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Waukesha North's Verbick remains the standard in pole vault

State record holder still helping his sport 30 years later

Todd Verbick celebrates after clearing 17 feet, 4 3/4 inches in the pole vault while competing for the University of Wisconsin in 1988. Verbick’s jump of 17-5 1/2 is still second all-time in school history. Todd’s brother, Bo, is also on the school’s all-time leaderboard for a jump in 1986.<br />

Todd Verbick celebrates after clearing 17 feet, 4 3/4 inches in the pole vault while competing for the University of Wisconsin in 1988. Verbick’s jump of 17-5 1/2 is still second all-time in school history. Todd’s brother, Bo, is also on the school’s all-time leaderboard for a jump in 1986.

May 6, 2014

Though he lives in California, Todd Verbick still answers questions like a born-and-bred Midwesterner. When asked about his pole vault jump of 16 feet, 7 inches — still a record for a Wisconsin high-school athlete 30 years later — Verbick replied graciously.

 “I’m just glad someone cared enough to ask,” he said. “I don’t get many chances to talk about my brief athletic career.”

For the former Waukesha North standout Verbick, the memory of his record-setting jump in 1984 remains clear three decades later.

 “I consider it still the highlight of my pole-vaulting career,” he said, “even though I went to the University of Wisconsin and competed at the Division 1 collegiate level.”

It almost never happened – for two reasons. Verbick said he barely made the cut to be included in the Golden West Invitational, a highly exclusive and prestigious nationwide competition, and while warming up, he said he noticed a strong headwind blowing toward the jumpers as they practiced their approaches.

Success in pole vaulting is highly weather-dependent, so not only would Verbick’s performance suffer, but the athletes could have been in harm’s way.

 “I spoke up to the officials and said, ‘Hey this doesn’t make any sense, jumping into a headwind. I think we should turn it around.’”

After some deliberation, the officials listened, and Verbick went on to make his record-setting jump and take second place, besting six other athletes, including one with a scholarship offer from Stanford.

“It was the pinnacle of what I achieved as a pole vaulter on a national scale,” he said.

Although Verbick enjoyed plenty of success during his time at Madison – he placed second in the Big Ten conference tournament twice, qualified for the national tournament and recorded his best-ever jump of 17-5 while in college – nothing outshines the jump in Sacramento, California.

That’s mostly because he made that jump in front of his father, Bob Verbick, who was himself a three-time state pole vault champion and Todd’s coach at North, as well as the person whom Todd credits for all his interest and success in pole vaulting.

“I was drawn to athletics because that’s what my dad did,” he said. “He was my hero, and (emulating your hero) is what I thought you did.”

The family tradition made giving up the sport difficult for Verbick. But back and shoulder injuries in college eventually forced him to hang up his spikes.

“I wasn’t going to do it to see how little I could lose each year; I was going to do it to qualify for the Olympics, or I wasn’t going to do it at all,” he said. “And with my back feeling the way it did, I just didn’t have it in me anymore.”

Verbick decided to attend law school in San Diego as a “springboard into the work world.” He admits it wasn’t an entirely “focused” decision, but it worked out for him.

“I make a good living at it,” he said. “And I enjoy a lot of the aspects of (litigation).”

Verbick, 48, now has two children, son Xavier, 18, and daughter, Jude, 16. Neither of them are particularly athletic., he said. Xavier is studying abroad as a graphic design artist and Jude dedicates most of her time to academics.

But that didn’t stop Verbick from passing on his pole vaulting expertise to a younger generation. Two years ago, he saw an athlete struggling to make his jumps at a meet and decided to take the athlete under his wing. In three weeks, jump heights improved by more than a foot, which ultimately led to that student gaining admission into a university that otherwise might not have noticed.

“I’ll be the first guy to shake the hand of the person who beats all my records,” he said. “For me (pole vaulting) was great; it paid for my undergrad and provided me with some lifelong friendships. I want that for other people, too.”

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