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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
By Mike Camunas, Times Correspondent
Published May 3, 2007
NEW PORT RICHEY - Ridgewood pole vaulter Ashley Haggard holds the county record for highest jump. But there's a technicality.
The senior actually tied the record of 10 feet, 6 inches set by former Ridgewood athlete Katie Halkitis in 2000 - but it's Halkitis' record for the keeping since, due to Pasco County rules, records can't be shared.
Haggard will have to get one more inch to own it outright.
"Hopefully she will get the record, " Rams pole vault coach John Hermig said. "In my mind, she has it - that inch is just a clarification."
Haggard, who is seeded fourth at the Class 3A state meet Friday, has been aiming for Halkitis' record since her junior season, when she barely cleared 8 feet.
"I just like to be the best in everything I do, " Haggard said. "And I figured to be the best in pole vault, that means breaking the school record, and if I do that I'll be on (Ridgewood's) wall (of record holders), too."
Her coach knew what was in store. Hermig completely changed Haggard's workout: She ran the 2-mile her junior year but started working with the sprinters this season. Then she quit playing soccer to participate in weightlifting.
Haggard also stayed late at practice with Hermig to watch video of her and other pole vaulters to perfect her technique.
"That was a tall order, and no one had touched that record since 2000, " said track coach Sue Vien, who is in her 28th season at Ridgewood. "That was really having high hopes, I thought. ... Ashley, though, has always been a hard worker. It was never a matter of her work ethic - it was a matter of was the talent there.
"She never really had anything that was dazzling. She only had that she was smart - a student of the event."
Smart is an understatement. Haggard is dual-enrolled at Pasco-Hernando Community College and has a 4.03 grade point average.
"She's a sponge, " Hermig said. "She picks up everything I say and teach. I've taken 16 or 17 pole vaulters to state, and out of all of them, she has best work ethic and has got to be the smartest."
Haggard said it has been a long, arduous season, not only with juggling school and sports, but also with following the new routine.
"(Vien and Hermig) didn't tell me that (it was very lofty goal) flat out to my face, even though everyone thought that, " Haggard said. "I knew that I had to do what I believed I could do, even if no one else believed in me."
Vien said of Ashley: "When that tough does get going, (some athletes) say, 'I can't.' That's not Ashley, " adding she would never deny Haggard a chance at the record.
"I've never would say, 'No way, ' " Vien said. "I've seen it happen before ... but in my mind, it was a tall order."
Hermig calls Haggard "a perfectionist" and " the most technical vaulter I've ever had."
"I'm proud of (the record) and if she were my kid, I'd be even prouder of her, " he said.
But for Haggard, the technicality of being behind Halkitis just won't do.
"Oh, I'm getting 11 (feet) at states, " Haggard said. "That's the new goal."
When: Class 3A is Friday. Class 4A is Saturday.
Where: Showalter Field in Orlando
If you go: Take I-4 east to Orlando, exit at Fairbanks and travel east. Take road through Winter Park (road name changes to "Aloma") to light at Lakemont Ave. Turn right on Lakemont, pass Winter Park Hospital and turn left at next light (Mizell Ave.). Turn right on Perth (just past parking lot for the Wellness Center). Follow Perth past one field of Ward Park, turning into Ward Park just past its concession stand. (If you reach the three-way stop at Cady Way, turn around!) Follow driveway through Ward Park to Showalter parking lot at the far end on the right.
Girls high jump: Ridgewood's Bethany Butler was third at the region meet with a jump of 5 feet, while Wesley Chapel's Patience Shackley jumped the same and took fourth. Both girls' best this year, though, is 5-2.
Boys high jump: The winning jump at regionals was 6-6, but Gulf's Marcus Neeson was second after going 6-2.
Girls pole vault: Windy conditions limited Ashley Haggard to a vault of 9 feet, 6 inches, well off her best, but good enough to be the only girls region champion.
Boys pole vault: Land O'Lakes' Tony White, the SAC champ, was fourth at regionals with a 13-foot vault.
Girls long jump: Ridgewood's Dalia Madison has stiff competition at state, but her jump of 17-4.75 at regionals was good for second.
Boys long jump: Land O'Lakes' Dontarrius Thomas was third at region with a 22-04.5.
Girls triple jump: Madison, who set a career best in the long jump at regionals, did the same in the triple, going 35-6.
Girls discus: Ridgewood's Meghan Seltman was second at regionals, and Wesley Chapel's Arisa Bush was third.
Girls 100-meter hurdles: Patience Shackley faced the best competition she has ever seen, but still took third and got to state in her best event.
Girls 100-meter dash: While there's no competing for gold with the mighty speedsters from Oak Ridge, Wesley Chapel junior Jasmine Pleasant clocked a 12.32 to take third and get to state.
Girls 4x100-meter relay: Shackley, Pleasant, Renee Vaughns-Bush and Alyson Hoos ran a school-record 50.69 for a comfortable third place at regionals.
Boys 4x100 relay: Like the Wildcat girls, the Wesley Chapel boys also advanced to state behind the efforts of Mario Melvin, Keenan Reynolds, Marlon McRae and Cory Bunch.
Girls 400 meters: A trio of Pasco County runners will try to medal here, with Wesley Chapel's Vaughns and Land O'Lakes' Emily Seda going to the Class 3A meet, and Mitchell's LaToya Hillmon hoping to pull off an upset at the Class 4A meet.
Boys 400 meters: SAC champ Michael Kern of Ridgewood hopes to break two minutes and get a medal.
Girls 200 meters: Pleasant's speed could land her a few medals Saturday.
Boys 3, 200 meters: Land O'Lakes duo of Felix Soto and Jake Proudfoot skipped the 1, 600 to concentrate on this race, and it paid off as Soto was the only county boy to capture a region title and Proudfoot took fourth.
Girls 4x400-meter relay: Land O'Lakes took second with Frances Schmidt, Laura Cruz-Ramos, Dania Casellas and Seda running a 4:10.18.