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Greg Lee: Mead’s Mike Fleming still has passion for pole vault

Thu., May 22, 2014, midnight

My first question was why?

Why, in his late 60s, is Mead assistant track coach Mike Fleming still teaching?

I watched the passion he has coaching kids in the pole vault – some of the kids with parents who weren’t even born when he first got into teaching more than 40 years ago.

How can Fleming, now 67, relate to teenagers?

His reasons for continuing to teach are personal and don’t need to be discussed here. Trust me, if teaching and coaching were burdensome, Fleming would be done.

He’s already planning to return in the fall.

I’d list what sports Fleming has coached at Mead since he arrived in 1974, but the shorter list would be the ones he hasn’t coached.

He was hired at Mead to be the gymnastics coach. He was the head volleyball coach before Judy Kight turned Mead into a powerhouse.

Fleming grew up in Seattle and attended Chief Sealth High School, where he was a vaulter in the days of sawdust pits.

He gives out a thick handbook on the technique of vaulting to all of the participants each spring. Much of it he’s borrowed from credible technicians. Some of it he’s developed on his own. He includes a list of all-time vaulters at Mead and their accomplishments. Transfer Braden Barranco broke into Mead’s all-time top 10 list at 15 feet, 3 inches, tied at sixth. Chibron Tomeo tops the list at 15-8.

Fleming has coached five state champions and countless medal winners.

He doesn’t coach for height.

“I can’t control their height,” he said. “I can only control their technique.”

This year marks a first for Fleming. He’s never had the depth of vaulters he has this spring. He’s hoping to qualify four to state. Only two from regionals earn state berths and to get an at-large berth, a vaulter must jump 14-5.

His vaulters were out of sync at district last week. He’s hoping they bounce back Friday. Three of the four have surpassed 14-6.

Back in the day, Fleming’s personal best was 13-0. He went to state and placed seventh, missing a medal by one place.

Fleming invests generously into his vaulters.

“My whole high school career, we never got coached,” Fleming said. “That would be illegal today. I vowed in my coaching career that I’d never let a kid be shortchanged.”

To that end, Fleming has purchased new poles out of his pocket.

“One of my proudest accomplishments is I’ve had 31 guys go over 14 feet,” Fleming said.

Former Mead coach Gary Baskett stops by frequently to visit with Fleming during practices or meets.

“He’s a fabulous coach,” Baskett said. “He’s forgotten more about the sport than most. He really studies it.”

Current Mead coach John Mires is grateful Fleming continues to coach.

“He’s been really misunderstood over the years,” Mires said of Fleming. “He’s a hard-driven man and sometimes that comes off wrong. His expectations are always high and he holds kids accountable. In today’s society, that’s hard to do. He has an incredible amount of expertise. There are very few of those kind of coaches left.”

Barranco has only been around Fleming for a season but has appreciated everything his coach does.

“He’s one of a kind,” Barranco said. “He’s so old-school in his coaching style, but he knows so much. Most of the pole vault coaches say the same thing, but it’s how he says it that makes the difference. He gives us real-world situations that we can wrap our heads around.”

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