Mark Haesly began pole-vaulting over 40 years ago with a tree branch and a mattress.

"I think it was in fifth grade I either saw it on TV or in a magazine," Haesly said. "I did it at a lot by my house. My neighbors used to watch me and clap when I went over the bar. But, yeah, that's how I got started."

From those meager beginnings in Winona, Haesly went on to pole vault for Winona High School and Winona State University. Haesly, 55, is now teaching others his passion as East Ridge's pole vault coach. He is hosting a free pole vault camp this summer at East Ridge High School.

Haesly, who teaches physical education at Crestview Elementary School in Cottage Grove, said his main goal is to introduce the sport to kids who may find it interesting.

"I want to show that it's a fun, safe sport," Haesly said. "It's the type of sport where you are running and jumping and are almost like a gymnast in the air. I just want kids to give it a try and not be scared."

Haesly has been coaching pole-vaulting for 29 years. His "learn by doing" summer camp runs through the end of July.

The camp is open to any kids, from beginner to advanced vaulters, in sixth grade or above, from anywhere in the state -- and even across the border. Haesly said athletes from Woodbury, Cretin-Derham Hall, Hastings and Osceola, Wis., have participated.

"It's open to anybody," Haesly said. "Of course I want the kids that go to East Ridge to come out, but I just want to introduce the sport to anyone who is interested. I've never charged for it. I have the time. I have the summers off and I'd rather work with kids over the summer while we have the time. I told my wife I'd be doing it until I drop dead over at the pole vault pit. I live, eat and sleep this."

Haesly said between 10 to 15 kids have been taking part in this year's camp.

East Ridge junior Sara Press is one of the participants. She has been vaulting for just over a year. She said she started doing it because it looked fun and she isn't afraid of it.

"I love it," Press said. "It's my favorite sport. It's just like a thrill and it's a lot of fun."

Press said the camp is beneficial because vaulters get a chance to practice, and learn, year-round and to build from the past season.

"It's a great opportunity, especially for younger kids," Press said. "We need to get younger kids involved early on, so they can be good when they come in their ninth-grade year."

Haesly admitted pole vault wasn't the most popular track and field event and said wanting to pole vault is sort of like wanting to be a goalie.

"They almost have to have an ingrained mentality that they want to run and jump over something," Haesly said. "I just kind of ask kids if they want to jump over something, if they're fearless and if they have some good speed. Speed is important. I can teach the skills. But, the kids really have to have a passion for it."

Press said it takes someone who is committed and who will put in the hours to really get good at vaulting.

"It's not the most popular event," Press said. "You have to not be afraid. And it takes a lot of skill and a lot of time."

Because few track and field teams field strong pole-vaulters, having good ones can be a big advantage. Over the years, schools like Mounds View, Mankato East, Moorhead, Lakeville South and Forest Lake have gotten boosts from their vaulters.

"I think Mounds View gets probably 25 guys and 25 girls trying it the first week of practice," Haesly said. "It's amazing. That's the tradition that they have."

Haesly would like to build the same thing at East Ridge.

"I just want the kids to get interested in it and give it a try, because it is a fabulous sport," Haesly said.