Back left to right: Mike, Andy, Casey, Paul (Dad)
Front row left to right: Clance, Tim, Jean (Mom)
First Family of Sports Award 2015
By Bill Schey
They called him "Right Way Carrigan" -- as opposed to Wrong Way Corrigan, the American aviator with the faulty compass.
From a tiny town in Washington, the son of an Irish logger, Casey Carrigan might not have seemed a likely candidate to become the biggest pole vaulting prodigy of his day. But, boy, was he ever.
The third of five boys, Casey followed in a fine family athletic tradition when he burst on the national scene by pole vaulting 16 feet, 8 inches to set a high school record at the 1968 national AAU championships in Sacramento, Calif. A few weeks later, he cleared 17 feet at the Olympic Trials in South Lake Tahoe, Calif., and earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. He struggled at the Mexico City Olympics and didn't qualify for the event finals, but then in the spring of his senior year at Orting High School he raised the bar by clearing 17-4 3/4 at the 1969 Golden West Invitational in Sacramento.
It was a national high school record that stood for more than 11 years -- and 46 years later still stands as easily the best mark ever by a high school pole vaulter in the state of Washington.
All five of the Carrigan boys -- Andy, Mike, Casey, Tim and Clance -- were superb all-around athletes at Orting High, and all but Tim were exceptional high jumpers and pole vaulters. The two oldest, Andy and Mike, enjoyed solid careers as scholarship football players at Stanford. But there was always a certain in-the-air balance, a certain fearlessness that set Casey apart.
"We had a pole-vaulting pit for the kids in the backyard years ago," Paul Carrigan, Casey's father, told a Sports Illustrated reporter at the peak of Casey's career, in 1969. "From the time I can remember, Casey was always swinging from trees, jumping and running, things like that. We lived in the foothills at the base of Mount Rainier, and it seemed that Casey was always outdoors, doing something."
Each of the five times Paul and Jean Carrigan learned they would be adding another child to their family, they put their heads together and came up with names for a baby girl or baby boy. They never needed the girls' names.
This unusual -- an unusually gifted -- family is being honored as Pierce County's First Family of Sports for 2015.
Cancer claimed the youngest of the brothers, Clance, at age 29 in 1987. Years after moving the family home to Tokeland, Wash., near Westport, Paul passed on in 2001, and Tim died two years ago, at 59.
At 93, Jean still lives in Tokeland and makes the 45-minute drive to Aberdeen-Hoquiam for exercise swimming three to four times a week.
"She didn't even start swimming until she was 70," Mike noted with a chuckle.
Andy, 69, now lives in Issaquah and operates a string of successful businesses serving the legal community in 10 states as president and CEO of ABC Legal Services. Mike, 67, lives in Stanwood and remains active as a high school teacher and middle school basketball coach in La Conner. Casey, 64, retired two years ago in Long Beach, Calif., after 28 years with the fire department, but he still enjoys getting vertical -- but now as a mountain climber.
In early April, Casey was part of a climbing team that planned an ascent to Base Camp at the 17,700-foot level of Mount Everest.
The Carrigan brothers' story reads like something from a Chip Hilton novel, but with a track and field twist. They grew up in the woods of East Pierce County on an 80-acre tree farm inside a locked gate on St. Paul timberland. Home was a two-room log cabin on old homestead property with no electricity or running water and a hand-crank telephone. Their nearest neighbors lived seven miles away.
It might have seemed a lonely upbringing to some, but to the boys life was good.
"It seemed really normal to us at the time," Andy Carrigan said. "The only thing that was different was that when school was out in the summer other kids would spend time hanging out with their friends. But we just went home and didn't see kids from school again until the fall, we didn't go anywhere. We had cows and chickens to take care of and things like that.
"Looking back now I see how different that seems, but it didn't seem that way then."
Paul Carrigan was raised in New Jersey. He played football, threw the javelin, was a championship golfer and tried his hand at amateur boxing. Jean Carrigan was a fine athlete from Sumner. After they married and moved to the Orting-Kapowsin area, they wanted their children to be raised in an outdoor environment. A big, home-made barn on the property had a loft large enough to put up a basketball hoop at one end.
