Coach Francis looks to expand pole vaulting program in Hastings
Hastings High School pole vaulting coach Dennis Francis has been coaching for as long as he can remember. He began coaching at a junior high school in 1969.
While in high school, he participated in many sports including football, basketball, and hockey. He did not, however, compete in pole vaulting.
"I was always fascinated with track," said Francis. "Track and the Olympics were bigger events back in my day. They seemed to always be going on."
After graduating high school Francis went to Iowa State University and majored in Physical Education.
"I love coaching; it's something that I've always been passionate about," he said.
It wasn't until 2000 that Francis became actively involved in pole vaulting. In 2001 he began to assist the head coach Mark Haesly at Hastings High School and began running summer pole vaulting programs.
"I went to many summer programs and worked with pole vaulting coaches from North Dakota State University, Mankato State University, and other colleges," said Francis. "Pole-vaulting is so complex and unique. I spent a lot of time (with college coaches) and learned as much as I could from them."
Francis continued assistant coaching until 2009 when coach Haesly moved on to East Ridge High School. The 2010 season was Francis' first as head coach.
"The biggest thing for coaching is trying to build a pole vaulting culture," said Francis. "For the summer program we are trying to recruit kids and invite them to try pole vaulting. In the past few years the summer program has really taken off."
One of his main focuses for coaching is to implement a step-by-step process.
"Pole-vaulting is fun yet very safe," said Francis. "We take all the athletes back to the basics and make sure they have step one down before we move on."
Francis and his wife Mary, work out of their home.
"I put in 30 years in the warehouse business," said Francis. "I'm lucky that I don't have to do that anymore. I can now do what I am passionate about: coaching. I'm finally able to do what I've always wanted to do and I don't see it stopping anytime soon."
The Francis' have three boys: Shawn, Scott, and Kyle. Two of their sons, Shawn and Kyle, were pole vaulters at the high school level and have continued on to the collegiate level.
Shawn is finishing his last year of graduate school at NDSU and is an elite pole vaulter there. He currently jumps at 15 feet and is almost at 18 feet said Francis. Shawn is hoping to make it to the Olympic trials this year.
His youngest son, Kyle, is also part of the NDSU pole vaulting program. Kyle was a 2009 Hastings High School graduate and still holds the number two all time spot at Hastings High School.
Future plans for Francis include starting a track club in Hastings.
"Pole vaulting is a year-round sport," said Francis. "It doesn't end at the end of the school year. With a club, the vaulters can have contact with each other and compete in summer events."
Beginning July 31 of each year, Francis cannot have contact with his athletes until the beginning of their season. Instead, he finds clinics and programs through college coaches for his athletes to attend.
"If they are passionate about continuing in the off-season, I give them some avenues to do it," Francis said.
"I will never be done with coaching; it's become a passion," said Francis. "My goal is to share my passion with them and hope they can pass it on to others."