Coaching by Hood vaulted ACU over top
By TED DUNNAM
Staff Writer, Abilene Reporter-News
June 25, 2000
John F. Kennedy, addressing guests at a dinner honoring Nobel Prize winners in 1962, said that he was surrounded by the most extraordinary collection of talent and human knowledge that there has ever been at the White House with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined there alone.
There is a collection of athletes from Abilene Christian University who can similarly relate that saying to Don Hood on a different level.
Hood established a pole vaulting dynasty at ACU based not on his recruiting ability, but simply with his vast knowledge of the sport.
"Very few people knew anything about pole vaulting and none knew as much as Coach Hood,'' said ACU Olympian Billy Olson. "The techniques he used, the drills and exercises we did, they all helped to make us much better vaulters.''
Possessed with an almost unique knowledge of his forte, Hood managed to build a dynasty within a dynasty during his tenure as head track coach at ACU from 1977-88. He coached nine Olympians and his teams featured nine national champions.
Foremost of his pole vaulters were Olson and Tim Bright. Olson was the first person to vault 19 feet indoors and the first American to clear 19 feet. In addition, he set 11 world records in the vault from 1982 to 1986.
Bright remains ACU's only three-time Olympian, competing twice as a decathlete and once as a vaulter.
"I always loved the pole vault and I looked for athletes who really had potential in that event,'' Hood said. "I think the great pole vaulters really began with Paul Faulkner, and Billy Pemelton became ACU's first pole vault Olympian in the 1960s.
"When I came to ACU, I really wanted Billy, but he wanted to go to Baylor. It's a fine school, but I didn't really consider it the best place for pole vaulting. But Billy went there and it turned out he didn't like it very much.
"He called me at mid-term and we were able to get him into school here. Then he told me about Frank Estes dropping out at UT, and he and Billy were good friends so we got another good vaulter in Estes.''
Soon, ACU became a hotbed for pole vaulters. Brad Pursley of Merkel and Dale Jenkins of Snyder soon followed.
"Tim Bright wrote me a letter and said he wanted to go to school here,'' Hood said. "But we already had four good vaulters.
I told him I was going to make him a decathlete, and he couldn't believe it.
"Of course, he thanked me later, and Tim also became an excellent vaulter.''
Hood employed gymnastics, trampoline jumping, swimming pool exercises and running to be able to get the most out of his athletes.
"He just knew so much,'' Olson said. "It all started with Coach Hood. We had a pretty good bit of success when I got there, but he just took us to another level. And because vaulters wanted to learn from Coach Hood, they just started flocking to Abilene.''
Pressed on the matter of selecting the best vaulter he's coached, Hood wouldn't budge.
"They all had outstanding traits that made each of them good,'' Hood said. "Billy had the best sprinter speed, Jenkins had the best plant, and Tim had a good finish, was fast and strong.
"I think if you took the best parts from four or five of those guys, you'd have a 21-foot pole vaulter. The thing I appreciated was that each of those vaulters got the most out of their abilities.''
Contact assistant sports editor Ted Dunnam at 676-6771 or email@example.com.
If you are a member of the media who would like more information about this release, please contact Tom Craig, director of media and community relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 915-674-2692 (cell phone: 665-5469).