"The floor of that loft was made of hand-split cedar planks," Mike said, "so no one ever knew which way the ball was going to bounce. Hundreds of hours playing on that floor made dribbling in a regular gym seem pretty nice."
Things changed in a major way in the winter of 1960 when the family home in the woods was destroyed by fire. The family of Andy's closest friend, John Balmer, took in the Carrigans until they could find a new home, this one a bit closer to town.
On their new acreage, Paul Carrigan bulldozed a quarter-mile track out back and helped his boys craft a pit and standards for high jump and pole vault training.
Jean Carrigan, a registered nurse, "ran a mile on that track every morning for years," Mike recalled. "I know that was always an inspiration for us -- an example of dedication and perseverance."
The brothers Carrigan would ultimately write, and then repeatedly re-write, the athletic record book in football, basketball and track and field at Orting High in the years that followed. The family name became known far and wide.
"In my senior year, I won the pole vault at the Daffodil Relays by going 12 foot, 9 inches or 13 feet," Andy Carrigan said. "The same year Mike sort of came out of nowhere and won the state meet at 13-3, as a sophomore. Then a few years later Casey came along and absolutely smashed our records when he went 17-4 3/4."
On weekends in warmer months, Paul Carrigan would drive Andy, Mike and Casey to various track and field and decathlon competitions around the region, and the family didn't miss many of the boys' other sports events either. Let Jean Carrigan detail one football weekend in 1967:
"Casey was playing a game (for Orting High) in Tenino Friday night," she explained. "As soon as it was over, we jumped into our car which was loaded with sleeping bags, lunches and such and drove all night to California. It was a thrill to see Mike in action with the Stanford (freshman) team Saturday morning. Then we raced for the stadium in Palo Alto where the Stanford (varsity) was playing an important game with USC.
"Just as we pulled into the parking lot we heard the public address announcer say, 'Andy Carrigan saves a touchdown with a brilliant tackle.' But it almost broke my heart that we couldn't get home in time to see Tim's junior high football game."
It was that kind of uncommon devotion that prompted the late Royal Brougham, the longtime sports editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, to honor Jean Carrigan as Washington's Mother of the Year in Sports on Mother's Day in 1968.
A few weeks later, Casey would become the youngest member of the USA track and field team headed to Mexico City. The games themselves proved bittersweet for the tousle-haired youngster, as he struggled to get warmed up for his event, then had difficulty choosing the right pole. He missed his first two qualifying attempts at 16 feet, 1 inch. On his final try, he cleared the bar by a wide margin -- he later called it "perhaps my best jump ever to that point" -- but was sabotaged by an old rule that said if the pole went under the bar it was a miss. He was disqualified and never advanced to the event finals.
"He might've won in Mexico City if he hadn't been disqualified," Andy Carrigan said.
The rule was changed shortly thereafter, but that didn't lessen the heartbreak for Carrigan. "I cried off and on for three days. It really hurt to finish like that," he recalled later.
While he was heavily recruited, Casey followed his two brothers to Stanford, but it wasn't the best fit. It was the height of the hippie era, and he lost focus at the Bay Area school and gave up his athletic scholarship after his freshman year. When the 1972 Olympics rolled around, he never tried out.
Later, Carrigan decided to give it one more shot, and by 1975 he was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. with a vault of 17-10 3/4. But an Achilles' injury kept him from trying out for the 1976 Montreal Olympics, and at age 25 he chose to move on with life.
Casey Carrigan admits to some regret that his pole vaulting achievements essentially peaked in his high school years, but he's not one to waste time with talk of what might have been.
"In all honesty, I'm so grateful," he told Dave Boling of The News Tribune in a 1999 interview. "If I was to re-write the script, I wouldn't change a thing.
He's happily married to a younger woman, Dione, he's just checked an item off his bucket list with his hike/climb on Mount Everest and he relishes his years as captain of the Long Beach Fire Dept. Oh, and one other thing -- he cherishes memories of growing up in the foothills of Mount Rainier with his four brothers.
"The day before he died, my mom heard my dad tell one of the nurses that his sons were 'pure joy' to him," Casey said. "I don't think there is anything more touching or more of a blessing he could have left with us boys. That says it all."
