Frontier’s Jack Vecellio vaulting to great heights as postseason approaches

  • Frontier's Jack Vecellio, shown here competing in the pole vault back in 2019, is the No. 1 seed in the event at Thursday’s Central/West Division 2 championship meet in Lunenburg. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 6/15/2021 6:08:54 PM

Jack Vecellio wasn’t born when Tyler Caron broke the Frontier Regional school record in the pole vault in 2003. 

Caron’s jump was 13 feet, three inches, a height Vecellio had his eyes set on when he joined the program as a seventh-grader. 

Now a junior, Vecellio broke the school mark in the first meet of the season with a leap of 13 feet, six inches. Since then, he’s more than eclipsed that mark, jumping a personal best of 14 feet, six inches in competition.  

“It felt awesome. There was a big crowd there so it felt good,” Vecellio said of breaking the school record. “In the second or third meet I broke the record three times. I had a few sloppy jumps and [Frontier boys track coach] Walt Flynn said ‘that’s the ugliest school record I’ve seen.’” 

In a meet against Franklin Tech on Monday, Vecellio staked his name to another Frontier record, running a blistering time of 57.2 seconds in the 400-meter hurdles. The time broke the Redhawk record set by Phaelon Koski in 2019 (57.5 seconds). 

Vecellio will compete in the pole vault and the 400 hurdles in the Central/West Division 2 championship meet on Thursday at Lunenburg High School, where he’s seeded first in the pole vault and is the No. 2 seed in the 400 hurdles. During the season, he showed his versatility by also competing in the 100 and long jump.

“He’s a great athlete,” Flynn said. “He can do pretty much anything. He runs a really fast time in the 100 and jumps over 20 feet in the long jump. He is a multi-faceted track athlete. He’s done a great job for our team, well beyond the pole vault.” 

The path to breaking the pole vault record wasn’t as smooth as Vecellio had imagined. He felt he was close to breaking it his freshman year at Frontier, but an injury prevented him from competing in any postseason meets. 

During the ensuing summer (2019) he broke Caron’s mark at the New Balance Freshman Nationals in North Carolina, but didn't report it thinking he would just achieve the record the following high school season. He certainly couldn’t predict a global pandemic would take away his sophomore season. 

“It would have happened last year in 2020 if we had had a season,” Flynn said. “It would have happened in 2019 if he didn’t have the injury at the end of the regular season. He never had a postseason but if he did, he might have broken that record.”

After his spring track season was knocked out in 2020, Vecellio found different ways to train and compete. With no meets happening in Massachusetts, he traveled all around the country to work on his skills and continue his development in a time when not many had the ability to participate in meets. 

One of his favorite experiences came in Ohio, where he got to work with Tim Mack, gold medalist in the pole vault during the 2004 Olympics. 

“It was pretty rough,” Vecellio said of missing the 2020 season. “I’m glad it was only my sophomore year and not my senior year. The whole summer we worked really hard. We went to Florida, Virginia, Ohio, North Carolina for meets because there was nothing around here. I still put together a season but not totally how we wanted it to be.”

So how exactly does one become an elite pole vaulter? Being born into a track family doesn’t hurt. That’s a good start. He also started working on it at a young age. 

Vecellio’s dad, Andy, ran track in college and later coached the girls team at South Hadley. Jack first started going to meets when he was 3-years-old, and started competing in national meets when he was nine. His first ever national meet took place in Maryland, where he placed third in the country in the high jump as a 9-year-old.

Andy got Jack into pole vaulting when he was in fifth grade, and his son instantly fell in love with it. 

“You have to be fearless to pole vault,” Jack Vecellio said. “My dad and I started messing around with it and I got attached to it and started to love it. We just kept working on it from that point forward. I love it because you don’t have to be this tall, you don't have to have long legs, there’s no ‘you’re too light.’ It doesn't matter. There's the world record holder who’s 6-foot-2, then Renaud Lavillenie from France who was 5-foot-6, 132 pounds. It’s doesn't matter what size you are, you just have to be good.” 

While it’s rare for kids to take up pole vaulting, Vecellio had a leg up on most of his peers when he joined the Frontier team as a seventh grader. He instantly made his presence felt, qualifying for New England’s as an eighth grader. 

He credits his dad for helping mold him into the area’s top pole vaulter. 

“I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am without him,” Vecellio said. “He’s been there the whole time. He’s the best coach I could ask for. Having him as a father and coach is the best thing for me. He keeps me in line with eating healthy, getting the right amount of sleep and getting on a good sleep schedule, practicing on the weekend. He’s helped me so much more than I could have ever asked for.” 

Despite breaking Frontier records early on this season, Vecellio said he planned to get out to a slow start and progress to the point where he was peaking toward the end of the summer. 

His goal going forward is to win states in both the pole vault and 400 hurdles, while also qualifying for nationals in the pole vault. 

“My goals now are to jump 15-3, 15-6, to qualify for nationals in Oregon,” Vecellio said. “Fourteen-six is my PR but I’ve done 15-3 in practice.”

Still just a junior, the sky is the limit going forward for Vecellio, according to Flynn. 

“I would say his ceiling is high,” Flynn said. “He’s in stratospheric territory right now. He’s picking up new poles and adjusting to them. With his dad being a coach, his dad is pretty knowledgeable about that which gives him an advantage. He's had opportunity and works really hard." 

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