South Side salutatorian makes history on in pole vault

June 3, 2023

Grace Gillie's high school career culminates with a busy weekend celebrating both athletics and academics.

Grace, who won the individual Carroll Regional in pole vault last week, is the first South Side Archer in school history to qualify for the IHSAA Girls Track & Field State Championships in that event.

"It has been a goal of mine since the beginning of junior year," Grace tells PSM. "To know I finally achieved it was really rewarding."

An All-Summit Athletic Conference gymnast, Grace took up pole vaulting as a freshman at the encouragement of her piano teacher. Grace's first season was canceled, but she worked with South Side girls track coach Taylor Buzzard to learn the skill of pole vaul--running while carrying a long pole, planting it in the ground, contorting your body over a pole 11 or 12 feet in the air, then crashing on a mat below.

"From the coaching aspect, it makes my job even easier when I get athletes who have done either gymnastics or swim & dive or wrestling, where they've done a sport that lets them know where their body is at," Buzzard says. "The amount of dedication she has to get to where she is today is one of the best I've seen in my time coaching."

Over time, Grace got better. And better. And better. She has won three-straight Summit Athletic Conference pole vault titles. Last season, she advanced to regionals. This season, she inched the school record up to 11'0 and was named Academic All-State. She is the first Fort Wayne Community Schools girl to qualify for the state meet in pole vault since 2016, according to Buzzard.

Before Grace headed to Bloomington for the state meet, she graduated from South Side on Friday night. Her 4.76 grade point average placed her second in the Archer Class of 2023. In her salutatorian speech, Grace challenged her classmates to assume the responsibility of becoming leaders by emulating those who have helped mold the graduates as they enter a new chapter in their lives.

"It is our turn to be the role models. It is our turn to lead and inspire." Grace charged to her graduating classmates during her commencement speech.  "It is a significant responsibility. But as I stand here looking at you all today, I know we're ready."

For Grace, she is quick to highlight all that Coach Buzzard has done, both as her track coach and as her cross country coach at South Side.

"He has been a daily inspiration to me," Grace beams. "People always say I'm doing all the work, but he's behind the scenes. And he's helped me a lot."

On the cross country course, the Lady Archers won back-to-back sectional titles in 2020 and 2021. And the top three students in this year's graduating class were Grace (salutatorian) and her teammates, Fiona Gochvott-Stine (valedictorian) and Jaclyn Embry (3rd).

Ô×óRELATED: Sectional title a historic run for Archers

Grace will attend the University of Notre Dame next fall, and plans to double-major in neuroscience behavior and Spanish. She says she's interested in vaulting for the club track team at Notre Dame.

The IHSAA Girls Track & Field State Championships start at 3 p.m. Saturday at Indiana University.

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