Bulletin Staff Report
An incoming freshman and an incoming eighth grader from Brownwood will test their pole vaulting prowess against the nation’s elite beginning Wednesday at the 41st USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships in Walnut, Calif.
Caden Ellis, who is entering ninth grade, and Stehl Ratliff, who is preparing for his eighth grade year, are both nationally ranked by USA Track and Field in the boys 13-and-14-year-old pole vault.
The pole vaulting careers for each began three years ago when Ellis was in the sixth grade and Ratliff was a fifth grader.
Ratliff, the son of Bryce and Janet Ratliff, is heading into the meet at Hilmer Lodge Stadium on the campus of Mt. San Antonio College ranked No. 1 in the nation in his age division with a top competitive vault of 12-9. His best practice effort is 13-6.
Ellis, the son of Thad Ellis, is third in the national rankings with a best competition vault of 11-0. He has cleared 11-6 in practice.
Entry into the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships is based on performances at preliminary, association and regional levels of the 2007 USATF Junior Olympic Program.
Among the events the duo competed in to earn their trip to California are the Southwest Junior Olympic Championships in Lancaster, which took place on June 28, and the Region 12 Junior Olympic Championships in Odessa, which occurred in on July 13.
The Southwest Junior Olympic Championships included athletes from North Texas and Oklahoma. Ellis placed first at the meet, while Ratliff sustained an injury, but was later able to qualify for the regional meet.
At the Region 12 Junior Olympic Championships — which featured athletes from Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas — Ratliff captured the gold medal and Ellis earned the bronze. The top three performers at regionals advanced to the national competition.
Over 6,000 athletes are expected to participate in this year’s meet. Several of today’s Olympic stars began their track and field careers competing in the USATF National Junior Olympic Track and Field Championships, which is the most visible youth athletic development program in the world.