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Summer Classic

Josh VanDyke • Jul 12, 2018 at 12:13 AM

Grand Haven's beautiful shoreline has always drawn visitors from across the country. During the summer months, when sunny skies, crisp water and sandy beaches combine to create the perfect vacation destination, many people from the Midwest travel to the Tri-Cities area for a low-budget family vacation.

However, the recent growth of the Grand Haven Beach Vault event has added another attraction for people to be drawn to as they migrate North in July.

The unique athletic event will be entering its 16th year this weekend, with another loaded field of athletes and a positive vibe to match.

The beach vault spans two days. The event kicks off Friday and will continue through Saturday afternoon. The competition will be divided into divisions from U14 athletes through college, elite and master levels.

The beach vault pits a deep field of nationally recognized pole vaulters against one another in one of the premier events of its kind. The tradition began 16 years ago, when founders Dave Emeott and Kevin Patterson were brainstorming what new and fresh event could be brought to the beautiful beaches of Grand Haven.

"It really all started when Kevin and I had an idea and just put it into motion," Emeott said. "We wanted to bring the sport of beach vaulting to Grand Haven, so we did it. Now, it's turned into a global celebration of pole vaulting in the summertime, and we couldn't be happier with the results."

Since the event's inception, Emeott has been pleasantly surprised at how the beach vault has become a destination trip for many people across the region.

"It's amazing how many people keep coming back for this," he added. "Our event has become a family vacation spot now. Some people come here just to spectate every year, and they've marked the weekend on their calendars in advance just to make it out here.

"I've had people come up and tell me that they came from Indiana, Illinois and Ohio just to watch the competition. They keep coming back and now it's a destination vacation every summer."

TALENTED TRADITION

As the event has gotten larger in scale, the competition has gotten fiercer. Emeott has enjoyed watching the athletes that have been mainstays at the event improve each year and push themselves to new heights.

"It's always interesting to see the young kids continue to get better each year," he continued. "Zach Bradford had been coming to this event since he was 11 or 12 years old, and now he's on the United States U20 team. He won't be at this year's event because of his schedule with the national team, but that just shows you the type of talent that this event attracts.

"The guy who placed third in the high school elite division last year, Casey Lightfoot, is from Missouri. He cleared 18 feet, 6 inches at the high-school level this spring, and he's coming back for this year's event.

"Trevor Stevenson is a local kid from East Kentwood who will be competing in this year's event. He cleared 16-9 at the Division 1 state meet a few weeks ago. So, we have some highly skilled competitors in the high school elite divisions."

As the competitors continue to come back for more, the masters’ class continues to expand. That has created a slight shift in the scheduling of the events.

"We used to run the masters in one pit and the U14 on another," explained Emeott. "The masters' field keeps getting bigger and bigger, so we are going to give them both pits during the morning sessions and put the U14 division after the high school elites to close out the day.

"That way, we can showcase some of the best up-and-coming talents at the event."

NEW CHALLENGES

Every year brings about a unique set of circumstances that can create challenges for event organizers. This year is no different, as one of the event's main sponsors has closed its doors.

"Every year there are new challenges to be faced," Emeott lamented. "This year, the Bil-Mar is out of business, so that was big. They were our business partners and our source of electricity for all our equipment.

"Like I always say, ‘When you build your house on sand, there's going to be challenges'. The big thing that helps us get past these challenges is that we are willing to put the time in to make things work and create a great event."

Emeott isn't afraid to get his hands dirty, either. During the early stages of the event, he could be seen putting in the manual labor himself.

"Excavation was a big hurdle early on, so I had to rent a Bobcat myself and get out there to dig during the first few events we put on.

"Steve Owen from Holland has been helping us out since then, but he is retiring after this year's event. I don't know if we can afford to use the state park, so between a new power source, a new excavation company and other logistical hurdles, I'm sure next year will have plenty of challenges to clear, too."

This year's preliminary competition begins at 10 a.m. Friday, with the championship round kicking off at 9 a.m. Saturday.

"We're very excited for this year's event. It should be another exciting weekend at the Grand Haven beach," Emeott said. "This is the premier beach vault event in the world, and we always bring in some of the best vaulters from across the country to come to Grand Haven and compete in a fun and friendly environment.

"If you're in the area, take a stroll through the beach and check out some of the best pole vaulters out there, as they push each other to new heights."

For full schedules and event seedings, visit grandhavenbeachvault.com.

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