TRACK AND FIELD: Lebanon High pole vault family reaching new heights
Families laugh together, cry together, fight with each other and love each other.
Without conditions and often with great intensity and passion.
At Lebanon High, one very unique family does all of that and more. They also do some pretty amazing things together at the pole vaulting pit.
They're not related by blood, but Eric Peiffer, Erin Winters, Jeannie Showers, Jesse Brownstein and Huy Luu are as much of a family as any group of people could possibly be.
They're bonded by their commitment to the daredevil track and field discipline of pole vaulting, which they've taken to new heights at Lebanon — literally and figuratively — this spring under the watchful eye of beloved head coach/family patriarch Steve Richards.
It all culminated — for now, at least – with an epic performance at last weekend's Lancaster-Lebanon League meet.
Led by Winters' repeat title win in the girls' event, the Cedar pole vault brood captured an almost unheard of five medals, in the process accomplishing another unlikely feat of qualifying all five for this weekend's District Three Championships at Shippensburg University.
Suffice it to say, the LHS pole vaulting program has come a long way since Richards inherited a rather rag-tag situation nine years ago.
"It's exceeded all my expectations," Richards, a mild-mannered but highly focused Palmyra grad. "The first couple years I was out here just making sure kids didn't kill themselves. From where it was...
"It's an individual sport, but I like how close they are. They're constantly cheering for each other, and I feel like that's not just a team thing, that's a vaulting thing."
It's also a family thing. The Lebanon vaulters aren't just teammates who share a love of their chosen sport, they're a family who share a bond that only they can fully understand and appreciate.
That commitment to excellence extends to the classroom, where all five sport a grade-point average of at least 3.8.
"We're definitely a family," Winters said, as she and her fellow vaulters gathered at the pole vaulting pit during practice on Wednesday. "We argue, we laugh, we cry, we do everything together."
"And we love to gossip," L-L boys' runner-up Peiffer chimed in, with a laugh. "We have our own family, our own team, I guess you could say. We've created our own little bonding group. We're with each other a lot, so we know each other."
And they don't just spend a few months in the spring together. Pole vaulting is a year-long pursuit for the Cedar Five and their teammates, it is their craft. They're constantly pushing themselves — Peiffer, in particular is a workout warrior who sometimes has to be counseled not to work so hard — in an effort to get better and help each other do the same.
"It's a different mindset," Showers, a senior, said of the key to pole vaulting success. "You have to be able to self-motivate. You have to want to improve."
The evidence that the five practice what Showers was preaching with her comment was all over the medal stand at the L-L meet.
In addition to Winters' season-best vault of 12 feet, six inches to win the girls' event, Showers cleared 10-6 to finish fourth, and Peiffer (13-6), Brownstein (13-6) and Luu (13-0) finished second, fourth and fifth, respectively, in the boys' competition.
All five are top 10 seeds at the district meet, an incredible accomplishment.
"It feels awesome," Peiffer said of the group's performance at the league meet. "It's never really been done before, that five vaulters have all gone to leagues and medalled."
"I talked to Jim (veteran Northern Lebanon pole vaulting guru Weaver) last week and he said, 'You have a good chance to have all five medal,'" Richards shared. "I said, 'Don't say that.' I didn't want to put any expectations on them. I just wanted them to go out and enjoy themselves, because that could have been the last time vaulting for some of them. I guess they didn't want to be done yet."
Indeed they did not, as seniors Winters, Showers and Peiffer extended their careers at least one more week, and juniors Brownstein and Luu gained more valuable postseason experience.
And they're not preparing for this weekend to be their season swan song, either.
Family is never really all right with being separated, even if they are always together in their hearts.
"I'm really excited, especially for the guys," Winters said. "I love watching the guys, I'm really excited to see how they do. It's really cool."
'Cool' may not prove to be an accurate description of Richards' demeanor at Shippensburg, as he anxiously eyes his charges and hopes for their best effort. He's done more than enough to prepare them — just ask any of the five about that — but with high-level competition comes stress and anxiety, too.
But that's also the fun part.
"We're hoping it all comes together one more time," Richards said. "I'm sure there's gonna be nerves. I'd be lying to you if I said there wasn't. I just want them to perform well and enjoy themselves.
"I'm ready for it. I know they're ready for it."