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Trinity Christian's Nelson keeps soaring

Trinity Christian's Nelson keeps soaring

February 10th, 2019 by Rick Thomas/Special to the Gazette in Sports Prep

Rhett Nelson, a junior at Trinity Christian in Texarkana, celebrates after clearing the bar during the Junior Boys' Flying Circus Elite Pole Vault competition in the Millrose Games track and field meet , Saturday, Feb. 9, 2019, in New York. Rhett was ranked No. 3 in the country when he was a high school freshman. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Russ Nelson of Texarkana, Ark., was in the stands watching the pole vault awards being handed out Saturday in the 112th Millrose Games at The Armory in New York.

Three of the top finishers in the elite junior divisions went to competitors from Arkansas, including Nelson's son, Rhett, 17, a junior at Trinity Christian.

"The guy sitting behind me was from Sweden and he asked, 'When did Arkansas become the mecca for pole vaulting?'" Nelson said. "I just laughed and said we are now and proud to be."

Rhett achieved a personal best of 17-2 3/4 in the pole vault, finishing second in the prestigious indoor track and field event for some of the top college and high school athletes in the country.

Nelson placed second to fellow Arkansan Haze Farmer of Lake Hamilton High School (Pearcy, Ark.), but both cleared the same height.

"Haze won because he had fewer misses," Russ said from his New York hotel room Saturday night. "Rhett's personal best coming in was 17-foot even, and he was hoping to go past 17 feet today, which he did."

Russ said he wasn't surprised that Rhett eclipsed the 17-foot barrier. "I was more surprised that three of the top finishers were from Arkansas," the father said. "Edie Murray (Lake Hamilton) also placed high in the ladies' pole vault (winning with a 13-5 1/4 leap.)"

Ironically, Rhett's 17-2 3/4 would surpass Arkansas' all-time record of 17-09 1/4 set by Andrew Irwin of Mount Ida in 2011.

Rhett, who already has an Arkansas state championship under his belt, is shooting for another record this season.

"Eighteen feet would be great," he father said. "I don't think it's out of the question."

Rhett, a 6-foot, 165-pounder, tried three jumps at 17-5, but missed on all three Saturday.

"He had been doing very well in practice jumps and he stays in great shape by lifting weights and running just about every day. He's a strong young man."

Russ, who serves as a volunteer track coach at Trinity Christian, said Morry Sanders of the Arkansas Vault Club has also helped Rhett a lot.

"They've helped put Arkansas on the map as far as pole vaulting is concerned. It's a great accomplishment for Texarkana and the state of Arkansas," Russ said.

The weather in New York was in the middle 20s, the father said, "but when that winds hits you, it feels extremely cold. I'll be glad to get back in Texarkana."

Russ said he and his son plan to fly back to Texarkana today.

"We've got an extremely early flight Sunday morning and we should be back pretty early in the day," he said. "It's been a very special trip."

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