A family legacy: ‘Stoga parent coaches daughter through high jump tourney

A+family+legacy%3A+Stoga+parent+coaches+daughter+through+high+jump+tourney

By Julia Harris, Staff Reporter

For high jumpers, everyone, even the first place finisher, ends their event with three failures. Whenever a jumper clears the bar during a competition, it is raised up until they fail three consecutive times. That’s a fact Conestoga high jump coach Paul Lavallee constantly reminds all of his athletes, including his daughter Kristen Lavallee, an eleventh grader at Conestoga.

“I always tell the kids: even the person that wins the gold medal at the Olympics finishes their day with three failures. It’s a little bit like baseball. If you strike out two times out of three in baseball, you are considered a good hitter, and in high jump, if you knock the crossbar off two out of three times, you’re still considered a good high jumper because that means you cleared it your third attempt.” 

Paul Lavallee began competing in track and field in third grade. Winning his first high jump event in elementary school encouraged him to continue with the sport, all the way through high school and into college. 

In the spring of 2019, Conestoga’s track and field team needed a new pole vault coach. Excited about the opportunity, Paul Lavallee took the job. In winter 2020, he was asked to switch to high jump for the indoor track season. He has been coaching high jump for around a year.

“I like the kind of acrobatic part of (high jumping),” Paul Lavallee said. “It’s a lot of power and agility and coordination. I also like the feeling when you clear the bar and you land in the pit. It’s kind of hard to describe, but it’s a really satisfying feeling when you clear the height.” 

Some may think having your dad as your coach wouldn’t be ideal, but Kristen Lavallee doesn’t mind. Although it can be difficult at times, she appreciates the personal connection and its benefits.

“Starting off, I didn’t necessarily like it, but I think over the years, I really love him being my coach,” Kristen Lavallee said. “I feel like he pushes me harder than other coaches might, so that’s made me a better jumper.” 

Growing up outside of Baltimore, Paul Lavallee didn’t grow up with a formal youth track program. However, he looked forward to an annual competition at his elementary school organized by his school’s gym teacher, a former track and field coach. When he moved to the Tredyffrin/Easttown area, he found out about the CYO (Catholic Youth Organization) youth track league, which includes kindergarteners through eighth graders.  

Kristen Lavallee, eager to participate in the high jump event, joined the league in fourth grade. Due to his love of the sport, Paul Lavallee was also eager to take part in the organization, coaching multiple events. 

Kristen Lavallee’s most memorable high jump moment occurred in eighth grade during her last year of CYO, when she placed second in the Archdiocese Championship at the University of Pennsylvania Stadium. 

“That’s where the Penn relays are, and I feel like that’s just such an amazing place to run, and do track meets, so it’s really stressful but it’s also really cool,” Kristen Lavellee said.

Both Kristen and Paul Lavallee agree that anyone with the right determination and mindset could be a successful high jumper, and they encourage those interested in the sport to try it out (though jumping into the pit right away is discouraged). They suggest starting with video tutorials or talking to an experienced high jumper to learn more.  

“I would say the qualities of a good high jumper are short memory and persistence,” Paul Lavallee said. “I say that because a lot of the time you’re knocked off the crossbar and it can be really frustrating. But you have to get over that, because in a couple of minutes you’re going to have your second or third attempt at that height.” 

These qualities, among others, are what make Kristen Lavallee so successful at high jump. Another contributing factor is her love for the sport. 

“I feel like it’s a lot different than a lot of the other events and it just takes so much work and consistency,” she said. “It’s just so fun. I really love it.”