THE POLE VAULT THING
All five of the Carrigan brothers were exceptional all-around athletes, but nothing distinguished them collectively quite like their prowess as high jumpers and pole vaulters. Even burly Andy, at 6-foot and 218 pounds during his football playing days at Stanford, was adept enough in those events to become a highly competitive decathlon athlete.
"At our house out in the sticks," Mike recalled, "we started vaulting with vine maple poles that we cut from the woods. They were great for bending without breaking but were heavy as sin to carry down the runway. Finally we moved up to bamboo poles that dad would get from carpet stores after the rolls were empty."
When the fiberglass pole came along ... well, that was otherworldly, and the Carrigans were quick to take advantage, especially Casey. While he never had a coach, he kept improving with the help of his father and older brothers. Andy and Mike literally cut and assembled their own uprights and crossbars on their country acreage, then laid out a runway with dad's help. Dad also filmed college vaulters with an 8mm camera and took Casey to University of Washington meets where he studied Brian Sternberg's form when he was NCAA champion. Andy got Casey into weightlifting.
The Carrigans also added a high jump pit to their backyard facilities.
"We've let their development take its course and never pushed them," Jean Carrigan said. "They've achieved much of their progress on their own initiative."
Of the five, only Tim abstained. He tried the event at a young age, but shifted his interest elsewhere after he grew older.
By August of 1964, 18-year-old Andy was on his way to Stanford on a football scholarship, 16-year-old Mike was the Washington state small school pole vault champion and an exceptional football and basketball talent, and Casey had already pole vaulted 12 feet, 9 inches, an international record for 13 year olds. Casey's 5-8 high jump was just an inch off the international best.
The Carrigans had something else going for them. Growing up in the foothills of Mount Rainier, they had erected a trapeze-like platform with a 50-foot rope swing hanging from the tree tops on their property -- a perfect training apparatus for vaulters and jumpers.
SURVIVING IN ALASKA
Of the many Carrigan sporting adventures, perhaps none is more adventurous than Mike's time spent teaching and coaching in Alaska. The family had some history in the 49th state. Paul spent his years in the Navy in the Aleutians, and the memoirs of his time there were published after his death in 2001. Both Andy and Mike spent time working on Paul's crab boat in Alaska.
But this was a step up in intensity. After Mike began his teaching and coaching career in Soap Lake, he made the long move to Craig, Alaska, where he coached the Prince of Wales Island High School basketball team.
"Coaching in Alaska was a real adventure," Mike said. "Craig is on an island so we would charter a couple float planes to fly us to our games. We would play on Friday night, sleep over and play again on Saturday. Sunday we would fly home. The host team would provide the referees which wasn't always the best arrangement.
"Hydaburg was our fierce rival. We lost the first game one year in Hydaburg, 106-36. I think the referees had swallowed their whistles as our boys spent most of the night picking themselves up off the floor with no calls being made. As luck would have it our manager had grabbed the wrestling bag instead of the basketball bag as we were leaving Craig. So the second night I had all the boys wear wrestling headgear when we went out for warm-ups."
The goal for Prince of Wales Island that Saturday was to hold Hydaburg under 100.
"We did," Mike added, "in spite of the fact that the last five minutes of the game the Hydaburg crowd was chanting 'one hundred, one hundred!' and I had to run over twice and yell at the scorekeeper to start the clock. Final score, 98-34.
"You should have seen our locker room after the game. It was like we just won the state championship. 'We did it! We did it!'"
THE CARRIGAN BROTHERS
- Andy (age 69) -- The family trail blazer, he started all four years at Orting High School in both football (fullback and linebacker) and basketball (6-foot forward) His 1962 football team was undefeated and finished second in the state Class B poll. He helped the Cardinals make two trips to the state B basketball tournament in Spokane. In track, he competed in the pole vault, discus, high jump and half-mile. He won the Daffodil Relays pole vault and the Shelton Invitational high jump. As a football player at Stanford, he played for Hall of Fame coaches John Ralston, Mike White, Dick Vermeil, Bill Walsh, Rod Rust and Jim Mora. As co-captain of the freshman team, he scored a touchdown on the first scrimmage play against San Jose State. After his redshirt year, he shifted to linebacker and in a 1967 game at Husky Stadium he recorded 27 tackles to set Pacific-8, Husky Stadium and Stanford records in a 14-7 upset of Washington. He also set a then-Big Game record with 23 tackles against California. Had the distinction of playing against two Heisman Trophy winners (O.J. Simpson of USC and Gary Beban of UCLA) and on the same team as a third, Jim Plunkett. He established a Seattle-based string of successful businesses in 10 states serving the legal community as President and CEO of ABC Legal Services. Lives in Issaquah.
