Jewish Pole Vaulters Soar in Atlanta

Jewish Pole Vaulters Soar in Atlanta

Some of the best pole vaulters in Atlanta are Jewish and hold the all-time pole vaulting records at several high schools.

David R. Cohen

David R. Cohen is the former Associate Editor of the Atlanta Jewish Times. He is originally from Marietta, GA and studied Journalism at the University of Tennessee.

Riverwood freshman Nick West has a chance to break Matthew Barry’s decade-and-a-half-old school record.
Riverwood freshman Nick West has a chance to break Matthew Barry’s decade-and-a-half-old school record.

Recent Weber School graduate Becky Arbiv took first place in the pole vault at the U.S. Track and Field national junior championships July 30 with a jump of 13 feet, 1.5 inches, but she’s not the only elite Jewish pole vaulter in Atlanta.

Some of the best vaulters in the city are Jewish, and Jewish athletes hold the all-time pole vaulting records at North Springs, Dunwoody and Riverwood high schools. Many of them started pole vaulting while at the Davis Academy or the Epstein School.

Matthew Barry, who coaches track and field at Davis and the club Pole Vault Atlanta and still holds the record at Riverwood, said there’s no big secret to that success.

“We just have a good system in terms of how we coach the pole vault,” he said. “We have a pole vault pit at Davis. Epstein has a pit, and Weber has one. We all have an interconnected circle of coaches who know the pole vault. The kids get introduced to it because their athletic directors know the pole vault, and they stick with it and end up being pretty good.”

Becky Arbiv at the USATFJO with coaches Matt Barry (left) and Hal Fairbanks (right) after receiving her gold medal.

Epstein Athletic Director Jim Battaglia and Weber assistant track coach Hal Fairbanks vaulted together in high school and college. Fairbanks started PV-ATL in 2006 and with Barry and Weber Athletic Director David Moore has created an elite pole vaulting pipeline.

Arbiv, who starts at Duke University on a pole vaulting scholarship this fall, isn’t the only star in her family. Sister Ariel, a Weber junior, recently finished third in the nation in the 15-16-year-old division with a vault of 12-1.75 in the national tournament Becky won.

“Ariel has what it takes to be a national champion just like her sister,” said Fairbanks, who coached the sisters at Weber. “She has two more years and the work ethic to do it, but we do our best not to compare the girls. Ariel is one of the most technical vaulters we’ve ever coached.”

Ariel Arbiv (pictured with Barry and Fairbanks) is the 2017 New Balance Nationals Emerging Elite Champion and national record holder

Other elite Jewish pole vaulters include Jake Rubin at North Springs, Rachel Sinclair at Dunwoody, recent Dunwoody grad Coleman Gordon and Riverwood freshman Nick West. Each of them has come through PV-ATL. Aside from West, all hold their school records.

Nick West is the 2017 Middle School State Champion

Rubin, Sinclair, Gordon and West all attended Davis and started jumping there with Berry. The Arbiv sisters started jumping at Epstein. Another elite jumper, Adam Mendel, attended Davis in the early 2000s when Fairbanks was the track coach there.

“Jake Rubin placed third in the Georgia state meet last year, and he’s got a chance to win it this year,” Barry said. West “has a legitimate chance to break my school record of 13-7.75. I’ll be coaching him this year, and I really hope to be out there when he breaks it. He’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”

“Nick West is kind of the next big thing coming up,” Fairbanks said. “He has a great work ethic. Anyone that has seen him jump can tell you that he’s got it.”

West won the middle school state championship in the pole vault with a jump of 11-10, which is second all time for Georgia middle-schoolers. He is ranked third in the nation in his age group.

PV-ATL teaches the fundamentals of the Petrov/Bubka method of pole vaulting. Sergei Bubka was the first man to vault over 20 feet and still has the outdoor world record. Vitally Petrov was his coach and developed the model the club uses.

Since PV-ATL was founded 11 years ago, the club has produced 14 state champions, 21 state runners-up and 19 state third places in Georgia High School Association pole vaulting. None of the jumpers had more than two years’ experience before reaching the elite state level.

The club now has more than 65 members from ages 10 to 73.

As for why so many elite pole vaulters come out of Davis and Epstein,

Fairbanks, who isn’t Jewish, attributed the high number of elite pole vaulters from David and Epstein to the day schools’ work ethic and rigorous academic course load.

“Davis and Epstein have the leadership that sends kids our way,” he said. “Then the kids work hard and apply the same principles they learned in school to the pole vault, and that has a lot to do with their success.”

Barry, 34, started pole vaulting at age 14 at Riverwood, where he was a three-time region champion. He has coached at Davis since 2005 and encourages anyone who wants to give pole vaulting a shot to come to PV-ATL.

“All you have to do is show up and say I want to learn to pole vault,” he said. “We’re not an exclusive membership at all. You just show up, and we provide all the equipment.”

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