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Friday, May 30, 2014

Nashua pole vault coach Dan Hogan has guided generations of student-athletes

Pole vaulting is becoming the cool thing to do at Nashua’s two public high schools. Thanks to an 82-year-old man who has spent his entire life soaring through the air.

Whether it was piloting an F-5 on one of his 282 combat missions in Vietnam or flying over the bar as a student athlete at the University of New Hampshire, Dan Hogan made the most of his talent. ...

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Pole vaulting is becoming the cool thing to do at Nashua’s two public high schools. Thanks to an 82-year-old man who has spent his entire life soaring through the air.

Whether it was piloting an F-5 on one of his 282 combat missions in Vietnam or flying over the bar as a student athlete at the University of New Hampshire, Dan Hogan made the most of his talent.

Today, he gets as giddy as a kid in a candy store watching others take flight.

“I’m just so happy to see how far these kids have come in a short amount of time in this event,” said the 26-year Air Force veteran, with his familiar camcorder in hand to film every vaulter that competes in a given meet no matter their team. “I’ve seen so many kids come through here when it was one high school and now two. And to see how well these kids have taken to a sport that not many people have the guts to do makes me smile.”

But they’ve done more than just taken to the sport, they’ve thrived in it.

Nashua South head track coach Jason Paling was one of Hogan’s pupils, as was North’s pole vaulting coach Ian McAfee, who upon graduating from Dartmouth College was brought in by North head coach Nate Burns to take the load off Hogan trying to coach at both schools.

McAfee, a former Nashua North standout, who was the state pole vaulting champion and fourth in New England as a Titans captain in his junior and senior season, is now in his second year as a North assistant.

“Hogie’s a great guy,” said McAfee, North Class of 2008. “He certainly makes people enjoy the vault. He’s an awesome guy. He will do anything for you. Whatever you want him to do, he’s there. Just puts a lot of time into it. Has for so many years. He’s such a good resource to have, certainly.”

Hogan’s been a priceless resource for South senior Elizabeth Allard, who is bound for Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C., this fall.

Allard is eyeing a Division I title Friday in the division championship meet at Winnacunnet Regional in Hampton. She feels blessed to be considered one of Hogan’s prized pupils, and she’s learning just as much off the runway as on it.

“He’s been at Nashua High since 1969, I think,” Allard said. “I mean, when he was pole vaulting he jumped on a steel pole into saw dust. He knows the evolution of the pole vault. He knows it all … I couldn’t ask for a better coach.”

Hogan was all smiles at the Panthers’ final home dual meet of the regular season on May 20 against Merrimack High School. Already South’s record holder for the girls pole vault at 10 feet, 6 inches, Allard used that final home meet to push the bar even higher.

The jump prior to setting her new mark, she brushed the bar and watched it come crashing down on her face as she hit the mat. A broken nose and two black eyes didn’t stop her from getting up and jumping again. Bloodied and bruised, she followed up her near miss with a clean jump of 11 feet.

“It was worth it,” Allard said of the broken nose. “It’s one of those weird things that not a lot of people do it. It is really cool. It’s something different, and accomplishing a school record is something I can feel really good about because it’s one thing that I really do thrive in. So it makes me feel really good about it.’’

Until her sophomore year in high school, Allard was a gymnast. She hadn’t even considered pole vaulting as an option, but the upper-body strength, endurance and balance she got from years of gymnastics training was the perfect starting point for Hogan to mold another champion.

“She’s a natural,” Hogan said. “She puts in the time and effort and focuses on the fundamentals and steps like it’s life or death. She is so into this sport and that makes me so happy to see. When other kids get as excited about pole vaulting as I did and still do. That’s what keeps me going.”

Hogan’s start was by chance. He never competed at Nashua High School, graduating in 1949. It wasn’t until his sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire that he even picked up a pole and thought about vaulting.

“I always had to hear Paul Sweet talk about Boo vaulting,” said Hogan, referring to former U.S. Olympic pole vaulter Albert “Boo” Morcom a track and field star at UNH under Coach Sweet. “He always said it takes the best athlete on the team to be the pole vaulter, and he’d go on and on about Boo.

“So one day when we had only one vaulter on our freshman team, and Tilton only had one. I wasn’t scoring as a runner, so I said to the vaulter ‘How high do I have to go to score?’ He says ‘Anything you can get over.’ So I said ‘Show me how to do this.’”

When Sweet returned from the Wildcats varsity meet, he watched Hogan for a while before telling the aspiring vaulter that he didn’t think Hogan and the event were a good fit. Hogan didn’t touch a pole again until later that season when the vaulters left their equipment out on the runway. Playing tennis with two friends, it was his turn for a break from the court and he decided to pick up the pole and go for it.

“Coach Sweet saw me across the football field and made his way over,” Hogan said. “He says, ‘Well, Dan, if you’re going to do it, you may as well do it right.’ He gave me this briefing of what he wanted me to do, and he put the bar up to 9 feet. I ran down that runway, went over 9 feet, and he said ‘If you can do it once, you can do it again. You’re my pole vaulter next year.’ That’s how it all began.”

And Nashua has been the beneficiary ever since. South and North have begun a pipeline of talented vaulters over the last few years, including family hand-offs of the pole in a few instances.

Under Hogan’s guidance, South is loaded with young talent.

Tyler Plourde and Nikhil Karnane finished 1-2 in this spring’s Kiwanis Freshman-Sophomore Meet in Salem.

Plourde was second at the event as a freshman with a jump of 9-0. This year he won with an 11-3 jump. He improved on that at Saturday’s Londonderry Invitational, soaring a personal best 12 feet for fourth place. Karnane also bested his second-place Kiwanis jump of 10 feet in Londonderry, recording a sixth-place finish and personal best of 11-6.

Other South vaulters include junior Josh Dion along with sophomores Mathew Guay and Cole Humber. On the girls side, Allard is joined by sophomore Stephanie Case, as well as, freshmen Paige Shaughnessy and Alexandra Dunhom.

Over at North, Hogan helped kick off the vaulting careers of senior Marcel Laplante and defending Division I champion Morley Kert, a Titans junior. Junior Donald Charest and sophomores Thomas Pappas and Cole Nickerson are also improving with every meet. Titans girls taking on the sport are sophomore’s Sierra Mullin and Helen Ntengeri.

All those Titans continue to grow under McAfee, who is putting to use everything his learned from Hogan as far as motivating his students.

“He cares about his newest vaulters as much as he cares about his best vaulters,” said McAfee of Hogan’s coaching style. “He’s very good at getting his whole pole vaulting crew over qualifying height for states. He’s a players coach. He’s right there pushing you and motivating you and cheering you on. He’s a great asset for the entire Nashua track community.”

It’s an asset that young and old are cherishing in the Gate City.

“We’ve all started a nice big pole vault family,” Allard said. “Coach Hogan started it all. He got us all together, and he started all the vaulters, like North’s Morley Kert, who is a very good vaulter there now, and I mean Coach Hogan, he started all of us off. I think we all started with him and we’re all going to end with him. It’s good that we can all share the experience together.”

That’s why Hogan keeps going, even with his 83rd birthday not far off on Nov. 11.

He feels he owes it to Nashua’s student-athletes who want to learn the event to keep going.

Somebody took the time to train him, and he appreciates that so much that he’s plans on paying it forward for as long as is physically possible.

“I do it as a tribute to those who took the time to train me and show me how to do it.,” Hogan said. “All these kids deserve somebody just as dedicated to their training. That’s why I keep on going.”

That’s why his legacy in Nashua will keep going long after he shuts off that old camcorder for good.