

`` [Watson] comes out and I'll say, `This is the last year for your record,' '' Castelein said. ``This year we really believe I can jump 16 feet. I just have to perform.''

Downingtown first-year head track coach George Read and pole vault coach Greg Bowen have confidence in Castelein.

Bowen, 66, has been involved in pole vaulting for more than 50 years. He's the first to concede that vaulters are a different breed, and that Castelein is a breed apart.

``He's a tough kid,'' Bowen said. ``He loves the event and has a very positive attitude and wants to learn. He has speed and strength and coordination. Mike has the good mentality for a pole vaulter. It takes intestinal fortitude and lack of fear.''

Growing up in Texas, Castelein played football and baseball before moving to Chester County at age 10. He went out for track in seventh grade at Lionville Junior High and the pole vault caught his attention.

``I had no clue what it was about,'' he said. ``I had never heard of it, but I decided to give it a try. I liked it the first time. Of all the sports I played, it was the most difficult. I felt like it would be a challenge.''

In junior high, Castelein used a pole that didn't bend and he actually swung himself over the bar.

Read, Castelein's gym teacher at Lionville, told him about Lance Atkins, a pole vaulting coach and guru in Reading.

``He gave lessons and I went to his house,'' Castelein said. ``He's all about pole vaulting. I realized how technical pole vaulting is, and I learned how to bend the pole.''

A B-C student, Castelein is considering returning to Texas for college. He's looking at Southwest Texas State, Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin as well as Connecticut, Robert Morris, Albany, Millersville, East Stroudsburg and UNC-Wilmington.

Wherever he lands, Castelein will hit feet-first with a smile on his face and his usual abundance of guts and heart.

``He's a real good kid,'' Read said. ``He is one of those aggressive kids who is well-mannered with teachers. The team really looks up to `Tex.' ''

CHESCO BOYS' TRACK PREVIEW

ATHLETES TO WATCH

In alphabetical order.

Mark Blattner, Phoenixville. Blattner, a senior, placed fifth in District 1 Class AAA in the shot put and second at the Meet of Champions. He is also a top discus thrower.

Mike Castelein, Downingtown. A senior, Castelein was sixth in District 1 Class AAA in the pole vault. He is the school's indoor record-holder at 14-3 and is chasing the outdoor record of 15-0.

Joe Hartman, Bishop Shanahan. Hartman, a senior, is the defending District 1 Class AA champion in the 300 hurdles.

Josh Haslip, Phoenixville. A senior, Haslip placed sixth at the indoor state meet in the 880-yard run.

Justin Jarmon, Kennett. Jarmon, a senior, won the District 1 Class AA triple jump title last spring and was second in the long jump at both the state and district meets.

Clayton Kellum, Coatesville. A senior, Kellum is the top returning sprinter and hurdler in the Ches-Mont League and the leader of the Red Raiders' sprint relays.

John McGrorey, West Chester Henderson. A senior, McGrorey finished fifth in District 1 Class AAA in the 3,200-meter run last spring.

Steve Pizzulli, Oxford. Pizzulli won the Southern Chester County League cross-country crown and was second in District 1 Class AA in the 3,200-meter run.

Ben Showers, West Chester Henderson. Showers, a senior, placed second in the mile at the indoor state meet and won the PIAA Class AAA state cross-country crown. He was a member of the Warriors' state championship 4x800-meter relay last spring.

TEAMS TO WATCH

Avon Grove. The Red Devils won the Southern Chester County League title last spring and went 9-0 overall. Although 12 seniors graduated, there are 72 athletes out for the team. Seniors Charlie Stephens (distances) and Jason Ward (sprints) and junior Ray Jackson (jumps) are among the top returning performers.

Coatesville. The defending Ches-Mont League champions are young, but they do have proven seniors in Clayton Kellum (hurdles), Larry Lewis (throws) and J.R. Cox (distances). The sprint relays improved indoors with the addition of sophomore David Jones and freshmen Sundifu Dorley and Brian Guiaso.

