Kaznica's urging helped bring sport into the OVC

Sunday, May 5, 2002

With more than 400 athletes in Cape Girardeau over the weekend for the Ohio Valley Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships, there were bound to be plenty of interesting stories.

But nobody's story was more compelling than Southeast Missouri State University's Sara Kaznica. Without her willingness to stand up for what she believed in, it's doubtful she would have had a chance to win the OVC pole vault championship Saturday.

This is the first year the OVC meet has included a women's pole vault. And that's largely due to a major push from Kaznica, a senior from Oakville High School in St. Louis.

Kaznica began vaulting in 1998 and quickly took a major liking to the event, which has gradually produced a strong following among female athletes.

But the OVC evidently failed to notice because whenever a vote came up among the league's coaches on whether to put the women's pole vault in the conference meet, it failed.

Kaznica is no dummy. A four-time Southeast Scholar Athlete, she decided to try and do something about the situation. So three years ago, she sent a letter to all nine OVC track & field coaches stating her case for making the pole vault a conference event.

Explained Kaznica after winning Saturday, "I basically wrote, 'Hey, I'm a pole vaulter. I compete for my team in meets, the NCAA Championships have the pole vault and Missouri high schools have the pole vault. Why isn't it in the OVC?' "

Kaznica said she doesn't know how much of an impact her letter had in getting things changed.

But Eastern Kentucky coach Rick Erdmann knows. He said he was one of the dissenters for several years, and his vote was one of those that had helped dismiss the pole vault in a 5-4 vote when only a simply majority was needed to institute the event.

Erdmann said his program has no place to vault and therefore has no vaulters, so he figured why vote for something that would do his teams no good.

"I think there's a natural tendency among coaches to not vote for new events that can't help you out," Erdmann said. "I drug my feet. A lot of coaches did."

Erdmann said he stopped dragging after receiving Kaznica's letter.

"Her letter convinced me I should be less concerned about how our team does and more open to others," he said, smiling. "It was quite a letter. That did it for me."

The year the vote was taken after Kaznica's letter, it passed. There was the normal wait of two years for a new event to begin, but the pole vault finally became an OVC reality, just in the nick of time for Kaznica, who redshirted last season to preserve her final year of eligibility for this landmark season.

And, after finishing second in the OVC indoor pole vault this year, her wait -- and persistence -- finally paid off Saturday with a conference title.

Now that's quite a story.

Kudos to the countless people who worked tirelessly and had a hand in making the OVC Championships go off without a hitch, including meet director Joey Haines, also Southeast's head track and field coach.

And it's hard to imagine a better public address announcer than longtime Southeast sports information director Ron Hines, who has been calling track meets for a number of years and added plenty of excitement to the event.

Marty Mishow is a sports writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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