Bailey Frederick had never attempted a pole vault, then he discovered his passion for the sport as an eighth-grader while watching his older sister, Hannah, compete in the same event for Marvin Ridge.
While Bailey was a regular at Hannah’s meet, he spent most of his time on the soccer field, where he was a standout forward for his Marvin Ridge middle school and club teams.
But his interest in pole vaulting led him to give it a try.
“I tried it and thought it was pretty cool,” Frederick said. “I also liked it because it was unique, and something not everybody can do. Not too many people can say they are pole vaulters.”
Marvin Ridge head track coach, Cameron Starr, recalls when he first saw Frederick at Hannah’s meets.
“I remember when Bailey started hanging around the pole vault pit watching Hannah,” Starr said. “You could tell he enjoyed watching her compete. She was an all-state (3A state runner-up both indoors and outdoors as a senior in 2013) vaulter, so I’m sure that made him even more interested. It’s funny that his pole vaulting career kind of started before he ever picked up a pole.”
Bailey Frederick quickly picked up the sport, vaulting 12-3 that year to win the unofficial Charlotte Area Winter Championship indoor title. He also finished 17th at the 3A indoor state meet (11-6).
Frederick says his pole vaulting coach, Walt Cradle, was also a major reason for his development. Cradle had been an all-state pole vaulter at Myers Park High and competed at Clemson.
“The first time I saw Bailey pick up a pole, I knew he had the potential to be a good pole vaulter,” said Cradle, who also worked with Hannah Frederick. “…But you never really know, until they actually do it. Pole vaulting is not for everyone. A lot of kids have the physical skills, but there’s no doubt you have to be fearless when you sprint down a track and turn yourself upside down with a pole. The ones who make it, are the ones who want to and are not afraid.”
Frederick made another big jump in his sophomore indoor season, increasing his vault to 13-0, while also finishing sixth at the 3A state meet (12-6).
The 2014 spring got even better as he vaulted 13-6 to win the Southern Carolina Conference championships.
But over the next eight months, Frederick struggled.
“One of the tough things about pole vaulting is that you are constantly switching poles,” Starr said. “So when you get comfortable with one, it’s time to switch to another. Bailey struggled with that for a while. But now, no matter what pole he is using, he is confident.”
After months of stalling at 13-6, Frederick exploded late in his junior indoor season. On Feb. 6 at the David Oliver Classic, Frederick cleared 14-0 for the first time. The next week, Feb. 14, he cleared 14-6 to finish fourth at the 3A indoor state meet. Then, the next week, he set his personal record for the third time in as many weeks, going 14-9.5 at the Appalachian State Indoor Open.
But Frederick wasn’t done. He had one of the best performances of his career to date at the New Balance Nationals in New York City (March 13).
Frederick won the Emerging Elite national championship in March, vaulting a career-best 15-4.25, setting the meet record.
“I always knew I had those kind of vaults in me,” said Frederick. “But I think at nationals, the whole atmosphere of the meet really propelled me to go even higher.”
Frederick carried his momentum in the 2015 outdoor season, where he cleared 15 feet four times and won the SCC and Union County championships.
But Frederick saved his best for last in his junior season. He jumped a career-best 15-6 at the 3A outdoor state meet, to finish as state runner-up.
Frederick’s success is paying dividends on the recruiting trail, as college coaches from Charlotte to Iowa to the Naval Academy to Pennsylvania to Virginia are showing interest. With a 4.33 grade-point average, the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Marvin Ridge senior also has a lot to offer in the classroom.
Frederick says he just tries to focus on his next vault.
“I always want to go higher and it’s cool to be setting records,” Frederick said. “But my focus is just on clearing the next height.”
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.