Shortly after the high school track season ends, Ballou High's Lynda Tolbert will attempt to fulfill one of her lifelong ambitions. Under the watchful eyes of track coaches Phil Faxio (girls) and Carl Keels (boys) and fellow teammate John Branch, Tolbert will try the pole vault.
"It's different, that's for sure," said Tolbert. "There aren't too many girls pole vaulting and for that reason, I want to try it."
Faxio has worked with Tolbert long enough to know that it is not out of the question that she could perfect the art of pole vaulting. The first time Tolbert tried the high jump, she cleared four feet. She was long jumping more than 17 feet before she got to Ballou. Tolbert was a successful hurdler almost immediately. And the soft-spoken, diligent senior is in the process of learning the triple jump.
"She is just special. She's the type of kid who can come out and do well in anything she tries," said Faxio, a quality hurdler in high school and college in the '60s. "If she got bulkier, she would be perfect for the pentathlon or decathlon."
At the recent Draper Invitational at St. Stephen's, Tolbert won the 100- and 200-meter dashes, the 100 hurdles, the long jump and the high jump. Her long jump of 18-10 broke her own meet record by more than nine inches. She also tied her hurdle time of 13.6 seconds.
Tolbert, who has signed with Arizona State, said she realizes the versatility and fun she enjoyed in high school will change in college.
"Right now, there's no pressure on me to perform," said Tolbert, affectionately known as Grandma. "I don't want to burn myself out. I enter all these events so I won't use all my energy trying to perfect one. I love the versatility. I don't like sitting around waiting for my turn for that one event."
Tolbert, an exceptionally strong runner with long, powerful strides, never has lost either a 100 dash or hurdle final during the regular high school season.
She has run 11.7 for 100 meters, 24.5 for the 200, 13.6 in the 100 hurdles, done 19-4 in the long jump, 5-4 in high jump and tripled jumped 35-plus. Her indoor time of 7.93 in the 55-meter hurdles last winter was the fifth-best time ever. She also had the third-best indoor long jump of 18-10. Tolbert has the ability to relax and save herself for the crucial races.
"I've lost a few semifinals, saving myself for the finals," she said, "and I've been beaten in meets during the summer, but I've lost to some pretty good people."
Because of Tolbert, the Knights will be favored to win the girls Interhigh track title, which it has won the last two seasons.
Faxio is looking for 40 points, or four first places, from Tolbert. "She can only compete in four events, but she should win them all," he said.
The Ballou boys are also expected to defend their Interhigh title, mainly because of Branch.
The 6-foot-2 senior won the Draper 110- and 300-meter hurdle finals, finished third in the triple jump, fifth in both the long jump and high jump and sixth in the pole vault. He also ran the first leg on the 4x400 relay team that finished sixth that afternoon.
The girls Interhigh meet is scheduled for May 23, and the boys meet is set for May 24, both at Coolidge.