York, PA - The crowd gathered on one end of Dallastown High School's stadium, just as the sun had started to dip out of view on a chilly, late-April evening. Runners in sweatsuits, their bodies weary from a full day of races at the Dallastown Invitational, broke from their cool downs and ambled over for a better look. Spectators bundled in jackets and winter hats stared on from the stands.
At the edge of the runway, Jared Allison tapped his right foot twice then accelerated forward, the 15-foot carbon pole bobbing up and down in his hands. Soon he would be airborne, his body slingshotting upward, necks craning to follow him ...
This is what happens when Allison vaults: People stop and watch.
They watch because of the oddity of his sport, an event so unique that it has almost no athletic comparison.
But they also watch because of him. Because perhaps no athlete to emerge from York County has ever soared higher than Dallastown's senior pole vaulter.
It has been barely two years since Allison vaulted for the first time, and since then he has smashed school and league records. He's already won an indoor state title, clearing 15 feet, 6 inches this past February. Two weeks ago, he obliterated a YAIAA league meet record that had stood for 33 years.
Come Saturday, Allison will be one of the contenders to win gold in the Class AAA pole vault competition at the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg University.
He possesses a blend of skills that seem lab-engineered for his sport, a combination of size, speed and dynamic athleticism. In a few months he'll head to Virginia Tech, home to one of the top pole vaulting programs in the county.
"I feel like this was kind of what I was destined to do," Allison said.
And yet Allison's path to the pole vault has been as unnatural as the event itself. Some might call it chance. Allison prefers to think of it as fate.
Before he could become one of the top pole vaulters in the state, Jared Allison first had to get cut.
He did not chose pole vaulting, so much as it chose him.
Allison had grown up in a baseball family. His father and uncles played the sport. So had their fathers before them. For most of his life, Allison figured he'd follow suit.
As a freshman at Dallastown, Allison tried out for the school's team. On the day the rosters were announced, his name was missing.
Allison was big, strong and athletically gifted. And now, he didn't have a sport.
Luckily, he had a fall-back plan. Allison had dabbled in track and field during middle school. He decided to join the high school team to "stay in shape."
A few months later, he would win the high jump at the YAIAA championships.
He was a natural on the track. But it wasn't until the following winter that Allison -- then a sophomore -- first considered pole vaulting. He was at an indoor practice when one of Dallastown's assistants, Mike Gillis, suggested he try the event.
"I said, 'Sure, I'll give it a try.'" Allison said.
That night, he went home to tell his parents about his new endeavor.
"We were sitting at the dinner table, and he announced it, and we just said, 'You're going to do what?'" said Vicke Allison, Jared's mother. "We knew nothing about it."
Pole vaulting itself is a mash-up of athletic elements -- sprints, jumps, strength training and gymnastics, all thrown into a blender and whirled together.
But the sport also requires another, less technical element: guts. "It's the ability to commit to something that doesn't feel like it could happen," said Ben Steele, a 2011 Central Dauphin East grad who once jumped against Allison and now helps coach him.
Steele remembers the first time he watched Allison vault. Allison's size -- at 6-foot-3 and 190 pounds, he looks like a tight end -- might not seem conducive to human flight. But that type of power is essential to creating the bend in the pole that launches a vaulter skyward.
"The first time I saw him, I was like, 'This kid's a stud.'" Steele said.
Matt Concannon, who runs the VaultWorX pole vault club that Allison trains with, had a different reaction.
"The first practice, Jared literally had so much talent, so much speed, that if he did anything wrong he might launch himself right over the pit," Concannon said. "You wouldn't want to step in front of him as he's coming toward the pit, because he'd kill you."
When Concannon began working with Allison after his sophomore season, Allison was jumping around 12 feet. The coach's job was to help channel his athletic ability. VaultWorX's facility in Camp Hill has two vaulting pits and video equipment. Every one of Allison's jumps was recorded and scrutinized.
Over time, Allison's heights crept upward. He followed his indoor state championship in February with a personal-best vault of 15-08 1/4 at nationals.
At the YAIAA championships two weeks ago, Allison toppled the three-decades-old meet record of 14 feet, 6 inches held by Kennard-Dale's Bill Butler. Allison beat that by a full foot.
"He blows me away," said Kennard-Dale junior Dylan Moynihan, who took third in the District 3 Class AAA championships, one spot behind Allison.
"He has the makings of a world-class pole vaulter," Concannon said. "Somebody who could jump 18 or 19 feet."
Still, Allison's spring season has had its peaks and valleys. He failed to register a height at the Penn Relays a month ago. At districts last weekend, he settled for second place after clearing 14-09.
Allison tries to used those experiences as learning tools. He studies his past jumps, all of which are recorded and catalogued on his computer. Next to his bed he keeps a white board with various heights scribbled on it. Every time Allison clears a new mark, he checks it off on the board.
Pole vaulting is, for the most part, all he does. His big goal for Saturday: 16 feet, 3 inches, the state record.
"From 10th grade, I told my coach that I wanted a state title and I wanted to take the state record," Allison said. "I already got one."
Pole vaulting can often be a sport of late bloomers. Allison is not alone in this regard. Steele didn't begin vaulting until his sophomore season at C.D. East. Same goes for Moynihan, who took up the event 14 months ago.
Still, Allison finds fatalism in his own journey. He thinks about all that had to happen for him to reach this point.
What if he hadn't been cut from the baseball team?
What if his coach had never convinced him to vault in the first place?
What if he hadn't found joy in a sport that so few would ever think to try?
"There's some days when I think about it and I say, 'This is a really dumb sport.'" Allison said, laughing. "You're running and you shove a pole in the ground."
But it is his sport. Even if it took him 15 years to find it.
Come Saturday, he will make his last vaults in a Dallastown uniform. People will stop and watch, wondering how high Allison and his competitors will go.
Price of pole vaulting
Pole vaulting can be an expensive sport.
The poles used by vaulters typically cost between $400 and $700, depending on the material used. Poles are usually made of fiberglass or carbon fiber.
Dallastown vaulter Jared Allison said he has "six or seven" poles, the longest of which measures 15 feet, 6 inches.
Some of those poles can last years. Others might last only a few jumps. Littlestown's Roger Hollenbaugh, who placed second in the District 3 Class AA championships last week, snapped a brand new pole at the beginning of the season. He'd used it only three times.
"It happens," Hollenbaugh said. "You just got to deal with it, because it's going happen whether you like it or not. It all depends on how the pole is made."
PIAA track and field championships
The state track and field championships are at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium.
Friday: 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Athletes to watch
Along with Allison, here are five other athletes to watch at this weekend's PIAA championships:
Jay Stone, Central York: The sophomore took first in the District 3 Class AAA 110 hurdles and second in the 300 hurdles last weekend. He's seeded in the top eight in both events at states.
Brandon Study, Littlestown: The senior sprinter is seeded 14th and 12th, respectively, in the Class AA 100- and 200-meter dashes.
Roger Hollenbaugh, Littlestown: A district champion 2011, Hollenbaugh will be seeded fourth in the Class AA pole vault this weekend.
Angelica Gonzalez, Red Lion: The freshman posted a pair of second-place finishes in the Class AAA 100 and 200 at districts. She'll be a contender in both races this weekend.
Megan Lundy, Central York: The senior won gold in the Class AAA 400 meters at districts, and she could medal in both the 200 and 400 at states.
Listen to the latest GameTimePA Today podcast for more analysis heading into the weekend's action.