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Family first

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A large group of former athletes, coaches, friends and family gathered Saturday night for a surprise retirement party for Shelbyville High School track and field pole vaulting coach Steve Nuthak, kneeling center.
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Veteran pole vault coach Steve Nuthak, right, talks with Jan and Dennis Hearne as photos of his own pole vaulting career at Shelbyville High School and Indiana University played on the screen behind him.
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This photo of Steve Nuthak vaulting at Indiana University sat prominently on display at the doorway entrance to Shelbyville High School’s cafeteria Saturday night during Nuthak’s coaching retirement celebration.

By JEFF BROWN - jbrown@shelbynews.com

A self-taught vaulter believes it’s time to put family first after a 28-year coaching career at his alma mater. 

Steve Nuthak, a 1983 Shelbyville High School graduate, recently announced his retirement from the Golden Bears track and field program as pole vault coach. The athletic department honored the coach Saturday night at a surprise party organized by his children.

A large contingent of Nuthak family members, former vaulters and coaches, and many friends settled quietly into Shelbyville High School’s cafeteria awaiting the coach who believed he was there for a meeting with athletic director Jenny Hensley. 

Nuthak steps away from a program having developed numerous pole vaulters that won conference, sectional and regional titles and competed at the state finals. But after nearly three decades with the Golden Bears, having coached from 1991-2019, the soft-spoken mentor to many young athletes felt it was time to put his family first – one that has understood his passion for coaching such a unique track and field discipline.

“For 25 to 30 years, Tracy and I have been married to jump rope with our daughter and band with our son and we feel like we’ve been married to all these different things,” explained Nuthak. “I can’t speak for her, but I’m going to try and move her to the center again. I’m thinking about asking her out again.

“The kids are kicking around the idea about having grandkids and we want to free up our schedules for that. We haven’t really traveled together, except as a whole family, and we would like to. We’re trying to clear our schedules a little bit and pay more attention to each other.”

Nuthak stumbled upon pole vaulting during his eighth-grade year. He went out for track and was running along the cinder track when he saw a vaulter rise up off the ground.

“I thought, ‘I have to try that!” he recalled. “I didn’t even want to run around the track. I wanted to run across it. I had to get over there.”

As soon as he arrived, he found an injured vaulter on the ground in tears. The crowd gathering was quickly cleared out. 

“So I didn’t even get to try it,” he said. “The very next day was spring break. So that’s when we built standards in the back yard (at home) and chopped down a little tree. So I learned how to pole vault before I even vaulted at school.”

Nuthak had a good prep career but fell just short of reaching the state finals, placing fourth in the postseason meet where the top three advanced to the final meet. 

“I got 13-6 (13 feet, six inches) and 13-9 is what it took,” he said. 

Nuthak’s younger brother, Matt, brought him back to vaulting when he asked for some advice.

“We went down to IU my junior year, I had trained for the Little 500 the year before so I wasn’t vaulting,” he explained. “My junior year (of college), he was vaulting here at Shelbyville. He asked if I would help him.

“Over Christmas break, we went down to the fieldhouse in Bloomington, accidently broke in and started vaulting. Coach Marshall Goss started watching us and I figured we were in trouble. I vaulted with Matt for awhile and he came up to me afterward, reintroduced himself and said you need to go to talk to Sam Bell after the break and walk on. That’s how it started.”

Nuthak improved enough to list 16-10 as his personal best.

Back in Shelbyville, Nuthak got word of a vaulter that needed assistance — and it came from the very person that helped him back when he was a Golden Bear. Jerry Sosbe’s son was vaulting and chasing his father’s school record — but he was at a plateau.

“Jerry Sosbe had the pole vault record here, he was gracious enough to come out and help me and Trent Evans in high school when we were vaulting,” said Nuthak. “Jerry caught wind that I vaulted at IU, he called me the night after Travis’ first meet and said they weren’t real happy with his progress so far and would I come out and help him break his dad’s record. The very next day I started helping him.”

And he never left. 

“I feel like I have about 100 kids in this world,” he said. “I really love being around kids and I love to see their eyes light up when they do something they didn’t think they were capable of. It’s nice when they go to state competitions but it’s not really necessary because as soon as they do something, even seven feet off the ground, it makes it all worth it.”