Andrew Stieler doesn’t know. His father never told him about the discovery he made during Andrew’s freshman year.
Justin Stieler forgot why he was in his son’s room that day. He just remembers stumbling upon a piece of paper on Andrew’s nightstand. More specifically, he remembers what was scribbled on that sheet — the goals Andrew hoped to accomplish each year during his pole-vaulting career at Tivy. His goal for senior year was to break the school record (16-01.00).
What Justin doesn’t know is that Andrew made those goals even before his freshman year. In the eighth grade, he told one of his teachers, Bryan New, that he wanted to own the school record before he graduated from Tivy
“I will probably have to call him if I do break it,” Andrew said on Tuesday.
He might not have to wait too long to make that phone call. As a junior, Andrew has already cleared a personal-best of 15-07.00, the highest jump in Region IV and has secured five gold medals this season. He will have at least one more opportunity to break the school record at the Region IV track meet today at Heroes Stadium.
Andrew’s main priority today, though, is to secure at least a second-place finish to qualify for the state meet on May 10 in Austin. To accomplish that, he will have to jump at least 15 feet.
But regardless of what happens today, he enters the meet in a good position: He still has an entire year to achieve his ultimate high school goal, an entire year to cement his legacy as the best pole vaulter in Tivy history.
“I think he has the potential to be the best (pole vaulter) I’ve ever had,” said Tivy track coach Kevin Pope, who’s been coaching Andrew for the last five years. “I really truly believe we have the potential to beat the school record, the regional record and eventually win a state championship. It’s just a matter of getting it to click in the next several weeks.”
Then again, pole vaulting has always clicked for Andrew. He first became interested in the sport when he noticed the Tivy’s pole vaulters jumping outside the field house on Sidney Baker; he thought it looked fun.
So, when he was in the seventh grade, his mother, Meredith Stieler, took him to one of the practices, and he told coach Pope right there on the spot that he wanted to try pole vaulting.
He was a quick learner. Within the first three months, he cleared 10 feet, an
impressive feat for a seventh grader. The early success motivated him to keep improving.
“Once I got pretty good at it, It’s hard to hate a sport that you are winning at,” Andrew said.
He jumped higher and higher each year. He cleared 10-06.00 in eighth grade; he then jumped 12 feet as a freshman and 13-06.00 his sophomore year, qualifying for the regional meet in both seasons.
But he made his biggest leap (both literally and metaphorically) between his sophomore and junior seasons, raising his personal record by nearly two feet. He grew stronger during that span, performing specific pole-vault workouts at Good Life throughout the year. He also possessed a stronger grasp of the sport, figuring out the ways he could fix the little technical mistakes that were preventing him from jumping higher.
When he set his personal record at the Antler Relays in early March, he earned a spot in the Texas Relays on March 27.
His performances this season have produced a ripple effect in the Tivy track program. Andrew hasn’t just been fixated on his own success, but has taken time to mentor some of the younger pole vaulters. He tries to act like an older brother to Joseph Huff and Bo Buchanon, two freshmen pole vaulters.
“He helps (our program) a bunch because we have a lot of kids all the way down to seventh who get a chance to work out with us,” Pope said. “They get to see, watch and emulate someone competing at his level. I think it’s great for us all the way around. … Just having that kid on our team, it obviously has a positive effect on other kids.
“He’s a good athlete — that runs in his family with his sister (Kathryn Stieler, who went to state meet in the 400 meter during her junior year). On top of it, he’s a really good kid who works hard.”
Justin and Meredith helped cultivate their son’s. work ethic. He inherited his athletic gifts from his biological father, Richard Eggleston, a former all-American tight end at Sam Houston State. Andrew was four years old when Eggleston passed away from cancer in 2006, but he still has great memories of his father, including climbing on his father’s shoulders to watch his college football highlights together.
“I just try to remember the good times I had with him,” Andrew said.
He inherited his Eggleston’s love for sports, but it was hard not having a father in the bleachers for his games.
When Justin began dating Meredith a few years later, Andrew told him that he wasn’t going to try out for baseball. Justin was puzzled, considering he knew how much much Andrew loved the sport.
“How come?” Justin asked him.
“Because I don’t have a dad to warm up with and all the other kids do,” he replied.
So, when baseball tryouts arrived that Saturday, Justin drove from Tomball to Kerrville to play catch with Andrew. He’s considered Justin a father ever since.
“I never had the dad to throw the baseball with, so when Justin came along, he was a huge help with all of that,” Andrew said. “It was good. … I am sure he made a lot of sacrifices then to help me.”
So, he’s continued to excel at pole vaulting to honor his late father’s memory, and has received constant encouragement from his second father. Nearly 11 years after he first tossed the baseball with him, Justin watched Andrew earn a gold medal at the area meet to advance to regionals for the third straight year. After Andrew had finished meeting with his coaches, Justin told him that he was proud of him.
But they didn’t celebrate too much. Even during track meets, Andrew likes to remain even-keeled — another trait he inherited from his biological dad.
“I don’t like to get too excited,” Andrew admitted.
When asked whether he will break character and celebrate if he advances to state on Friday, Andrew laughed, before giving a slight shrug.
“Yeah, I probably will,” Andrew said. “Maybe I’ll even yelp.”