The concept of l’dor vador resonated with Davis Academy middle school social studies teacher Matthew Barry after he witnessed one of many Pole Vault Atlanta Jewish athletes nearly break his Georgia record at the New Balance National Championships.
Last year’s state champion and fourth all-time in the state,
Riverwood International Charter School freshman and Davis alum Nick West, who won a state championship last year, vaulted 12 feet, 11 inches, the fourth-highest jump in Riverwood history. West is 8 inches away from Barry’s high school record.
“It’s kind of cool,” Barry said. “I’m coaching the kid that will break my record and can’t wait until he does because it would be a true testament to the type of kid, athlete and student he is.”
West is fifth in the state, but Barry said he will end up winning a state medal by finishing in the top three.
Ahead of West is Davis alum and North Springs 11th-grader Jake Rubin, who has a personal best of 13 feet, 8 inches. Barry said Rubin he has a chance to win the state and at least place in the top three.
After jumping 11 feet, 3½ inches, Davis eighth-grader Alon Rogow is fourth in the country for his age group, and Barry said there is no doubt he can win a state championship.
“I think Rogow will definitely become a 12-foot pole vaulter by the end of the year, and that would make him No. 1 in the state,” Barry said. Rogow has a chance at a national title if he can jump 12 feet, 6 inches.
Following in the footsteps of sister Becky Arbiv, former Epstein student and current Weber junior Ariel Arbiv won the New Balance indoor national emerging elite category after jumping 12 feet, 10¼ inches. The vault is the fifth best of all time in Georgia, a national record for the category and the highest jump by any girl in the state this year.
In spring 2016 the Arbiv sisters finished first and second in the pole vault at the Georgia Independent School Association track and field state championships, and both finished in the top six of their age groups at nationals after they set personal pole vault records.
The Jewish community has dominated this individual sport, but it’s not because of the selectivity of the event, Barry said, but because of how the athletes train. Barry works alongside Epstein’s athletic director, James Battoglia, in addition to running the pole vault club, where he coaches kids from Galloway, Atlanta Classical and Davis, among other schools.
“They all come to practice together, train together and get better together, and what I have learned is that the kids that come from Davis and Epstein just stick with it,” Barry said. “I think the relationship that we have from the familiarity of knowing these kids from middle school has made it easy for them to follow through with the program in high school.”
Barry never thought any of the kids would take significant interest in the pole vault, but he said it’s so rewarding to coach kids in a sport they are passionate about and to watch them become even better than he was.
One of Barry’s goals is to develop an appreciation for track and field in the kids, so they can practice in high school and keep him up to date with their progress. He said, “It’s tremendously rewarding because we sometimes joke that I may have been the highest Jewish pole vaulter in the history of the state, but these kids have the ability to beat that.”