FEATURE State Runner-up Hilton Green: Ready to Raise the Bar

Hilton Green's name appears on the 2022 CIF State Track and Field Championship final results list as the boys' pole vault runner-up to champion, Hunter O'Brien of Roosevelt High. Both athletes cleared 16 feet, 5 inches, but O'Brien won the title based on a tiebreaker system in which he cleared an earlier bar height, 15-9, sooner.

To Buchanan's Green, the end result, while not the top spot, could have been frustrating. No one would have blamed him if he chose to vent. Months later, Green still says he wasn't crushed. Instead, he took it in stride. Call it a learning experience and a sign of growth.

"What I've learned from the pole vault community, being at all of these different meets, is that everyone is so supportive of each other," Green says. "I do focus on doing my best, but everyone's going for a PR. It's awesome to support them and they do the same for me."

O'Brien, who graduated and is now at UCLA, was a worthy champion who had already cleared a PR of 16-9 at the Arcadia Invitational and had a 16-8 to his credit in 2022. When Green and O'Brien faced off at State, the motivation was present.

"I really liked having that competition at State," Green says. "I'm a very competitive person, in general, when it comes to sports. This helps me a lot. I want to come back now and get it ... and I'll see him again in college."

Indeed, a high school pole vaulter going 16-5 will turn heads. It was a solid achievement for someone who, in less than a year, improved his PR by nearly five feet, broke and re-broke Buchanan's old record of 15-7, and won the TRAC League Championship (his first 16-5), Central Section Division I title (15-6), CS Masters Meet title (15-11) and reached the CIF State final.

While he was also a solid wide receiver for Buchanan football for two seasons, what he accomplished in pole vault put him on college teams' radar. Green, after visiting Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UCLA, committed to the University of Oklahoma for track and field this past fall.

"I love the coaches," Green says of Oklahoma. "When I talked to them, both on the phone and when I got there for my visit, I really enjoyed meeting Coach (Jerel) Langley who works with high jumpers, pole vaulters and decathletes. I really liked the campus, really everything about it. When I got home I knew it was the right place for me."

When he goes there this fall, he's interested in studying agriculture business. Right now, though, his aim is to get another solid season of coaching, competing and completing unfinished business in the State Meet, which is hosted at his high school's stadium.

Past to Present: Clovis North to Buchanan

Green's rise in pole vault is secure, but it started slow. When he entered high school to play football and, eventually, began pole vault, he attended Clovis North. A gymnast since his younger days, when it came to track and field, pole vault was a tryout suggestion. He took it. His best effort was an 11-6.

When a Clovis North football teammate was set to transfer to Buchanan, he hoped Green would join him. He did. The decision cost him a full year of athletic eligibility, his sophomore year, but was the right choice.

"The first time I worked with Hilton was December 2021," says Nick Paramo, a Buchanan assistant coach. "I had to wait for football season to end. That gave me about two weeks to get him ready to go to the (winter indoor) pole vault summit in 2022. I remember entering his PR for that meet at 11-6 because it was the last known mark he had. At the pole vault summit he raised his PR from 11-6 to 13-7."

Things quickly got serious.

"My parents asked before my junior year if I wanted to do pole vault. I said, yes, and that it was going to be more for fun, nothing major. I told Coach Paramo I was interested in pole vault and soon after I started jumping, everything started to take off."

He finished first at 11 meets, including 14-7 in his debut at last year's Bobbie Bass Sprint Carnival. He went 14-8 the next week in Sanger, dropped below 14 a few times but still won, and then set the school record in a Buchanan dual meet against host and former school, Clovis North.

"The most meaningful jump was when I first broke the school record," he recalls. "It was at Clovis North, we were the last event to go and everyone was watching. Everyone gave me a clap. I made it and everyone came up, jumped on me and celebrated. It was a cool experience."

He dipped again for a few weeks, but reached 16-1 at the Reedley Invitational and never went lower than 15-3 the rest of the season.

"Hilton's 2022 was one of the craziest years I've ever had with any of my pole vaulters. I've been coaching 22 years and I've never had an athlete like him," Paramo says. "Most guys improve by a foot a year. If they improve by a foot and a half you feel lucky. What Hilton did is so exceptional and an outlier."

Green credits his improvement throughout last year to his dedication to cross-training fitness workouts, weightlifting for football and explosiveness workouts to work on his speed in both football and track.

"Multi-sport athletes are usually the best athletes to convert to pole vaulting because it takes a variety of different skills and abilities to do an event that takes all the skills to be great at it," Paramo says. "Having speed and strength is a must. Doing a variety of running workouts along with technical pole vault workouts is a delicate balance. Having the ability to know where you are in the air is a huge advantage. Having the core strength to put your body into positions while you are upside down is something that really makes Hilton as good as he is."

Working hard, working regularly and pushing yourself to be the best can bring desired results.

"Hilton is a very talented young man," Buchanan Head Coach Brian Weaver says. "Doing what he did his junior year and not vaulting his sophomore year truly says something about him. Hilton has put in a lot of work outside the 'normal' practice day and it is paying off."

Setting Goals for 2023

So, what's the plan for 2023? It's the opposite of 2022.

"Everyone would come up to me last year and say, 'Where did you come from? We haven't seen you at all and now you're able to just compete with the best overall?'"

Everybody knows his name, his talent and has motivation, too.

Much of what he is doing in fine tuning. He's the first to say he's still learning the ins and outs of pole vault. There's a fear of falling backward or snapping poles while jumping, and there's always the mental approach.

"When I first started, I'd look at 15 feet and say, 'that's really high up there.' But once I went 15-6, 15 didn't seem so high anymore," Green says. "The biggest challenge is the mental aspect. I know I can do it, but I just need to keep working on it. I'm still new. I'll be thinking, 'I need remember to do this and that to get over the bar,' but really, I just need to go jump."

Green went to Reno for the pole vault summit, the event where his junior year rise first took shape. This year, after watching elite athletes such as KC Lightfoot and Tray Oates, Green competed unattached in a high school flight and no-heighted. Paramo likened it to climbing in an ice bath.

"It was painful, but it's something that was needed to get him back on track."

Another lesson for Green to learn? Gladly. He competed in the Cal All-Comers Meet #2 in Berkeley on Feb. 18 and won the pole vault with a top mark of 15-5. He also went 7.00 to win a 60-meter-dash race, a sign that he's also ready to do sprint events, including the 100 and 4x100 relay.

He gained confidence while raising heights at the summit and it carried him well as the stakes got bigger in 2022. So what's a 2023 goal for him? Does he think about clearing a bigger height?

"Right now I don't want to put any limits on it, but I'd like to get to 17. I need to get on bigger poles. I cleared 16-5 using a 15-7 pole last year. I want to get on the 16-foot poles. When that happens, who knows what I can hit?"

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Ryan Blystone is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to MileSplit.
Photos by DeAnna Turner