ROHNERT PARK -- On Jan. 29, Jim Veilleux received a national track and field award that should never have existed in the first place. Common sense, however, sometimes, sadly, requires a champion.
Because Veilleux had common sense, Erica Hause began something 19 years ago that has evolved to one heck of a day job — she is a trapeze artist for the Ringling Brothers Circus. Amazing what can happen when one refuses to stereotype a gender.
Veilleux, the pole vaulting coach at Santa Rosa High School the last 15 years, received the 2011 U.S. Track and Field Pioneer Award at USATF's Pole Vault Summit in Reno.
All because Veilleux said "yes" twice. It's that simple and that complicated.
"If Jim hadn't done what he did," said Linda Hause, Erica's mother, "this never would have happened."
Meaning, Jim Veilleux of Rohnert Park was instrumental in stopping pole vaulting from diving into oblivion.
A journey like this is a journey of a thousand steps. The first step was Erica Hause's. Veilleux was the pole vaulting coach at Cook Junior High. Hause, a ninth-grader, approached Veilleux and asked if she could pole vault for Cook. Veilleux paged through the Santa Rosa City School District rule book for permission. He found none.
"What I read was this: &‘Girls don't pole vault,'" Veilleux said.
The coach had a simple take on that.
"That's ridiculous," Veilleux said. "Just look at female gymnasts and all the stunts they accomplished. That takes a lot of upper body strength but that was the fear back then, girls lacked sufficient body strength. Ludicrous."
No matter, come out, Veilleux told Hause. I'll teach you but I can't promise your results will count on team scores. As it turned out, her vaulting scores did count. According to Linda Hause, since all five junior high schools competed just in the district, agreement was reached.
"All five junior high school principals allowed it," Linda Hause said. "But if it wasn't for Jim allowing Erica to vault, that would never have happened."
Erica Hause entered Montgomery High as a sophomore in 1992. She still wanted to vault. Her mother saw it as a clear case of sexual discrimination. From June 1992 to March 1993, Linda Hause fired off letters, made phone calls, applied pressure to CIF in the most diplomatic of ways through her written entreaties: "It is my desire to resolve this problem by going through appropriate procedure established by CIF. ... I am sending copies of this letter to area commissioners ... and to the National Federation. In the event that the matter remains unresolved in February (1993), I will pursue other options to find an acceptable resolution to the problem."
Which is how Veilleux again became involved. Remember this was fall 1992, and high school girls were not allowed to pole vault in California. So CIF was performing due diligence, in large part because it was being accused of violating its own by-laws. CIF called the only pole vaulting coach who had ever worked with a girl. They asked Veilleux his opinion.
"Yes, they can!" was Veilleux's quote for the record.
A general contractor, Veilleux said yes not because he was a feminist. He said it for an even-more encompassing reason.
"I am a humanitarian," said Veilleux, 65. "It was just the right thing to do. In all the years I have coached pole vault, I have never told a boy or girl I wouldn't coach them. I had one girl take three months to vault six feet. I have had kids ask me to coach and I knew they wouldn't be good vaulters. Didn't matter to me. As long as they had the desire, that's all I needed from them. It was my job to keep them safe."