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South Jordan Journal

Former pole vaulter shares passion for sport as Bingham coach

May 27, 2020 12:58PM ● By Julie Slama

Bingham pole vault coach Kody Pierce reaches out to coach all athletes, including Hillcrest High’s Gracie Otto, who teamed up with Pierce to represent Utah at the Great Southwest Classic Invitational in Albuquerque in May 2017. (Photo courtesy of Marie Otto)

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

High school track and field fans had to be disappointed when Utah High School Activities Association officials canceled spring sports in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only could they not cheer on their children competing or their favorite high schools, but they missed the opportunity to watch perhaps a historic event with Bingham High’s Hannah Stetler set to capture her fourth state title in pole vault and possibly better her state record.

As a freshman, she captured the 5A state title with a vault of 11 feet 11.75 inches. Last year, Stetler cleared 12 feet to be at the top of the podium and four of the top 10 best recorded jumps in the state record books.

Stetler’s counterpart on the Bingham boys team is sophomore Dallin Thornton, who was seeded No. 1 before the track and field season was set to begin this spring.

With a team of about a dozen solid vaulters, Bingham High was expecting a strong season, but so were many individuals scattered throughout the state.

According to many in the pole vault and track community, this is because of the dedication and passion of coach Kody Pierce, who not only coaches Bingham pole vaulters but also trains other athletes at his Riverton facility, KoJo Sports Training Complex.

“Kody is a great guy and has almost single handedly brought pole vault back,” said Scott Stucki, Hillcrest High’s head track and field coach. “His club has strengthened the schools that did vault and opened [up the sport] to others.”

Stucki knows that first-hand as when Hillcrest’s poles were outdated and too short, Pierce lent the team some to use. That was in 2017, when Hillcrest’s Gracie Otto was the top of the sport.

“I was dazzled by this guy the first time I met him,” Otto’s mom, Marie, recalled. “This guy shared his passion of the sport with everyone. He was willing to work with all athletes, all divisions, and do it in the best interest of helping the athletes improve. Bingham is and has been a strong team, a hot bed of pole vaulters, but he’s coached athletes in his gym from all over.”

In fact, last year he coached Riverton High’s Robbie Walker to vault 16 feet 3 inches to capture the 6A title and break a record that stood for about 25 years.

Marie Otto recalled Pierce giving her daughter a new set of skills to work on and a renewed attitude to strive for her best.

“He coaches his athletes to be well trained, well-disciplined and she got better every single meet,” she said, remembering how her daughter not only won the state 4A title in 2017 with a state record vault of 10 feet 3 inches, but bettered it at the Great Southwest Track & Field Classic invitational meet in Albuquerque weeks later. “Kody was always there at meets, talking to the kids, offering insight and working with coaches, training a whole new generation of pole vaulters.”

Gracie remembers that as well.

“Even though he wasn’t the Hillcrest coach, he stepped in and gave me the best advice on how to conquer new heights,” she said now three years after that senior season. “He would let me borrow any equipment he had so that I was able to reach my goals and perform well. At state, he even came to the 4A vault competition to help coach when his team was supposed to vault later in the day in the 5A competition. Kody is one of the most dedicated coaches I’ve worked with. He has a calm demeanor during practice and competition. He wants all of his athletes to be successful and perform to their full potential.”

Pierce began coaching in 2006 when his brother, Trevor Anderson, began pole vaulting at Bingham. Pierce coached him to vault 14 feet 9 inches and was seeded first his senior year before another Bingham pole vaulter he was coaching beat his brother at state in 2010, so the pair went 1-2 for the Miners.

After volunteering a few seasons, he was hired on as the pole vault coach.

“I pole vaulted in high school (Spanish Fork High) and was OK, not great,” he said about his fifth-place 13 feet 6 inches state finish. “I figured it out back then without a coach, without internet or YouTube videos because I had a passion for it and was a good enough all-around athlete who liked an adrenaline rush to fly through the air.”

Pierce said that as a coach, he traveled the country, talking to coaches, attending camps and learning how to develop a pole vault program.

“A lot of other schools don’t have a coach, so I share my passion and knowledge about it and offer training to athletes year-round,” he said. “I may be Bingham’s coach, but I think of myself as a pole vault coach first.  I don’t do it for the money. I enjoy being around kids, I love the sport, and the pole vault community is awesome.”

He began the Utah Pole Vault Academy, recently building an indoor pole vault facility in Riverton that attracts athletes not only statewide but from neighboring states as well. He holds training sessions, private lessons, camps and clinics, training youngsters to even former pole vaulters who want to keep at the sport.

Under his watch, Pierce has watched his athletes set records, especially on the girls side, as the sport was not sanctioned until five years ago. Previously, if girls wanted to compete, they had to be in the boys competition and meet state qualifications to vault at state.

“Once pole vault became sanctioned, the numbers of girl athletes went up and the quality of the sport improved,” he said. “I’ve coached multiple state-record holders as they get better and better every year.”

While other programs, such as at Davis, are known for pole vault, Pierce’s is the only pole vault club in the area.

“It’s not competitive school versus school for me,” he said. “Yeah, you want to win, but even more, you really want your athletes to get a PR (personal record), and there are so many victories without being in first place. As individuals, we cheer each other on; it doesn’t matter the school. We ‘re one big family, helping each other out. It’s not about us coaches. It’s about the kids and helping them jump higher.”