By Marquis Cooley | Reporter
One of the brightest spots for the Baylor track & field team during the indoor season was the success of the pole vault program. Junior KC Lightfoot and senior Tuesdi Tidwell were able to sweep the men and women’s pole vault titles at the Big 12 Indoor Conference Championship for the first time in school history and are set to compete at nationals this week. This success is all part of volunteer assistant coach Brandon Richards’ plan to bring pole vault back to Baylor.
“We’ve had some tradition in the vault then kind of had a gap, and now we’re bringing it back,” head coach Todd Harbour said. “Brandon has done an amazing job. You can’t give him enough credit. Brandon is one of the top coaches in the country.”
Richards comes from a family of pole vaulters. His father Bob was a two-time Olympic gold medalist in pole vault and inspired his sons to follow in his footsteps.
“It’s kind of a funny little fact that my family has the world pole vault record,” Richards said. “If you add up all our personal bests, it’s something like 126 feet 8 inches.”
Richards was the national high school record holder in the pole vault and went on to pole vault at Baylor in the 80’s in what is known as Baylor’s golden era for the event, following behind the historic trio of David Hodge, Todd Cooper and Mike Shafe.
Richards’s love for the sport rubbed off on his son Riley, who also pole vaulted for Baylor and was the inspiration for Richards becoming a volunteer coach.
“I was kind of laying the groundwork for [Riley] to come to Baylor, so I could coach him through,” Richards said. “It kind of parlayed into me trying to build a good pole vault program, and it’s been an absolute joy working with these kids. I’ve been very blessed to have such great athletes to work with.”
In his eight years as a coach with Baylor, Richards has produced some of the best pole vaulters in school history, with seven of his student-athletes on Baylor’s all-time performers list. Tidwell, who has worked with Richards for four years, said his ability to make practices stress-free is a huge help.
“We try to have as much fun as we can,” Tidwell said. “We have music going. We’ll be laughing and having a good time during practice. We get the work in as well, but we have fun doing it.”
Even with indoor nationals and the outdoor season coming up, Richards said he’s still keeping that light-hearted approach with his student-athletes.
“I’m not putting any extra pressure on them,” Richards said. “Things have been going well so far, so don’t fix it if it’s not broke kind of theory, so just keeping it light. We’re just going to go to this meet, going to compete the very best we can. That’s all the Lord asks of us is do our absolute best, and however the cards may lay at the end, we’re going to accept the results no matter what because we know we’ve done our absolute best.”
With the success the pole vault program has had under his guidance, especially this past season, Richards said he doesn’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“I’m doing it because I just love what I do, and I love to watch these kids progress,” Richards said. “I don’t have any reason to stop right now with this good success we’ve been having. I want to continue to build Baylor into a pole vault powerhouse. So, I intend to see the next round of great vaulters come through as well.”