By Corey Cusick
Payton Phillips has proved she’s the next big thing in the pole vault, not only across the state of Georgia but the entire nation.
During her spring season this year with the Carrollton Junior High School girls’ track and field team, she made a leap of 11 feet, 7 inches to set the No. 1 vault in the nation at the junior high level, during the West Georgia Middle School Championships.
“Oh, it’s so cool,” she said afterward. “It was a foot (personal-record) for me, so it was the most amazing thing in the world.”
Not only was her 11-7 vault tops in the United States for this year, it ranks No. 2 all time at the national level. Coincidentally, the current record of 12-1 was also set by a Georgia athlete, so Phillips is also No. 2 on the all-time list in the Peach State for junior high vaulters.
Phillips closed out her junior high career in April with a state championship in her signature event, clearing 10-6 at the Georgia Middle School Track and Field State Championships at Parkview High School in Lilburn.
For Carrollton Junior High School head track and field coach Karisma Boykin, Phillips’ record-breaking endeavors weren’t all that surprising, noting how the talented eighth-grader had a relentless drive to be the best in everything she did.
“I knew what type of kid she is. She works hard. She’s everywhere and has great supportive parents and family,” Boykin said. “They give her the work that she needs, and I knew she could pull it off.”
Phillips’ athletic pedigree includes a long list of family members who were stars in their respective sports during their heyday. There’s even a few pole vaulters in that lineage.
“One of my aunts did it and she jumped 9-8 in 12th grade. It’s sort of nice to have that leader board over there to push me to get better,” Phillips said, referring to Carrollton’s all-time track and field record-holders.
As a relative newcomer, Phillips tied for first at state in 2016 with a vault of 8-3. She said she really didn’t get serious with the sport until last summer, but in the past 12 months, her results have climbed more than three feet.
Phillips’ record-breaking vault on April 15 was more than four feet above the second-place girls’ finisher, and nearly three feet higher than the first-place boys’ finisher.
Along with her practice regimen during the week at the high school, Phillips also trains at Pole Vault Atlanta, working with former Bremen High School pole vault state champion Kaylee Riley, who is headed to the University of Alabama this fall on a track and field scholarship.
With her high school career right around the corner, Phillips already has big plans for the next four years, including breaking the current high school state record of 12-7.25 set by Megan Clark of Columbus in 2012.
And for this rising young star, the sky literally is the limit.
“Hopefully, 13 (feet) by the end of my freshman year and 15 by the time I get out of high school, which sounds really crazy to most people,” Phillips said. “But that’s my goal.”