March 12, 2022 — Spring break in Florence is usually when Bay Street’s businesses see their first glimpses of the busy tourist season that is so important to sustaining them all year round. This year, Historic Old Town will be given an early jolt of excitement when, on March 23, Chris Johnson and his Siuslaw High School track and field team will stage an athletic competition right smack dab in the middle of Bay Street.
Pole vaulters from Florence, Bandon, Marshfield, North Bend and other schools from around Oregon will travel to the area to compete in a pole vault competition that will be staged on Bay Street, in the heart of the town’s tourist district, tentatively between the Beachcomber Pub and Traveler’s Cove.
Siuslaw Athletic Director and Track Coach Chris Johnson’s idea is reminiscent of Major League Baseball’s “Field of Dreams” event, where the Yankees and White Sox played a professional baseball game in the middle of a corn field. Though more of an urban spin on the idea, the magic of staging an athletic event where normally something like this would never happen is still in full effect.
It’s an idea that Johnson had been batting around for a while. It came together when Johnson decided that when it comes to asking the City of Florence for permission for such an out of the ordinary event, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
After considering locations such as Darlings Marina and RV Resort on Siltcoos Lake and the Port of Siuslaw, Johnson landed on Bay Street for the most desirable place to stage the competition. A chance discussion got the ball rolling.
“I was talking to Erin Reynolds [Florence’s city manager] at a basketball game and said, ‘I’d really like to do this pole vault event on Bay Street,’” Johnson said. “She liked the idea. Even after that I thought there’s no way the city council is going to go for this. They’re not going to let me shut down Bay Street in the middle of spring break.”
Even with his doubts, Johnson figured he’d give it a shot anyway, so, on Feb. 28, Johnson made a short presentation to the Florence City Council hoping to get approval for the event.
“What we want to do is bring in some pretty good high school vaulters so people walking by or want to come down can see it,” Johnson said. “It’s gonna take a while to set up. It’s a raised runway, it’s 120 feet long and there’s a pole vault system that goes in after that. So, that’s the biggest thing — we have to put it together and we have to give people time to warm up, and then take it down. So, I would like to start as early as possible so I don’t run into a situation where I couldn’t get it finished by the time the competitors get there.”
Commissioner Woody Woodbury inquired about the possibility of weather problems and Johnson responded that that is the one issue that they cannot prepare for. If the pole vaulters have issues holding onto their poles and vaulting becomes dangerous, the event will be canceled.
The event would not even be possible without Camp Lacouture, a senior for the Viking track and field team, and an ambitious project he took on during downtime caused by COVID shutdowns.
Lacouture researched, designed and built the raised wood, competition-ready elevated pole vault runway that is the essential piece needed to make this event happen.
“I just spent a lot of time on YouTube trying to figure out the best design,” Camp said. “I talked to some different pole vault coaches, spent a lot of time in pole vault forums and I decided to ask Coach Johnson if the district would pay for the material. He said yes. I started working on it, first by myself then with Chad Hughes [Siuslaw junior]. We had a whole bunch of fun and have really been looking forward to trying it out.”
Figure it out, they did. Camp described the one-of-a-kind piece of athletic equipment.
“There are 14 four-by-eight foot sections, and they all interlock with one another,” he said. “They are framed the same way you would frame up some floor joists, then each is covered by one sheet of plywood. There will be a large roll-up track surface that goes on top so that spikes can be worn.”
With the assistance of Brian Lacouture, Camp’s father, the runway will be assembled, starting at about 7 a.m., on March 23, on Bay Street, between Maple and Laurel streets.
Johnson, Camp and Brian have checked it out and think they will be able to squeeze their event in amongst the restaurants and tourist shops of Old Town.
However, as would be expected with an attempt to stage a competition like this, there have been some unforeseen challenges. They are challenges that would only occur when trying to pull off something as bold and unusual as this event.
“I thought I thought of everything until coach brought up the power lines,” said Camp. “‘Snap!’ I thought to myself. ‘That might hurt us.’ So, I went down there and looked around and I'm pretty sure we can configure it, because they're pretty high. I don't see a situation where the pole will be high enough to touch it.”
On Wednesday, March 23, Bay Street will be closed at 7 a.m. when set up will begin. All business will remain open during the event.
Vaulters will start warming up at about 10:30 a.m. and the event will begin at noon, lasting approximately two hours. There will be no charge for admission.
Johnson said spectators may want to bring a lawn chair or some sort of seating, since none will be provided.