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Looking for a new sport? Pick this one, create a big splash

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A high school swim team practice session at either the Columbus North or Columbus East pool is jam-packed from lane to lane, almost with the need for a traffic cop.

Kids in Columbus love to swim.

Whether they love to dive is debatable.

Both North and East have suffered at times to fill out the all-important diving event, which like any stroke event scores valuable points for the team.

It’s kind of like a track and field squad that lacks shot putters and discus throwers.

This season, Columbus North has just one girls diver. Columbus East has only two boys divers.

“The toughest thing about diving is that it takes a different bird to do,” said veteran North swim coach Jim Sheridan. “You are putting your body on the line every dive. You can smack your body 10 times in practice and the only way to get better is to put yourself at risk.

“I’ve seen as few as four divers competing in a sectional with 15 teams.”

Numbers are important to Sheridan because those diving points are crucial to the team’s success in dual meets along with placing at the state meet.

So who is a candidate?

“Anyone who wants to try it,” Sheridan said. “Kids who have fun in the summertime diving at Donner Park. They’ve already learned the basics of no fear.”

Sheridan said any body type or size can give diving a try.

“Five or six years ago, Plainfield had two offensive linemen from its football team who both made regionals,” Sheridan said. “It’s whether you can teach your body to be more flexible.”

East diver Cordell Glass, a sophomore, has that flexibility.

“I grew up on a trampoline,” he said this week before beginning his practice session at the East pool.

“I always tried to do everything and anything since I was 4 years old.”

Glass didn’t really think about diving until the summer after his seventh- grade year. He played basketball at St. Bartholomew and then would go over to the Columbus North pool where they were teaching kids to dive.

“I was real nervous about it because I didn’t know if I would like it,” he said. “But I did know that I don’t scare real easy. The first day there I did a one-and-a-half.”

He was on his way.

That doesn’t mean it has been easy.

“I get a mental block at times where I don’t want to jump off the board,” he said. “I know if I mess up, it will hurt.”

Austin Smith is East’s only other male diver, but the program has five girls who dive.

Sophomore Kacey Littiken started diving in sixth grade because her team at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School was asking for signups at lunch.

“The first day I was thinking, ‘This is different,’” she said. “But I liked it because it is a very individual sport.

“Is it painful? No. Well, unless you smack. And I have smacked several times. I do have fears, but it’s fun. Last year we only had two of us (girls divers at East). Now there are five of us. It’s a lot more interesting.”

Like many kids who get interested in diving, East sophomore Brooklyn Taulman was a gymnast.

“I just wasn’t that interested in gymnastics,” