Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

There's something in the air at the Ebbets house in Lee County.

It's the kids.

No kidding, Caleb, a senior, and Holly, a freshman at Lee County High, have both found that life is better between 10 and 17 feet off the ground.

And that's just the beginning for the high flying Ebbets kids, who have redefined the term "the sky's the limit" while making a name for themselves as one of the top pole vaulting brother and sister acts in the nation.

Caleb has a chance to shatter the GHSA Class AAAA pole vault record this week in Jefferson, where he is expected to clear over 16 feet in the boys state track & field meet, and Holly is coming off a second-place finish in last week's girls GHSA Class AAAA state meet in her first year of high school competition.

"Caleb is going to break the state record, and next year Holly is going to break the state record,'' said Charlie Polhamus, a world record holding pole vaulter who coaches the Ebbets siblings at his renowned homemade facility in Fitzgerald. "I guarantee it. You can take that to the bank.''

Caleb has already vaulted 16-1 to set records at the Westover Relays and at the Region 1-AAAA meet last week. The state record in Class AAAA is 14-9, and Caleb won't even start vaulting until 13 feet when the meet begins Thursday.

He is heads above everyone else. When he cleared 16-1 at the Westover Relays three weeks ago, it sent a ripple across the country that didn't stop until it crashed into Athens, Ga.

In one of the most memorable scenes of this track & field season, the duo's father, Rich Ebbets, made a mad dash through the stands at Hugh Mills Stadium that night, jumped over the fence, raced to his son and embraced him after the record-breaking vault.

"That's the kind of vault that colleges will notice,'' Rich Ebbets said that night.

They did. The 16-1 put Caleb at No. 7 in the nation, and 10 days later, the University of Georgia called with a scholarship in hand.

Caleb committed to the Bulldogs last week.

By the time Holly graduates, you can expect the phone to be ringing off the hook. She cleared 10 feet last week for second in the state -- and she is just beginning. Before this season, her first priority was cheerleading -- not rah-rah stuff, but competitive gymnastics based competitions.

"After I saw Caleb's dedication to the sport and saw how good he was getting I thought I would try it,'' she said. "I was getting tired of cheerleading.''

The first time she tried to pole vault as an eighth grader there wasn't even a bar to clear.

"I think I went about four feet,'' she said, almost embarrassed. "I was scared and I really didn't go soaring. I thought if it's going to be like this, I'm not going to do it. It took a while, but I started liking it and now I like it a lot.''

Her dad helped her make the decision. He gave Holly a choice this year: pick cheerleading or pole vaulting.

"Pole vaulting is not the kind of thing you can do halfway,'' Rich Ebbets said. "She just needed to make a decision one way or the other.''

Holly said it was an easy one.

"I really like it because it's a sport for yourself, and in cheerleading sometimes your teammates can affect what happens and sometimes you can do real well and the judges can decide against you," she said. "In pole vaulting, there are no teammates, just you. And in this sport there are no judges. The bar tells you if you are over or not.''

It's that kind of determination that drives both Ebbets vaulters to simply to be the best. Both are bright, hard workers on and off the track. Holly has a 4.4 GPA, and Caleb is at 3.7. Both are dedicated and disciplined.

They make the 90-minute drive to Fitzgerald three or four times a week to work out with Polhamus, and when they're not working on technique, they're running sprints or up and down bleachers.

"Last (autumn) when we weren't going to Charlie's I ran bleachers every day after school,'' Caleb said. "I'm running sprints every day we don't go to Charlie's and working every day on rope drills.''

Rope drills?

The very words could send a chill through the entire Ebbets family.

Caleb was a junior when he had a terrifying experience during a rope drill. The Ebbets' have a rope to work with in their garage and the drills involve climbing and pulling yourself upside down on the rope to gain strength and balance for vaulting. On Oct. 3, 2008, Caleb was upside down about four feet off the ground when he slipped, crashed to the cement on his head and blacked out.

"I don't remember much,'' Caleb said. "I couldn't see anything and I barely remember screaming for help. The next thing I knew I was on the couch and time had passed when I came to again.''

Even that fall, which could have been fatal, never deterred him.

"I learned a good lesson,'' Caleb said. "I never do rope drills without a helmet.''

That's how dedicated Caleb was even as a junior, long before he cleared anything over 12 feet.

"Caleb is such a hard worker,'' Polhamus said. "And he is a sponge. He soaks up everything I tell him. If he was on a bigger pole -- and it's too late to change it now (for the state meet) -- he would go over 17 feet this year. He's signed with Georgia and I think he'll go over 18 feet while he's there.''

Polhamus has coached 40 region champs and 25 state champs during the last three years, and the Ebbets kids can thank their mom for making a phone call to Fitzgerald a couple of years ago.

"I was coaching John Smith (who was at Lee County as a junior and Deerfield Windsor as a senior and is now at the University of Georgia) and Caleb's mother asked John Smith's mother for my phone number,'' Polhamus recalled. "I don't just take anyone. I tell them from the beginning it takes a lot of hard work and effort, and it's my way or the highway. Both of them are hard workers.''

Caleb discovered pole vaulting on his own, and didn't work out with Polhamus until his junior season. He was a distance runner in middle school and during his freshman year at Lee County, but he was intrigued by pole vaulting even before he found his first jumping pit.

"I was in the gym one day and they were bringing in a new pole (for John Smith who was a junior and I was a freshman) and I just looked at the pole and thought, 'That would be pretty cool,' '' Caleb said.

He never pursued it until at the end of his freshman year when then Lee County track coach James Lattimore took him to the pole vaulting pit and said simply: try this.

"I was anxious to try it,'' Caleb said. "I think I cleared 9-feet the first time I tried it. It was exhilarating.''

There was something else that drew Caleb to the sport.

"Having the risk factor involved made me want to do it even more,'' he said. "I'm so glad I found (pole vaulting). I never imagined I would be (this good).''

Lee County didn't have a pole vaulting pit. In the early days, Rich would drive Caleb to Albany State, where the school allowed Caleb to work out on his own. Rich is still grateful to Albany State to this day.

Those were the bare beginnings with Rich, who has never been on a track team in his life, trying to help his son learn how to vault. Now he has a son and daughter who are soaring.

It's almost impossible to imagine Caleb being excited over a 12-foot vault, but he says it's a moment he'll never forget. He was a sophomore, and had yet to meet Polhamus.

"The two biggest moments for me were when I cleared 12 feet in the state meet when I was a sophomore and the 16-1 this year,'' Caleb said. "I cleared 12 feet but I didn't know if I had placed until the end when they called out the names. I knew if I placed I would be eighth. When they called my name I was so excited. I got to stand on the podium.''

Sounds funny now -- now that Caleb has a chance to break a state record.

And this time he plans to stand at the top of the podium.

"That's what I want,'' he said. "I want to be the best.''