- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

MARLOW, Okla. (AP) - In most sports, falling is a sign of failure. But after a successful jump in pole vaulting, falling may as well be flying.

“It’s pretty incredible,” said Dean Howard, Marlow’s two-time defending Class 3A state champion. “In most sports, either on the track or in the field, you’re on the ground. For us, we’re coming down from the sky. It’s different. When you’re falling, it’s a good thing. For a second, it’s like we’re free.

“It’s a cool feeling.”

Jimmy Dial has been teaching athletes that feeling for the better part of 20 years. He has held stints at both Marlow and Duncan High School. These days, the 62-year-old retiree works free-of-charge at Marlow, which has swept vaulting’s gold, silver and bronze medals in back-to-back boys state meets.

The Lawton Constitution (https://bit.ly/1LD0zus ) reports that Dial’s reach extends beyond Stephens County. Young athletes come from schools all around the area just to learn from him.

To know why Dial does this, why he volunteers his extra time and effort, one must first understand that Dial loves kids, and also that he happens to come from the royal family of Oklahoma vaulters.

First, the kids.

“I do it for them. I know how hard it is to pay for college these days,” Dial said. “Some of these kids can get a little money off this. If it can help out a few of them, then that works for me.”

Now the family.

Dial’s late father, Dean, specialized in vaulting while coaching at Marlow, and also as an assistant at Oklahoma State in the 1980s. Dean’s bloodline spawned 10 state titles from Dial men, but he never won one himself: He was the favorite his senior year at Marlow, but broke his arm in a car accident.

Dial and his father shared some things in common. Both were handy. Dial was a longtime electrician and retired from the City of Duncan. Dean was a pipe welder.

Both were athletic, and both bore witness to the great things Dial’s brother, Joe, would eventually accomplish.

Joe was a four-time state champion vaulter at Marlow, then won four NCAA titles at Oklahoma State before becoming the first American to clear 19 feet. He is the track-and-field coach at Oral Roberts these days.

“He just spent a ton of time on the runway,” Dial said. “He practiced all the time. That was the way he liked it.”

Dial’s other brother, Rex, won a state title at Marlow in 1969. Joe’s son, Tommy, won two titles competing for Jenks. Jimmy’s son, Josh, won them three of them too, competing for Duncan.

The list is long.

Except when it comes to Jimmy Dial. He didn’t vault.

“I ran the half-mile,” Dial says through a grin.

Dial chose to go a different path. His expertise in the vault was born out of selflessness. He honed his teaching skills when his son Josh wanted to learn the craft. Dial taught him well, as Josh won every gold from 1997-1999.

Point A for a good jump, the coach says, is a good, high plant in the box: “Get that plant up and run through. Hit it as fast as you can.”

Vaulters learn it young.

They have to, Dial says. Most of the athletes he sees - and there have been a lot of them - start around seventh grade.

Dial helped groom former Cache star Jerni Self, who’s now competing for Air Force. This year, in addition to his Marlow group, he coaches Calli Ray (Walters), Alex Chao (MacArthur) and Logan Smith (MacArthur); all are ranked in the top 10 of their respective classifications, and all visit Marlow practices about two or three times a week for instruction.

Smith is the No. 1 vaulter in Class 5A as a freshman. Dial tries to be at as many different meets as possible to see his students, and was able to watch as Smith jumped a 5A girls state best 10-09 in Norman recently.

“She PR’d (personal record), and I know it’s because he was there,” Smith’s dad, Danny said.

That kind of instruction usually comes with a hefty cost. Just not in this instance. Dial is happy to offer his time with no real strings attached. That’s a plus not only for the athletes, but the schools too.

With the Oklahoma Department of Education’s budget shortfall forcing high school athletic departments across the state to make tough decisions, nonrevenue sports are in danger of losing assistant coaching positions. The availability of qualified lay coaches - Marlow also has longtime track fixtures Bill Carter and Jesse George volunteering time - has never been more important.

On the plus side, it keeps Dial active. Long and wiry with a set of broad shoulders, he looks like he could clear a few feet if he wanted.

Just don’t push him to try.

“No, no. There’s a rule,” Dial laughed. “We don’t break the coach.”

___

Information from: The Lawton Constitution, https://www.swoknews.com

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