Great Valley. The defending Pioneer Athletic Conference champions lost an abundance of talent to graduation, but strength returns with senior Scott Boyance (distances), juniors Mark Stallings (distances) and Erik Churchill (distances); sophomores Marcus Ford-Bey (jumps, sprints), Tehon Bush (jumps), Brian Lavin (distances) and Kevin Roe (distances); and freshmen Webster Brehm (middle distances) and Eamon Brazunas (distances).

Kennett. The Blue Demons are likely to make an impact in the Southern Chester County League and District 1 Class AA with seniors Justin Jarmon (jumps), Laird Thompson (throws), Joe Versaigi (throws), Mark Davis (sprints) and Jason Rice (middle distances); junior Chris Miwa (hurdles); and sophomores John Goodman (distances), Daryll Brown (distances) and Jason Buckwalter (jumps).

Malvern Prep. The Inter-Ac runner-up is covered in most events with seniors Chris Downs (sprints), Erich Daciw (throws) and Todd Wolstenholme (pole vault); juniors Dan Opila (pole vault), Hudson Walker (hurdles, jumps), Paul Gallagher (distances), Paul Guest (distances), Tom Metkus (distances) and Kevin Trevisan (high jump), and sophomore Jim Judge (middle distances.

Phoenixville. The Phantoms will be difficult to beat in the Pioneer Athletic Conference with seniors Mark Blattner (throws), Josh Haslip (middle distances), Dave Greenwald (middle distances), Matt Novia (javelin), Curt Hoffman (pole vault), Anthony Stavenski (shot put), Jason Grubbs (shot put) and Travis McQuistan (pole vault); and juniors Dave Cain (high jump, hurdles), Chris Trill (distances), Brett Kobelin (distances), Jules Blackwell (middle distances), Steve Stover (middle distances), Brett Hauze (hurdles) and Cony Johnson (jumps).

CHESTER COUNTY

BOYS' LEAGUE TRACK PREVIEW

Ches-Mont League. Coatesville is the defending champion and the favorite until someone unseats it, but the four-team league is more balanced than usual. Henderson is strong again in the distances with seniors Ben Showers, John McGrorey, Mike Goff and Omar Abdelhamid. Senior hurdler Adam Breslin and junior sprinter George Jackson will also contribute. Downingtown may be the league's most improved team with seniors Mike Castelein (pole vault), Josh Humphries (hurdles, jumps), Matt Stewart (sprints), Eric Campbell (distances) and Arlen Harris (sprints). West Chester East can't be counted out with seniors Greg Ryan (javelin) and Tyrone Govans (high jump), juniors Jamar Alston (jumps), Pat Hutchison (distances), Frank DeFeo (400) and Steve Kovatch (throws); and sophomores Terry Lillipcrapp (distances) and Tim Walsh (distances).

Southern Chester County League. Avon Grove is the defending league champion, although Kennett has the strength to make a serious challenge. Unionville was second last year, and returns seniors Evan Yarnall (distances), Brett Laurence (hurdles), Kevin Thompson (middle distances) and Rick Knowles (weights). Oxford is led by junior Steve Pizzulli and Mark McGreavy in the distances, while Gregg Mahan is proven in the javelin. Garnet Valley is also one of the league's better teams with seniors Max Woodfin (distances), Jason Powell (throws) and Mike Consorte (sprints). Bishop Shanahan will be competitive with seniors Joe Hartman (hurdles), Pat Kullman (distances) and Doug Mascherino (distances). Octorara is making progress with seniors Mario Falconio (hurdles) and Jon Pledger (javelin, 400), and junior Shawn Lubeski (hurdles/jumps). Devon Prep features senior distance runners Chris Valvardi and Matt Phillips.

Pioneer Athletic Conference. Both Phoenixville, which features a variety of top returnees, and Great Valley, the defending champion, will be among the league's best teams. Spring-Ford is making strides with juniors James Kipp (distances) and Mike Bemis(throws), and sophomores J.R. Lanyon (pole vault), Marc Faust (jumps) and Eric Engstrom (hurdles).

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