CHARLESTON — One of Dayton Black’s college endeavors runs in his family. Another is decidedly a foreign concept to his entire family and all his friends.
Turns out, though, pole vaulting and flying a plane share a couple of common traits.
“Adrenaline is a big player. And fear,” Charleston track coach Abbie Schmitz said. “You have to be pretty fearless to pole vault especially when you’re jumping pretty high like he is. That has to go hand-in-hand with flying.”
Black, a Charleston senior, signed a letter of intent on Monday to pole vault at Indiana State for the Sycamores track and field team. He also plans to enroll in the school’s aviation program. He chose it over the University of Dubuque in Iowa for its proximity to home and, more importantly, its aviation offerings.
“That was the big draw,” Black said.
Black began pole vaulting in middle school, therein picking up the family hobby. His father, Bob, pole vaulted in high school and his older brother, Chase, was a pole vaulter for Southern Illinois from 2014-18.
Pole vaulting, in turn, can take some of the credit for Black’s desire to become a commercial pilot. He accompanied his family on road trips to his brother’s meets, venturing to states he’d never seen. The travel was equally as enjoyable as watching the events. Flying, of course, is the most natural job for it. Beyond that, Black can’t really tie a certain event or reason behind his chosen career path.
“I don’t even know what made me want to fly,” Black said. “It seemed fun and it’s something different.”
Flying and pole vaulting are highly specialized crafts that require specific and scarce equipment. Charleston, despite its size and location, could offer both.
Black began training for his private pilot’s license earlier this year at Coles County Airport. When he started pole vaulting, he used the equipment and the track at Eastern Illinois. That’s where he initially met and worked with Schmitz, who pole vaulted for EIU from 2009-13. She began coaching him when he started eighth grade. He quickly grasped the skill and won the Illinois state championship in the pole vault in seventh grade.
“I figured I was pretty good at it, so I kept going,” Black said.
Black admitted the thoughts of going to college to pursue an aviation degree crossed his mind before the idea of pole vaulting in college. His results on the track, though, drew the attention of college coaches. He committed to Indiana State in early March.
So far in his senior season, Black has finished first in the Apollo Conference indoor meet, where he jumped 14 feet and 2 inches. He took third at the Illinois Top Times indoor meet, up from sixth as a junior, by clearing 14-6. The last major goal is qualifying for state finals again, which he has the last two seasons. As a junior, he finished sixth and cleared 14-6. He placed eighth as a sophomore.