At the Mountain League Track and Field Championship meet two weeks ago, Bellefonte’s Nate Wert leaned against the fence that ringed the outer edge of the track, chewing a slice of pizza while watching his teammates compete.
Kelsie Richner had just made an attempt in the pole vault, and as she climbed off the pit and set her pole among the pile of other poles on the ground, she looked over at Wert and they shouted a few words back and forth.
She then trotted over to the fence to converse with her fellow senior.
Was she seeking a little encouragement, or a joke to lighten tension? Hardly.
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Wert was doling out advice.
The Red Raider, who had won the boys’ pole vault title a little earlier at the meet, is the de facto coach of the pole-vaulters when their regular coach can’t be there.
“He just really knows what he’s doing,” Richner said. “I don’t know how he does it. He’s a great pole-vaulter, but he also teaches us how to be a great pole-vaulter. He helps us get better at everything.”
It’s not the typical side job for a track athlete.
“I trust Nate with that,” Bellefonte head coach Seth Miller said. “He just takes that leadership role.”
The team’s actual pole-vaulting coach is Chris Mitchell, a former Penn State vaulter who has his own vaulting runway and pit in his backyard, but he has a regular job in computer software and cannot always be around.
So, when Mitchell can’t be there, Wert steps in.
In between her attempts at that Mountain League meet in Clearfield, Richner needed a few pointers, and Wert covered everything. He advised her where she should reset the standards supporting the bar, how to adjust her hands on the pole and to start her run six inches back.
“It’s kind of weird because I’m also in gymnastics and cheerleading, so I’ve always had a coach telling me what to do,” Richner said. “To hear it from a teammate, it’s kind of a new perspective. It’s kind of cool because you can connect with him better.”
He also imparted his wisdom with Aubrey Kuhn, another senior.
Both girls followed his advice, tying for second at the meet.
The duties seemed to come naturally for Wert.
“I’ve always had a people personality, a leadership role,” he said. “When there’s not a coach around, and you are the one that worked with the coach for a summer-and-a-half, you help out your teammates.”
The coaching duties also are interspersed with other events. He sometimes runs the 100-meter dash as well as in the 400 and 1,600 relays, sapping a little energy from the pole vault.
On the vaulting runway, he has his goals. He won the Mountain League title by clearing just 12 feet. At the West Central Coaches Invitational on Friday, he cleared 13 feet to finish fourth, a few inches below his personal best. He’s hoping to get at least 14 feet, 3 inches at the District 6 Class AAA championships on May 18, which would meet the automatic qualifying standard to make the PIAA Championships.
Even though he doesn’t have plans to go to college or compete in the event beyond this spring, hoping to become a power lineman for a utility company, he still loves the event.
“It’s putting your body that it really doesn’t go in,” Wert said. “It’s an adrenaline rush, it’s the tunnel vision on that runway. You’re relaxed, it’s you, the pole, the bar and the pit. That’s it.”
The love shows in his “coaching” of his teammates.
“Nate does a good job with them,” Miller said. “He knows all the drills.”