GRAND HAVEN – In a hubbub of activity at the Grand Haven State Park and City Beach on Saturday, the summer event that remains the most unique and spectator-friendly going on 14 years strong is the Grand Haven Beach Vault.
It remained that way during an overcast Friday and an 80-degree Saturday at the City Beach, as nearly 300 vaulters competed in 17 different divisions.
With the Summer Olympics in Rio fastly approaching, co-organizer Dave Emeott said it limited the number of entries of elite-level vaulters that typically make the event part of their summer schedule.
“It’s really two-fold,” Emeott said. “Everyone’s excited about track and field right now, but at the same time, all of the elites just competed at the (Olympic) trials this past week. So normally, a large number of them would be coming here. So that changes things up a little bit.”
Although the number of jaw-dropping sky-high vaults were down, the quality of competition at the college and high school levels was still top notch, including Spring Lake High School standout Bella LeRoux, who placed fourth in the High School Elite Division with a vault of 11 feet, 6 inches.
“I didn’t jump my highest, but I was really happy with my performance,” LeRoux said, who is the reigning back-to-back Division 2 state champion in the sport. “It made me encouraged for the rest of the meets I’ll be going to this summer. I made 11-6 on my first try (today), but then at 12-3, I missed all three attempts.”
The Elite High School Division was won by 17 year-old Alllie Stern of Akron, Ohio, with a vault of 12-9.
LeRoux’s personal best during the high school season was 12-6, which she accomplished at the West Michigan Meijer All-Star Track Meet at Reeths-Puffer this spring.
LeRoux, who is being heavily recruited by Michigan State University, can thank her brother, former Fruitport track and football standout Kevin McCauley, for introducing her to the sport.
“My brother did it (in high school) and he did some research for my sister Allie for some good clubs in the state,” she said. “We were both gymnasts, so he figured we’d be good at it.”
Bella would watch her sister at every single practice at Landon Athletics in Vermontville, but never imagined herself following in her sibling’s footsteps.
“Her coach (Jerry Sessions) asked me to come and try it, and I was like ‘No, no, no,” LeRoux recalled. “My dad asked me to try it, too, and I did, and I really didn’t like it.”
But with the continued encouragement of Allie and her father, Dr. Howard LeRoux, she decided to stick with the sport.
“I fell in love with my team (at Landon); the team is like my family,” LeRoux said. “And I started jumping higher as I became more dedicated to the sport.”
Now, she’s intent on becoming a rare three-time state champion, and building on her talent at the college level.
And maybe down the road, she may be one of the Olympic hopefuls that comes back to wow the spectators gazing under the pop-up canopies on the sand.
“I love it, because this is like my home meet,” she said. “This is my first summer meet and I’ll go year-round.”
Other local competitors at the Beach Vault included Sparta native Madelyn McCallum, who placed ninth in the Women’s College Division at 9-9; Sparta’s Olivia Kane, who placed 17th in High School Division 2 at 9-6; and Mona Shores’ Kayla May took 19th in High School Division 1 at 7-6.