In the circus, acrobats overcome their fear of heights and sense of danger to marry mere balance with airborne ballet and create art upon the high wire – sometimes without a net – for the pleasure of “Ladies, Gentlemen, and children of all ages…”
Last Thursday evening at UNC’s Faculty Staff Recreation Association pool, young athletes also created aerial art with cool water for a soft landing, but without the wire. Dropping, soaring, twisting, and spinning in the steamy summer air, it was a spectacle to behold for “Ladies, Gentlemen – well, mostly parents – and children of all ages.”
The event was the fourth dive meet of a summer series hosted at The Farm by organizer and coach Becky Woodruff, who is now beginning her third decade as coordinator of the program.
The meet included athletes from her own summer diving program as well as a few competitors from year-round youth programs like N.C. Diving and Duke Diving.
“That’s been awesome,” she said. “It’s right before AAU Nationals this year, but the coaches have still been bringing 10 of 15 kids around for meets, and it’s been great.”
UNC diving head coach and 2000 Olympian Abel Sanchez said that, while the year-round divers in his relatively young N.C. Diving program may travel to distant championship meets, they particularly enjoy the relaxed, casual atmosphere at Farm diving competitions.
“We do travel, yeah, but this is fun,” Sanchez said, “and it’s very good for the kids.”
Woodruff was happy with the turnout Thursday, which allowed for competition in age groups from kids 6-and-under to teens.
“Well, every summer I seem to always say, ‘Wow, that was the best summer meet ever,’ and here I go again” Woodruff wrote in a post-meet email Thursday evening. “What a great turnout of over 50 divers this afternoon at The Farm for our Summer Novice Dive Meet.”
“I feel blessed that our Farm divers have the opportunity to see the divers that participate in the area year-round programs and believe me, we have the best of the best with Scottie Kent at Duke and Abel Sanchez at UNC,” Woodruff added.
Sanchez was impressed with the divers on hand.
“There’s a lot of great talent, that’s for sure,” he said.
While coaches were quick to offer advice to youngsters on ways to improve the convolutions of their dives, even the youngest already had mastered what was arguably the toughest part of diving: remembering the dives’ convoluted names.
“I think I did pretty well,” said Anna Beck, 12, who just started with diving. “I did a front one-and-a-half, an inward dive pike, and also a back somersault.”
“I did a dolphin dive, a back dive, and a front flip,” Mallory Worobel, 6, said. “I was (nervous), but I did pretty good.”
Diving for just three months, Emily Tate already had the lexicon down.
“I did a line-up, a one-step hurdle front dive, a one-step hurdle front jump and a back jump,” she said. “I did pretty good; I got sevens and sixes.”
Woodruff said she’s seen such a growth in popularity over the past couple years, she’s had to divide her classes up at The Farm into three groups.
“A couple of years ago, we had so many kids in my 10:30 a.m. group, but I also had my coaches here from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.”
Woodruff decided to break out the 8-9 year olds into separate, intermediate group diving daily at noon.
“We get a total of over 200 kids over the course of the summer,” she added. That’s up from 183 last year.
Woodruff touted her team of assistant coaches at The Farm, including day and youth camp head diving coach Elise Stave, head “p.m.” diving coach James Willingham, assistant coaches Daniel Sorscher, Issy Chung and Claire McDaniels, and volunteer Owen Cox.
“We’ve just had great coaches this year,” Woodruff said. “James Willingham dove at South Carolina, and Elise Stave dove at MIT.”
Sanchez said his N.C. Diving program has also seen growth.
“We’re always looking for more kids – we’re building,” he said. “When I came in, most of the kids were diving over at Duke, so we’re kind of trying to rebuild. A healthy number would be 50 kids, and we’ve got around 25, so we’re halfway there.”
Next up for summer divers will be the Summer League Dive Championship Meet and potluck social at the Farm from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. this Saturday, Aug. 6.
“Then we’ll probably have one last meet at the end of the summer with another potluck,” Woodruff explained. “The food just makes it more fun.”
After the last potluck, Summer 2017 may seem like a long time between meets, but what’s another 10 months for the “Greatest Show on Earth” ... or in the air?