Favorite athletes: Mondo Duplantis and Sandi Morris
Favorite team: Colorado Broncos
Favorite memory competing in sports: My favorite memory is when I cleared 11’9” for the first time. It opened up so many opportunities for me.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Sometimes during practice, we have a jump off (basically a pole vault competition) within our team, and we all get really competitive with each other, but at the same time, we are all helping each other out as well.
Music on mobile device: I mostly listen to Country and Rock music.
Future plans: I am going to Rider University to pole vault and to major in sports broadcasting.
One goal before turning 30: After college, I am hoping to get a job with ESPN or NBC and work on live sports production.
One thing people don’t know about me: I was born in Garden City, Kansas
By Ed Morrone
The path of Allison Riches has been paved with opportune accidents.
Hatboro-Horsham’s senior pole vaulter, who is getting set to compete at the prestigiously historic Penn Relays next weekend, might not have ever made it here at all, and for a variety of reasons at that.
For starters, Riches was born 1,500 miles away, in Garden City, Kansas, only moving east following her parents’ divorce when she was seven. After she got to Pennsylvania, Riches planned on following her mother’s path as a softball player, only deciding to quit three weeks into her freshman season after feeling she didn’t quite fit in with the team.
Then, to take matters even further, Riches only participated in track events as a freshman, mostly the 100- and 200-meter races, along with the 4x100 and 4x400 relays (she ran in the Penn Relays in the 4x100 as a ninth grader). Then, in what would prove to be a stroke of kismet, head track coach Anna Baker, sick of losing points in meets since the Hatters didn’t have a pole vaulter, approached Riches about giving the highly-specialized event a shot.
Little did Baker know, Riches already had an existing interest in pole vault, and Riches’ agreement sent her on a path to earning a track scholarship to Rider University to major in her dream field of Sports Media (another happy accident, more on that later).
“When I was younger, my brother did track as well,” Riches recalled. “I’d go to his meets but I was a little girl, seven years old, so I wasn’t excited to watch him run around in circles. But I was interested in the field events: the people throwing the ball into the air and seeing how far it went, or the ones carrying big sticks they used to shoot themselves in the air. I didn’t know what it was called, but I always kept my mind on it, until I got to middle school and stopped thinking about it.
“Then, at the end of freshman year, Coach Baker came up to me and asked, ‘Hey, what do you think about pole vault? We don’t have any pole vaulters and are losing meets because of it.’ And I just said, ‘Yeah, sure, why not? Sounds like fun.’”
This led Riches and her mother to the Philadelphia Jumps Club (PJC), a facility that opened in 2014 in Conshohocken to “fill the void for quality pole vault coaches and facilities to local track and field athletes,” according to the club’s official website. During Riches’ very first session, her current pole vaulting coach with Hatboro-Horsham, Ginger Lemon, was there and helped guide Riches through it.
“I fell in love with it,” she said. “I was just so fascinated by it. I’m a thrill seeker, so I love that aspect of it. I’ve been a daredevil since a young age. I was always the one who got in trouble for jumping off things and trying crazy new stunts. I decided to stick with it, and the higher I got, it felt like I was flying.”
Riches threw herself completely into her training, although according to Lemon, Riches didn’t master her craft immediately. Just as in sports like baseball or golf, there is a lot of failure involved, even when things are going well, proving that pole vaulters have to be as mentally strong as they do physically.
“Being a pole vaulter at any level, but especially in high school, requires a tremendous amount of dedication and perseverance,” Lemon said. “Allison has always had a great attitude about her training. When she started, she jumped eight feet at her best, and she’s only been training and competing for less than three years, and now she is currently ranked third in the state for Class AAA. I am extremely proud of her; she has worked so hard and deserves the chance to compete at Franklin Field.”
Riches continued to train at PJC twice a week, missing one track practice a week and also training on Sundays during her free time. Riches said that pole vaulting, like other technical sports. requires tons of repetition. Much of the jumping is simple physics, which eliminated any fears Riches may have had at the outset.
She was asked what it took to excel in such a specialized event that can look scary at first to outsiders due to the height and contorting one’s body through the air.
“First, you can’t be afraid,” she said. “It looks scary, but it’s not. If you let the sport take you over, you won’t succeed as much. The second thing is determination. You can’t start working on it, then leave, then try to come back, because you’ll get rusty. Next, you have to be persistent; you’re going to have to clear the same height over and over to try to get another two inches, or six inches. Even when I’m on the verge of tears, I know I can clear the next height, I know that I have it in me. And finally, you have to be patient.”
Got all that? The proof is in Riches’ results, as she was one of just 20 pole vaulters accepted to compete at the Penn Relays. She also is tied for the school record of 12-feet after clearing the mark at the Upper Moreland Invitational last Friday.
In her time with the track program, Riches has competed twice in the Penn Relays as a runner, and has become a district champion and state tournament qualifier in pole vault. Clearing 12 feet last weekend also qualified Riches for Nationals, so it’s safe to say she has come a long, long way since Baker happened to ask her if she was interested in trying pole vaulting.
