Cody senior Grace Shaffer recently signed an athletic scholarship to pole vault at Arkansas State University. She was joined by (from left) parents Scott and Jamie Shaffer and Cody track coach Bret Engdahl.

When she was little, Grace Shaffer wanted to follow in her father’s footsteps.

She wanted to excel at the same sport he had in the same college where he had made his mark.

Now Shaffer, already a Cody High School pole vaulting state champion, is set to make an impact at her father’s alma mater. She recently signed an athletic scholarship to Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Ark., to be coached by an old friend of her father’s.

“I’m delighted she is going somewhere my husband went, coached by someone my husband jumped with,” mother Jamie Shaffer said. “It’s a good fit.”

What seemed like a natural selection started with a different Sun Belt Conference school in mind.

“It was kind of a weird accident,” Scott said.

University of Louisiana-Monroe had inquired about Grace, so Scott reached out to someone he figured would know about the program, Arkansas State coach Jim Patchell.

Patchell had transferred to Arkansas State in the 1990s after Scott had graduated, although he was still training in Jonesboro and coaching the pole vaulters.

Patchell wanted to see Grace’s tapes as well.

“Then he didn’t want to talk about Louisiana-Monroe,” Scott said.

“I have watched a lot of film in my career and you can tell when an athlete has it or not pretty quickly,” Patchell said. “I knew after watching a few jumps that Grace was already skilled and was also very athletic, so we feel there is great potential for her in our program.”

Grace is pleased with how it all turned out. She had applied to the University of Arkansas and University of Oregon for purely academic reasons, but jumped at the chance to be part of a college athletic program and be at her father’s college.

“As a little girl I always dreamed about going there,” she said.

Scott wasn’t going to push his daughter to become a Red Wolf, which is why the connection was more happenstance than planned, but he’s happy she’ll be in Jonesboro.

“I like who the coach is and the kind of man he is,” Scott said. “The program has improved by leaps and bounds and I’m confident because I spent so much time there.”

He’s also spent a lot of time coaching his daughter, and the work by both of them has paid off. Grace is the defending indoor pole vault champion and is eyeing an outdoor title in her senior season after winning both her freshman and sophomore seasons. There was no outdoor season last year. And now she can focus more completely on the present.

“At first I was worried about college and whether I would go for track,” she said. “It’s lifted a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

While she can focus on her upcoming season, her soon-to-be college coach can plan for a bright future.

“As a freshman, Grace will add depth to an already strong women’s vault crew,” Patchell said. “I think by the end of her sophomore year she has the potential to be one of the best in the conference and maybe win a title.”

Patchell is in his 10th season as head coach and since his arrival to his alma mater, the Red Wolves have a combined 11 conference titles between men’s and women’s cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field. The first of the eight championships was women’s cross country, winning its first Sun Belt Conference crown in 2013. The women’s squad also won the indoor conference title in 2013.

The women were crowned outdoor champions in 2015, the first outdoor title since 2001, and followed with the outdoor crown at the home track in 2019.

Before Grace joins them she will finish a final indoor season with Cody and then help lead a spring track and field Fillies team one more time.

While pole vaulting may be her best position, she’ll also hurdle and participate in relays, epitomizing a team-first athlete, Cody coach Bret Engdahl said.

Engdahl, who has known her since she was a baby, will be sad to see her go, although he’s pleased to see her take the next step.

“I’ve seen the amount of time Scott and her have spent on it, the highs and lows,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see it end like this for them – they’ve done an amazing job.”

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