From paintball to pole vaults: New facility designed to bring athletic all-stars to North Miss.

Published 6:45 am Wednesday, August 2, 2023

By Marie McMullan 

Septic systems. Utility services. Storm shelters. Landscaping. 

And now, pole vaulting? 

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Entrepreneur Jake Clemons has an array of businesses in North Mississippi, predominantly maintenance and repair services. But his latest business venture is taking him to new heights. 

Clemons and his business partner, Olympian and Ole Miss track star Sam Kendricks, are opening a state of the art facility for pole vaulters. 

Refuge Training Facility is set to open Aug. 15. 

Located at 21 County Road 2017, Refuge Training Facility includes two flatground runways and high bars for pole vaulters, warm-up track and elevated viewing area. 

In addition to being a training space for track athletes, Refuge Training Facility is a testament to Clemons’ and Kendricks’ long standing friendship. Growing up, Sam Kendricks had no option but to participate in sports. The son of a track coach, his family was a collection of athletes. 

“I was always at the back of the pack,” said Kendricks. Though not a standout athlete in most sports, he eventually found his way to pole vaulting. 

Track’s accessibility exposed Kendricks to a new world of athletics. “The thing that makes track and field different is that it’s the most approachable sport,” he said. 

From 2008 to 2011, Kendricks stayed steady on his path, devoting Mondays through Saturdays to pole vaulting for Oxford High School. On Sundays, he and his twin brother let loose playing paintball.

That’s where Kendricks initially met Clemons, who was homeschooled. As fate strung them along separate directions, the two found success in their respective fields. 

Clemons developed a passion for starting side hustle after side hustle. Since beginning his entrepreneurial pursuits, Clemons has successfully developed 13 companies. 

“I own several utility based businesses: water lines, sewer lines, septic systems and service. Landscaping company, general contracting company [and] a land development company,” Clemons said.

Meanwhile, Kendricks progressed in the world of pole vaulting, earning a spot on the Ole Miss track and field team and winning the 2013 and 2014 national championships for the Rebels. He decided then to level up, propelling himself to the Olympic trials. 

“I jumped high enough, and I won the U.S. championship,” he said. “Can I produce one more great day to go to the Olympics?” He did. Kendricks earned a spot to go to the Rio Olympics in 2016 and won a Bronze medal. 

When Kendricks moved into his first house after the Rio Olympics, a moving truck fell on his septic tank. His old friend Clemons was the first name that came to mind since he had just started his GreenPro business. 

“Our friendship diverted away from each other until we both had gotten married, and I was doing the utilities for the contractor on his house,” said Clemons. “We reconnected at that point and have been best of friends since.”

Clemons continued developing his businesses. But for Kendricks, the stability of being a professional track and field athlete wavered. 

“There’s no job security in track and field. You’ve got to be the best all the time. You’ve got to be a mercenary to be a true track and field athlete,” said Kendricks. “It’s like trying to land on the moon.” 

The COVID-19 pandemic made the shifting nature of the sport even more tumultuous. Kendricks tested positive for the virus at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 and could not compete. Soon after, he suffered a knee injury. 

Clemons could see that his friend needed a new outlet as he recovered and waited out pandemic restrictions on international competitions. He introduced Kendricks to blue collar work.

Kendricks recounted Clemons words: “He said, ‘Let me give you somewhere to put your energy.’”

The two started Dynamic Services, a commercial landscaping company. While the company continued to grow, Clemons could sense that his friend’s aspirations lie in his sport.

So the king of maintenance services in North Mississippi pitched yet another business venture: a pole vaulting training facility. 

“Sam’s goal and dream is to build this facility for the area, for him to be able to coach and to bring a lot of all stars to Oxford,” said Clemons. 

Ground broke on the Refuge Training Center at the beginning of the year. Eight months later, the finishing touches are underway. 

A haven for local and international athletes

Although Kendricks had access to the Ole Miss track and field facilities for his personal pole vaulting training, he immediately saw the value in an area open to aspiring and professional athletes. 

“If you build it, they’ll come,” said Kendricks. “If you want to be a great quarterback, you’ve got to go to quarterback camp.” He wondered why not offer similar opportunities for track and field athletes. “I want kids to come from all over and grow in a short amount of time.” 

In addition to training youth, Kendricks hopes to invite competitors from around the world to use Refuge Training Facility. 

Pole vaulting is a niche sport both in school leagues and at the professional level. “The goal is to give people a home. That’s why I called it Refuge,” said Kendricks. 

“I am going to have an awesome place for young people to hang their hat, train hard and learn a lot from people who have traveled the world and been among the best,” he said. “There’s gonna be a home for everybody at Refuge.”

Kendricks is aware that he could never have created such a space here in north Mississippi without his friend-turned-colleague. “I got permission through opportunity and a friend backing me up to do this crazy thing,” he said. “I needed a place to grow into myself and for the future of the sport. [Clemons] helped me do the same thing he had always done: fill in the gaps and be my hero.” 

As for Clemons, he sees Refuge Training Facility as a way to cultivate the community, investing in the area’s track and field talent and connecting them with Kendricks’ international competitors. 

“I like to see the community strengthened,” Clemons said. “I don’t think I’ll ever recoup my investment, but it’s more of a partnership to make the community better—to bring athletes in so the younger athletes in the area can have these all stars here to shake hands with.” 

Refuge Training Facility will open on Aug. 15 to the public.