Fall at U meet kills Penn State’s Dare

Ben Goessling

The scene was surreal inside the University Field House on Sunday.

An eerie silence settled over the mostly empty seats at the Field House like a dense fog.

Only a day earlier, a sold-out crowd cheered competitors at the Big Ten Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championships.

But Sunday afternoon, the only sound was the creaking of bleachers as athletes from the 10 schools competing in the meet rose one by one to pay their respects to Kevin Dare, a 19-year-old pole vaulter from Penn State who was fatally injured during Saturday’s competition.

Dare was injured at approximately 2:40 p.m. when he fell attempting a 15-foot-seven-inch vault and hit his head on the metal “box,” an indented area about eight inches deep used to plant the pole.

Meet officials ran from the pole vault area screaming for someone to call 911, and CPR began almost immediately after the accident.

Dare was put on a stretcher and taken by ambulance to Hennepin County Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead a short time later, after attempts to revive him failed.

Dr. Elizabeth Arendt, the Gophers medical director who rode with Dare to the hospital, said he died from massive head trauma. Dare’s parents Ed and Terri were present at the hospital.

Big Ten athletics commissioner Jim Delaney flew in from Chicago early Sunday morning and canceled the meet after a 70-minute meeting with coaches from each school. The meeting reversed Saturday night’s initial decision to continue the meet as planned. The event will not be rescheduled, and no winners were declared in team competition.

“While there were good reasons on both sides for continuing and for canceling, I think everyone felt in the long term it was the right decision,” Delaney said. “We’re trying to do two things: respect and mourn in the appropriate way and to get on with our lives.”

Penn State coach Harry Groves initially felt the meet should continue but changed his mind after talking to his team Saturday night. He said there was no way his team would have been able to compete after of Dare’s death.

“When you stand at ground zero and watch your best friend die, it’s awfully hard to take,” he said. “We had people running events (on Saturday) crying. They were totally devastated.”

Minnesota coach Phil Lundin said he knew the meet should be cancelled when only five of the 14 scheduled competitors showed up for the heptathlon, which was to begin at 9 a.m. Sunday and involve pole vaulting.

“When that happened, the writing was kind of on the wall,” Lundin said. “It was at that point I realized there was no sense in continuing on with the competition.”

The memorial service for Dare began at noon Sunday, as the Penn State team led athletes and coaches walking a lap around the track in Dare’s honor.

When passing by the pole vault area, Penn State athletes placed roses in the box where Dare was injured. After the ceremony, many athletes from other schools did the same.

A similar ceremony was held at noon Sunday during the women’s Big Ten championships at Penn State.

“The mood when we walked in today was that (the meet) wasn’t really that important,” Minnesota women’s track and field coach Gary Wilson said.

In a press conference after the ceremony, Groves said Dare was “one of the hardest-working kids I’ve ever coached.” He reminisced about opening the Penn State weight room over winter break so Dare could work out.

Arrangements for Dare’s funeral are pending. Dare will likely be buried in his hometown of State College, Penn.

After Sunday’s ceremony at the Field House, two Penn State assistants carried the team’s vaulting poles out of the arena. The pallbearer-like gesture capped off an afternoon that felt and sounded like a funeral.

The Penn State team followed the assistants, crying softly and leaving the Field House grieving a friend gone too soon.