Youngsters are falling for one of the most popular athletic league this summer, but they’re “falling,” as Toy Story character Woody might insist, “with style.”
And, as the numbers and talent at last Wednesday’s Summer Dive League Championships at The Farm proved, diving is making a splash locally, thanks to divers who, well ... don’t.
The diving program, in its 20th year at the UNC Faculty Staff Recreation Association’s pool, enjoyed a renewed energy thanks to longtime league coordinator Becky Woodruff and the committed support of year-round programs like Duke Diving and the North Carolina Diving age-group program at UNC.
“I must say that was one of the most fun and enjoyable summer dive meets we have had in a long time,” Woodruff said, after the meet. “It was so well attended. We had over 30 divers participating – and we had great weather too.”
The local summer diving program was established with just local entrants in the early 1990s by Woodruff, a nationally competitive swimmer for Penn State and the U.S. diving team in the 1980s. Last Wednesday’s diving championships marked the culmination of this year’s instructional and competitive diving league. It was separate from the town swim league, which held its own championship meet in July.
Despite the prominent presence of divers from Duke Diving, North Carolina Diving and Heritage Hills, Farm divers captured the team championship.
In the Boys 6 & Under division it was Duke Diving’s Conall Buckner finishing first (50.60 points), while sibling Rowan Bucker topped the Boys 7-8 divers (83.80). Duke Diving’s Henry Woodburn (87.55) earned gold in the Boys 9-10 bracket, but it was The Farm’s Owen Cox (138.80) atop the Boy’s 11-12 podium.
“Owen did a week last year, and he’s done three weeks this year,” noted Lisa Cox, Owen’s mother. “It’s only his second year diving with The Farm, but he’s done UNC Diving – Carolina Diving – for three years, and he’ll be starting back with them in the fall.”
Among the girls, it was The Farm’s Sloan Hunter (41.25) topping the 6 and Under category, with The Farm’s Tasha Bishop (78.75) earning a first among the 7-year olds. The Farm’s Lily Bruce (96.50) captured the 8-year old division title.
“Diving’s fun, and I’m getting to learn new things,” Bruce said. “I do gymnastics too. It really helps to do both.”
Langley Maciejewski of The Farm (81.95) was as good as gold among 9-year olds, while teammate Nadia Bishop (86.90) earned a first among 10-year olds. North Carolina Diving’s Clara Tate (124.65) scored a victory in the 11-12-year-old division.
As for the rest, everyone left with a ribbon and a renewed focus.
“I didn’t do very well,” said Alyse Buckmire, who still managed an impressive fourth-place finish for Heritage Hills in the Girl’s 10-year old bracket. “I guess I just wasn’t very straight, but I’ll work on going into the water straighter and making smaller splashes. I think I’m going to start diving with UNC. I’ve been diving with Bailey (Revels).”
And for almost everyone involved in the Summer Diving Championships, the atmosphere seemed a celebratory culmination of a summer well spent.
Lisa Cox noted her son, Owen, quit the diving last winter but then found his way back to the sport, thanks to Woodruff.
“Becky’s just been amazing. She’s the one that brought him back,” she said. “She’s just so cool and so laid back, and she just gets him excited about diving. She makes it fun. I think Owen’s going back to UNC Diving this fall because of Becky.
“This series just makes diving fun,” she added. “If the kids want to do year-round diving, it makes it less stressful, because standing out on the end of a board with everyone watching you can be a pretty (scary) thing to do.”
Thanks to a new position with The Farm as fitness director and aquatics lessons coordinator, Woodruff was better able to focus energy on the league for months in advance.
“I left the Forest at Duke last November, and I’m now a full-time employee at The Farm, so I’m actually coaching the daytime youth camp diving here,” Woodruff explained. “That started this summer. (Farm Director) Ben Allred created this position, which I started in January.”
But it was her relationship with new age group coaches at area universities which has Woodruff thinking positively about the future of area diving.
“North Carolina Diving with coach Abel Sanchez has been doing age-group diving,” Woodruff said. “He’s been very supportive—he’s awesome, and next year, we want to do even more. Bailey Revels at Heritage Hills has always brought divers, and the showing from Farm divers has been great this year. Also, we’ve got new coaches at Duke including Katie Hazelton who are very interested in age-group diving, and they’ve been bringing out 15 divers to all of the meets this year.”
While the summer season will end this coming Saturday with an end-of-season diving meet and social, Woodruff encouraged all interested in age-group diving to contact either North Carolina Diving ( www.divingnc.com/) or email Katie Hazelton at Duke ( email@example.com).
“We’re finding really great talent now in kids that will keep diving in age group competition throughout the year,” Woodruff said. “I think Abel (Sanchez) at Carolina and (Katie) Hazelton at Duke both understand the importance of these grassroots programs.”
With that, diving’s numbers seems less likely to “fall off” over the coming years, even if it was “with style.”