Walla Walla teen dies of pole vault injuries

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WALLA WALLA -- Ryan Moberg, a DeSales senior who enjoyed helping out with Walla Walla Pacific Little League and was set to study engineering at Washington State University this fall, died Wednesday of head injuries suffered in a pole vaulting accident.

Moberg, 18, died at 9:50 a.m., almost 45 hours after he was injured on a practice vault on the school's indoor facility in its gymnasium.

Herring Groseclose Funeral Home in Walla Walla will handle the arrangements. Ryan's mother, Debbie Moberg-Williams, said a graveside service will be Saturday morning at Mountain View Cemetery, and a memorial service has been tentatively scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the DeSales gym.

"The DeSales community is in shock, in pain," said Dr. David Schmitz, executive director of Walla Walla Catholic Schools. "This is a tragic accident. He was a very well-liked, respected young man."

The school is on spring break this week. Schmitz said counselors will be on campus when school resumes Monday.

The track team will miss Friday's Carnival of Speed meet in Milton-Freewater. When the team will resume competition has not been decided.

Moberg was an honor student who had earned several academic scholarships to study at WSU after graduation, his mother said.

Ryan played for his grandfather, Dwayne Headley, with Pacific Little League. He had since volunteered for the league, helping groom fields, build new batting cages and even umpire some games.

Ryan may have given up playing baseball, but he still was active with Irish athletics. He played tight end and on the defensive line for the state champion football team and was a team captain for the track and field team.

He qualified for the Class B state meet in 2006 in the pole vault but had to miss the 2007 postseason because of a medical condition.

The same condition flared up earlier this year, his coach, Mike Michels, said Wednesday, "Ryan was just starting to round back into shape and feeling good again.

"The whole team is devastated," Michels continued. "I've been in coaching for 35 years now, and this is the worst thing ever to happen. Ryan was just such a great kid. We're all just trying to feel our way through this right now."

Details of the accident, which occurred around 12:30 p.m. Monday, have not been released, although Schmitz said an internal report of the incident has been filed with school officials.

All Schmitz could say of what happened is that Moberg "fell backward" while attempting a practice vault. He said the indoor pit met national federation standards, which require a landing area of at least 20 feet, 2 inches by 19 feet, 8 inches wide.

Michels said vault coach Scott Notturno, an eight-year veteran of the program and the father of three state-qualifying DeSales vaulters -- Megan, Beth and John -- was on hand for the practice.

"He is a stickler for safety," Michels said. "If he's not there, they don't vault. This was just a one-in-a-million thing."

Moberg's death is the first known fatal accident involving a Washington high school pole vaulter.

Nationally, since 1982, there had been at least 18 deaths linked to the sport but none since 2002, according to data compiled by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research based at the University of North Carolina.

Pole vaulters are a tight-knit subculture within the track community, and Southridge vault coach Dave Hurst said word of Moberg's accident made its way around quickly.

"There's not a vault coach in this state who's not thinking of those guys," said Hurst, who has coached pole vault at Southridge for 10 years. "There are a lot of things you can teach, but you can't control what happens that split second when the vaulter leaves the ground."

Hurst was working with eight vaulters Wednesday afternoon at the Southridge track, including senior Cameron Fancher, a state qualifier last year.

Fancher heard of what happened and knows the risks involved in his sport.

"When a kid dies, it puts something in the back of your mind," he said. "But it's not something you try to think about. Bad things happen in every sport, freak accidents. People get hurt in football, but you keep playing."

Hurst hopes Moberg's death does not lead to calls to abolish the sport, which has about 25,000 high school participants nationally.

"Yes, kids are going into the air, and things can get risky," he said. "But I've had thousands of practices and meets without kids getting injured. When people say pole vaulting is dangerous and they should ban it, they're ignorant."

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