TURNING TRAGEDY INTO A POSITIVE
December 1, 2006
On February 23, 2002, Penn State lost an extremely talented and devoted athlete. Kevin Dare, a Penn State sophomore, died in a tragic pole vaulting accident at the Big Ten Track & Field Championship in Minneapolis. However, Kevin's memory lives on at Penn State and all over the country because of the impact the Kevin Dare Memorial Fund has had on athletes through pole vault safety and the scholarships made available by this fund. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the yearly benefit concert that raises money for the foundation.
WHO WAS KEVIN DARE?
"He was the epitome of student athlete," says Director of Athletics Tim Curley. He loved the Nittany Lions, loved the blue and white. He lived life to the fullest."
Kevin, a graduate of State College Area High School, began pole vaulting as a freshman in high school. He started off by running track but got interested in the discipline when he got to know a pole vaulter on the team, who was a friend of his older brother Eric.
"Kevin had always been a gifted athlete," says Eric of his brother. "He had to work at pole vaulting. It doesn't just come easy. It takes work."
Kevin wasn't just an ordinary pole vaulter: his accomplishments earned him numerous awards and honors. He won the 2000 PIAA State Championship in pole vault and after winning the U.S. Junior Championship in 2001, he qualified to compete in a U.S. - Britain meet, which he also won. He also finished fifth in the pole vault in the ICAAAA Championships during his freshman season at Penn State.
Aside from pole vaulting, Kevin had many other interests and hobbies. Considered to be "outdoorsy," Kevin enjoyed hunting, caving and riding his green Kawasaki motorcycle in the summer. Spending time with family and friends was also very important to Kevin.
"Kevin was an extremely fun person to be around," says Eric. "He was one of the best friends anyone could ask for."
THE KEVIN DARE FOUNDATION
After Kevin's death it was difficult to think that anything positive could come from it. But the Dare family was determined to make changes to prevent this type of tragedy from happening again and started the Kevin Dare Memorial Fund to spread awareness of pole vault safety and also to provide scholarships to deserving Penn State track & field athletes.
Benefits like an annual concert in State College help raise funds for the Kevin Dare Memorial Fund.
Since its beginning five years ago, the foundation has seen tremendous growth. The money raised in 2002: $1,900. The money raised in 2006: $62,000. The total amount raised is close to $150,000.
A majority of the funds for the foundation come from personal and corporate donations. In addition to the benefit concert held in the fall, other benefits include a golf tournament and selling raffle tickets at Penn State football games. This year's golf tournament was held on September 11 and raised nearly $19,000.
The concert, held on October 26 this year, is not a big fundraiser, but it brings the end of the year to a close. "The concert is always a success," says Jean Moriarta of the Foundation. "It is really just an event that culminates the benefit for the year. It's a time for us all to get together and celebrate the year's work and Kevin's life."
The Kevin Dare Memorial Scholarship benefits one Penn State track & field athlete a year and they receive the scholarship for their time remaining time at the university. There have been three recipients thus far, all chosen by Penn State head track & field and cross country coach, Beth Alford-Sullivan, and Curley.
MAKING A DIFFERENCE - POLE VAULT SAFETY
Because of the foundation and the efforts made by Curley, Kevin's father Ed Dare and many others, pole vault safety has made tremendous strides in the past five years. Not only have rules been changed and put into place to bring more safety into this dangerous sport, but Mr. Dare worked to design and place on the market the first helmet designed specifically for pole vaulters. "We're getting requests for it from all over the country. Six states mandate it now," says Mr. Dare.
Even though helmets for pole vault were required in a few states, a pole vault specific helmet was not available until recently. Athletes were using bike, skateboard or any other type of helmet they could find. Now that the KDMax helmet is available, many more schools are taking advantage of it.
"The foundation has donated numerous helmets to high schools interested in vault safety," says Moriarta.
The foundation is also devoted to spreading awareness of the dangers of this sport. Pole vault safety clinics and certification of coaches and athletes in vault safety is another important step in the prevention of tragedy. "We want to continue the educational awareness at a young age," says Curley. "They understand it's a dangerous sport."
Major changes have taken also place in pole vault regulations and safety precautions. Because of the efforts of the foundation, there is now an increased size land pit, safer use of poles in accordance to a vaulter's body size, marked landing zones, pre-marked runways and several other rules and adjustments.
The use of a KDMax helmet while pole vaulting is now mandated in six states.
Aditionally, Mr. Dare also worked to design a soft-box for planting the pole. The box, normally made of metal, was what Kevin hit his head on and the soft-box has padding to help prevent head injuries if this were to happen again.
The foundation aims to continue working toward making what is considered the most dangerous sport safer for those who love it as much as Kevin did. While many of these changes became national legislation, there are still many dangers and many vaulters who don't take advantage of safety precautions, such as the helmet. "Don't wait for mandates," urges Mr. Dare. "Take some initiative. If we had taken initiative before, Kevin would be here with me."
The changes in the sport of pole vaulting have not gone unnoticed. Nationwide, pole vaulters are gaining awareness of the dangers of the sport they love. Since Kevin's death, there have been no other pole vault related deaths. The impact that the Dare family, Penn State athletics and everyone involved in the Kevin Dare Memorial Foundation has made so far is phenomenal.
From the students who received scholarships to compete in a sport they love at Penn State to a pole vaulter whose life was unknowing saved by a KDMax helmet, the impact this organization has had on the pole vault sport as a whole is immeasurable. As long as pole vaulting is a sport, memories of Kevin Dare, in athletics, academics and every other aspect of his life, will stay strong.