Fitch pole vaulter breaks record, sits among elite
By Brian Dzenis
The sun was down and all of Madison Skelly’s competitors were gone. It was the perfect time to go for a record.
The Austintown Fitch junior stands alone as her school’s — and the All-American Conference Red Tier’s — best pole vaulter. On her first attempt, she cleared 10 feet even to beat the previous mark of 9 feet and finished Tuesday’s AAC Red Championships with a mark of 11 feet.
Pole vaulting is a sport that requires a lot of waiting before the payoff. The lights were coming on Fitch Falcon Stadium when she bowed out at 11-feet, six inches, hours after the girls started jumping at six feet.
Skelly does a lot of waiting to jump outside of meets and travels to Wooster twice a week to practice.
“It definitely paid off,” Skelly said of her three-hour drives.
She shared the old record with former Boardman pole vaulter Megan Janak. She also cleared 10-6 and 11 on her first try. In pole vaulting, the bar moves up in increments of six inches. Even though the difficulty increases, because her last opponent was done at 9-6, she could get into a rhythm.
“It’s like ‘OK, I have to hit this next bar’ and the adrenaline hits,” Skelly said. “Then I relax and did what I’m supposed to do.”
Skelly’s personal best is 11-3, which she reached last Saturday at the 39th annual Optimist Meet, which has her tied for No. 9 in the state in Division I. Despite her standout performance, Boardman won the Red Tier on the girls side with a total of 147 points to Fitch’s 137.
A few standout performances and some creativity in how the Spartans deployed middle distance star Raegan Burkey made the difference. Burkey typically is a 400 and 800 specialist, but Boardman coach Rick Sypert had her run the 1,600 in addition to the 800 and 4x400 relay. She took second in the 300 hurdles and first in the rest. Tuesday marked her first time officially running the 1,600.
“I knew she was going to win the mile. I knew she was going to with the ,” Sypert said. “I knew she had that kind of talent, but I don’t want to overuse it.”
In both the 800 and 1,600, the sophomore was able to bide her time until the final lap when she could overtake her last competitor. From there, the races were hers.
“I felt like I was nice and relaxed running,” Burkey said of her mile debut. “I wasn’t too strained at the end.”
Burkey is a returning state qualifier in the 800. She currently owns the 10th-best time in the state in that event after previously taking 13th in Columbus last spring.
“I definitely want to drop my time a lot more in the next couple of weeks,” Burkey said.
Boardman also picked up a key win in the 4x200, in which anchor Bella Alvarico beat Fitch’s Shania Stiers-Royal by 0.01 seconds. Kaylin Burkey — Raegan’s older sister — was runner-up in the 300 hurdles and the high jump.
The Fitch boys won their ninth-consecutive AAC Red title to make the Falcons undefeated in the conference meet since joining the league. The Falcons’ 148.5 points best Boardman by a point and a half.
A key difference maker for the home side was senior Ralph Fitzgerald, who won the 100 and 200 and was part of a 4x100 relay that took second.
In the 100, Fitzgerald bested Division I football commit Kayron Adams, a Warren Harding running back bound for Rutgers.
“He used to get me all the time last year, but I worked hard this year and I proved it right there,” Fitzgerald said.
The Falcons also successfully navigated the loss of sprinter Tyrese Bandy, who injured his hamstring during the Optimist Meet and is out for the season. He was a key part of the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.
“Not having one of our top guys made things tight and we had to make some changes,” Fitch coach Seth Steiner said.
Deonte McKeever, the twin brother of winning long jumper Deondre McKeever, looks to be the guy to take Bandy’s spot after runner-up finishes in the 300 hurdles and 4x200 relay.
Howland’s Vincent Mauri set a meet record in the 800 with a time of 1:57.00, beating Tigers alum Troy Seagraves’ time of 1:58.25 set in 2012.