BELLVILLE — Focus, drive and talent empower Ethan Staley’s accomplishments. Staley, 17, and a senior at Clear Fork High School is a remarkable athlete; and while he may be best known locally as an athlete, there’s more to his story. He is also an FFA member, and a livestock judge, a promising businessman and perhaps one day a rancher.
In 2021 he was named the Mansfield News Journal’s Boys Athlete of the Year. It took considerable accomplishments to acheive that honor.
“It kind of started in middle school,” he said, “I was fortunate and gifted from my parents. My dad [Adam Staley] was a pole vaulter in Mount Gilead and he holds his school’s pole vault record. His record is 13 feet 6 inches and he still holds it to this day.”
Staley started in middle school and his father has been his coach. “We share that bond and connection in the sport together,” Staley said. His father is also his FFA instructor.
Ethan Staley won state in middle school—a surprise to onlookers, he said.
“Being upside down in the air, 14, 15 feet in the air: I love that adrenalin rush. It’s a feeling I can’t explain, unless you do it. I think that’s why I enjoy the sport so much—the thrill of being that high up in the air,” he added.
His freshman year in high school he said he didn’t have the best season. He ran track and played baseball, and suffered some injuries. Toward the end of season, he had recovered and he “things just happened.” He finished eighth in the state in pole vault and took the podium at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium.
Poles are expensive, $400-500 and he goes through up to 15-20 poles a year as his strength and agility increases and the poles become too flexible to launch him to the heights he needs to remain competitive.
“Luckily my school is willing to help me get the poles I need to be successful,” Staley said. He’s able to rent poles at the club.
His mother’s family is from Bellvue, home to Altitude Headquarters, a pole vault club, and coach Shawn Beamer. Staley said he’s one of the best coaches in Ohio, and Staley practices with top pole vaulters at the club every week.
He played football his sophomore year but blew out his knee at a game against Bellvue, his mother’s alma mater.
“That really set me back quite a bit, just in athletics altogether but I put in the work to get healthy. I did everything I needed to do; I was determined,” Staley said.
He also plays baseball and runs in track and long jumps, but his passion is pole vault. He said he might have given up baseball this year but his goal, because he has to have a goal, is to pitch to his brother this year.
He wanted to be a four-time All Ohioan but COVID foiled that plan, “but honestly,” he said, “It was probably a blessing to me. It gave me a chance to get healthy.” And he will now aim for three-time All Ohioan.
He was fourth in the state his junior year. He gave up football his junior year because his goal, his ultimate goal, is to be State Champion in pole vault this Spring.
“It’s going to be pretty hard to give it up when it’s over—the thrill of it, the grind,” Staley said, with thoughts of graduation looming.
“The way I live through high school is I just do everything. If there’s a goal I want to go after, I’m just going to do it. I realize college is coming up and I’m going to have to start picking and choosing what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I have a pretty good idea in mind,” he added.
Looking to the future
His dream, more aptly, his goal, for the future is to manage or own his own ranch after college and to judge livestock at a national level.
Staley will be attending Northwest University in Powell, WY on a full scholarship to study Ag Business. He will also be on a livestock judging team.
How did that happen?
“That’s a neat story,” Staley said. “So there’s a lot of bull sales out there; there’s a lot of ranches. Dan Freund [former Clear Fork superintendent] took my brother and I out there to travel and visit some friends. We were up in Montana and it was about a three hour drive to Cody, Wyoming which is just south of Powell. We were up at the top of Yellowstone and we decided to go see this ranch in Cody. They got 2.5 feet of snow that day and we got up at three o’clock in the morning to drive in a white out,” Staley continued.
Freund, his mentor and family friend, wanted to stop but Staley kept encouraging him. The three hour trip turned into a seven hour trip. At Cody the weather cleared and they drove through a cow herd that as it turned out belonged to his future coach, though he didn’t know the man at the time. The man had, Staley guesses, about 100 cows in the pen; and he asked Staley what his top five picks were. Staley wandered through the herd, noted the ear tag numbers of the cows he liked.
You guessed it. The man told Staley those happened to be the top five in the herd. He said he was the judging coach at the college and said, “If you’d like to come to college on a full-ride scholarship, we’d love to have you.”
Judging was not new to Staley: he’s judged/competed at some of the top shows in the country including National Western in Denver, CO. and the Arizona Nationals, where his Clear Fork FFA team finished third. In October, his team competed at the American Royal in Kansas City, MO., finishing fifth in the nation. And after Christmas the team returned to the Arizona Nationals and took fifth in the nation.
Their opportunities he said are thanks to the support at Clear Fork for the FFA and from the school board. “Without the school and our school board and our superintendent, this would not be possible,” he said. “Most of this is all school-driven. I sit down and talk to them and thank them all the time. I’ve probably been to about 40 states, thanks to the FFA.”
The FFA also generates income through community service, support from businesses, their fruit sales and the crops they grow on the Land Lab, a 30 acre corn field.
And then his other career: Dog training
When Staley was 9, his grandfather had a dog, and he had one arm. His grandfather’s dog was trained to bring the sheep to him but with only one arm, it was difficult for him to control the sheep when his dog brought them to him. They would jostle him about when he had feed bucket in his hand.
“He called me one day and said, ‘If you can train this dog, she’s yours; you can have her.’ At that age I really wanted a Border Collie. I wanted one bad. I was the kid that every single year asked Santa for a Border Collie,” Staley said.
At the time the family didn’t have four-wheeler or rangers on the farm, but they had a bunch of sheep.
“We got the dog [he named her Juice] and my parents realized how valuable that dog was to the farm. That dog helped us so much: herding the sheep and bringing them to me. And so instead of taking five people to bring in 60 sheep and taking 30 minutes, she will do it in five minutes by herself. We just stand at the gate waiting for her,” he said.
Staley had three or four litters from that Juice, who is now retired and riding truck with Staley’s uncle. He then traveled to clinics to learn training. Dave Jenkins, of Lexington, who Staley said has trained dogs for Disney movies has been a mentor to him. Staley has now trained those litters, and he sell them. Farmers and ranchers who saw his dogs working started calling him and asking if he had any for sale.
“I like to raise them up from pups and train them. I sort of have my core techniques,” he added..
He also decided he needed some cow dogs, still Border Collies but more assertive to manage larger cows. A contact in Virginia introduced him to some dogs bred in Ireland. He brought three females to the U.S. and trained their puppies. He receives queries from all over the United States and has sold dogs in about 25 states.
And he already has three ranchers in Wyoming that want him to take dogs with him when he leaves for college. He will continue training dogs while at college. Not that he’s reached the level he wants to acheive with the dogs, of course. He was in the top four in Ohio in FFA small animal production, and he wants to build his own training program and eventually compete nationally in working shows.
Thoughts and a tip of the hat to his peers
“I’ve kind of given you my life story on everything I’ve done, and relating sports and livestock together and one thing that livestock kids miss out on is that a lot of the work they do, it’s not seen. They’re not seen practicing like on the football field, or the baseball diamond, or on the track, everything is hidden.
“For those livestock kids out there, those farm kids, there aren’t a lot of coaches out there that want to work with us and the work we do, and I’m very grateful” he said, “to have coaches that work with me to be able to do the things I do, plus sports. A lot of kids have to pick and choose. I had to pick and choose; and I know sports builds work ethics and teaches you a lot, but I think farming and livestock teaches you something really different. It teaches you how to be a really well-rounded person, and I think it’s overlooked sometimes.”
That just might be Staley’s way of saying to all those FFA youth walking beside him and following his footsteps: You are seen, and what you do matters, and you can accomplish great things.