Among the long, rolling fields of south central Illinois' corn and soybean farms lies a hidden crop of newly-tapped talent. Flying well under the radar, the area has quietly gone about producing some of the most gifted athletes in the state.
Already boasting a storied history of basketball and baseball greats, these athletes aren't carving up the hardwood or unloading homers on the diamond.
For all the big-time ballers the Effingham area has produced, a new group has emerged. Make some room for the pole vaulters.
Blink twice, pinch yourself, do whatever needs to be done to check and make sure your eyes aren't playing any tricks. Area pole vaulters are —and have been for quite some time —solidifying the Effingham area as a hotbed of talent.
"It's really taken off," Newton boys track coach Todd Short said. "I think it's due to the thrill and excitement of it. You've definitely got to be dedicated, it's not for everybody."
Yes, the vaulters, those that hurl themselves toward the mat and lift impossibly high off the ground, only to squeeze over the bar by nothing more than the hairs on their legs to come crashing back to Earth. The unheralded daredevils of track and field are getting some love because, well, they deserve it.
You'd have to travel back to 2003, a full decade ago, for at least one area pole vaulter not to have qualified for the boys state finals. When Eric Mammoser placed seventh in Class 1A with a 13-foot, 9-inch jump back in 2004, he likely didn't realize he'd just kicked off a 10-year stretch with at least one area competitor reaching the final day of the season.
Since an Effingham area athlete has made the boys finals 15 separate time.