MISSOULA — As soon as Billings Senior’s Caden Palm cleared 14 feet, 9 inches to claim the Class AA boys pole vault championship on Thursday, he made a bee line for the Broncs' bus to grab a very important item.
“Is it alright if I wear my Hawaiian shirt,” he asked the assembled media.
It was the equivalent of a victory cigar.
“We're supposed to go to a team dinner (Friday) night and we're supposed to bring nice clothes. And when I heard this, I asked if I could wear my Hawaiian shirt and our sprints coach said no,” Palm explained. “And I'm like, 'Alright. If I win I'm wearing my Hawaiian shirt,' so here we are. I packed it and brought it all this way.”
A light moment after a tough victory.
Palm came into the State AA track and field meet with the top height in the state at 15-01. Sixteen competitors started at 12-00, but only four advanced past 14-06.
Palm, Missoula Big Sky’s Josh Smalley, Billings West’s Taven Ridley and Butte’s Brennen Blume all failed to clear 15-00, but Palm and Smalley each had the same number of attempts so they went to a jumpoff at 14-09.
Smalley missed on his first attempt, but Palm aced his first jump and claimed a walk-off state championship. The event was the kickoff to a busy weekend of track and field, with the State AA and C meets set for Friday and Saturday in Missoula.
“It makes it all worth it -- all those hours and cold days and late nights and everything worth it,” Palm said. “It was a battle for sure. To go into that jumpoff at the end, I wasn't ready for that. And it was more of an endurance battle than a battle of who got the highest jump.”
Palm is a senior and hasn’t made a college decision yet but would like to continue vaulting if possible.
“I'm going to keep vaulting during the summer,” he said. “Go to a bunch of fun meets and stuff and just try to have fun with it. Try to get the best height I can.”