“What it tells me about myself is that my system works,” Riches said. “Setting little goals for myself along the way helped me get from eight feet to 12 feet. Ever since sophomore year, I’ve been trying to get to the school record, or break it. Once I got to 8, I want to clear 8-6, Then it was 9-6, since that qualifies you for districts. If I can top that, then I can go to states.
“And if I fall short at a meet, then yes, I will most likely cry. But then I’ll go to bed, wake up with a different mindset and go to practice and work hard. I always have a goal in my head, even if it’s one I don’t think is possible.”
Before she heads off to Rider, Riches still has a few boxes to check off her list. For starters, she’s still going hard after the school record, now that she’s tied it.
“Clearly, I want to break that,” she said. “If I get to 12-1, then the next goal would be to push it higher so I can keep my name atop that list for even longer. But I have faith I can hit 12-1.”
As far as competing in the Penn Relays in her event, Riches maintained much of the same mindset.
“I just want to clear one bar just so I can say I was there,” she said. “I want to see my name on that board so I can say I made it. I’m already one of the best 20 pole vaulters there, so I don’t care where I place, I just want to say that I was one of the best and I was there. If I place fifth or something like that, I’d be psyched, but it’s more about embracing the moment.”
As far as Rider goes, the school wasn’t even on Riches’ radar until about a year ago. Her first choice was Kutztown and her second Mansfield, saying she either liked the track program or the majors the school offered, but not both. Then, in another fortunate stroke of luck, she received a random letter from Rider that expressed interest in her. Bored while on the ride to states in Hershey, Riches did some research, and discovered that Rider not only had a Division-I track program (which included pole vault) but also the perfect major for her in Sports Media.
Riches has always been an overachiever, so when she attended a fall college fair as a freshman, she instantly felt like she needed to figure out what she wanted to do with her life and career. She knew she couldn’t sit at a desk, and was told she had a creative mind and was good at art, so maybe she’d try something in that field. This led Riches to taking an assortment of elective courses at Hatboro-Horsham, including a film production class.
Close to failing the class (she said she had a ‘D’ at the time), Riches’ teacher offered her the opportunity to bring her grade up with an extra credit assignment of working on a live sports broadcast for HHTV, the school’s television network. She was nervous, but like pole vault, found an instant love once she was behind and near a camera.
“I put the headset and camera on, and within five minutes in my head, everything made sense,” she said. “Just like pole vaulting, I didn’t really care what I had gotten myself into and figured I’d just learn along the way while plunging headfirst into a new field.”
She learned about how the camera worked, how to wrap cables, about light balance and what makes a good shot vs. a bad shot, etc. Had Riches’ teacher not offered her extra credit in a class she was failing, she may have never truly discovered her love for live sports production, which fits her self-described fast-paced mind.
Last August, Rider University announced it would begin streaming university athletic contests on ESPN3 and ESPN+, to be produced entirely by members of the athletic department administrators and staff, as well as Rider students. Essentially, this means Riches will begin getting professional, real-world television production experience long before she gets a full-time job, or even takes an internship.
Talk about another fortunate accident.
“When I read about it, I knew that this was the school to get my foot in the door in a very competitive field,” said Riches, who wants to land a job with ESPN or NBC Sports after college. “Not only that, but I get to jump there, and it’s close to home, which will make my mom happy.”
One thing is clear about Riches’ impending graduation: Baker and the Hatters are going to have a hard time replacing her. Not only as the team’s lone pole vaulter, but also as the linchpin leader and glue that has helped mold a true team, despite track and field’s heavy focus on individual events and glory.
“Allison truly is one of a kind,” Baker said. “She’s been a leader on this team since her freshman year, honestly. She’s always willing to do what’s best for the team, which is hard to find in a sport where you have to focus on individual events. She’s dedicated to her event and is a very hard worker. She’s learned the skills needed to be successful. Rider University is very lucky to have an athlete like Allison, who will immediately become a valuable member of their program.”
As far as Riches is concerned, she feels like she owes everything to those around her. To her parents, who decided that moving to Pennsylvania would be the best opportunity for her future; to Baker, for asking her to jump when the coach needed someone; to her film production teacher who gave her extra credit, instead of failing her; to everybody in her network of supports, really.
“My favorite aspect was the journey and the family I gained on it,” she said. “My parents are divorced, so I didn’t come from a normal household. By the time I was in middle school my brother was out of the house, and my mom was working multiple jobs so I spent a lot of time by myself. I felt I was missing the family aspect.
“My friend and I have a favorite quote from a TV show called Supernatural: ‘Family doesn’t end with blood.’ I’ve built that with the community I have here. Coach Lemon has come to my house on prom nights to do my hair, put on my makeup, help me with my dress, stuff my mom can’t fully do because she’s working.
“I wrote an essay for college that asked me to describe myself. I wrote that I couldn’t do that without my friends. I’m not myself if I’m not with the people I love. If not for them, then this isn’t my story. If not for Coach Baker, I might not have gotten into pole vaulting. If not for my teachers, I might not have gotten into TV and film.
“If not for these people, my journey could have ended very differently.”