- Mike (age 67) -- An exceptional high school athlete, he was a two-way player in football at Orting as quarterback/halfback and defensive back, guiding the Cardinals to state Class B poll championships as both a junior and senior. He was named to the all-state team and was an honorable mention halfback on the Scholastic Coach Magazine All-America team. An all-state basketball selection his last two years, he helped Orting to fourth- and second-place finishes at the state B tournament, scoring 23 points in the 1966 championship game loss to Reardan. He also was a fine high jumper and pole vaultr, setting a state B meet record in the former of 13 feet, 3 inches as a sophomore. In college, he had a solid career as a Stanford defensive back under Hall of Fame coach John Ralston, but missed most of his senior season with an injury. After leaving Stanford, he became a teacher. He also was a high school basketball coach, first at Soap Lake, then at Prince of Wales Island in Craig, Alaska. He later coached football at La Conner High School, where he still teaches, and in recent years shifted his focus back to basketball as a middle school coach.
- Casey (age 64) -- A starting halfback/quarterback in football and a solid contributor in basketball, the tousle-haired kid also became the very best high school pole vaulter of his generation at a time the event was evolving rapidly with the introduction of the fiberglass pole. At 17, as an Orting junior, he cleared 16 feet at the state Class A meet, then set a national high school record by going 16 feet, 8 inches at the national AAU championships. That earned him a spot at the Olympic Trials at South Lake Tahoe, Calif., where he soared over 17 feet for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. He became just the third high school athlete to make it onto the U.S. Olympic track and field team -- the others being Jim Ryun and Bob Mathias. His trip to the 1968 Mexico City Olympics ended in frustration when he missed two qualifying attempts, was disqualified on a third try, and didn't advance to the event finals. The following spring, as an Orting senior, he improved his own national prep record by soaring 17-4 3/4 -- a mark that still stands as best ever by a Washington state high schooler. He competed one season for Stanford, then took a break from the sport. He later returned to competition, raising his personal best to 17-10 3/4, best in the nation, in 1975 before an Achilles' tendon injury cut short his vaulting career. Retired and living in Long Beach, Calif., after a 28-year career as a fireman, the last several years as captain of the department.
- Tim (died in 2012 at age 59) -- Had great senior year in basketball, averaging 13.2 points per game. Made his mark in football as a defensive lineman. He later graduated from Western Washington University. He battled a degenerative liver condition later in life, with the added complication that his blood would not clot. An accomplished climber -- "Tim must have climbed Mount Rainier 15 to 20 times," Mike Carrigan said -- at 59 he and brother Casey hiked 85 miles through the Sierra mountain range in California and climbed the tallest peak in the lower-48, 14,505-foot Mount Whitney. He died a few days after returning home of internal bleeding.
- Clance (died in 1987 at age 29) -- A standout running back, he was the Nisqually League scoring champion as an Orting High senior, scoring 60 points and rushing for 1,003 yards. He enjoyed one particularly big night, rushing for 208 yards and two touchdowns, passing 27 yards for a third score and returning an interception 74 yards in a 34-0 win over Yelm. He was also a first team all-conference selection in basketball as a senior. Showed great promise as a young pole vaulter but was injured when a pole snapped and he never vaulted again. He later became known as a talented musician (guitarist and banjo player) and somewhat of a comic. "He loved driving our dad's logging truck from time to time," Casey recalled. "Every so often he would dress up as an Arab oil sheikh. He would dress in a long, bright, orange flowing robe with a white turban on his head and wear wraparound sunglasses. With his dark complexion and beard he looked quite authentic but bizarrely out of place behind the wheel of a logging truck while driving down the highway, especially when he got out to adjust the bindings on the logs. People would do a double-take and could not believe what they were seeing and then he would be gone." The youngest of the Carrigan brothers died of cancer in 1989.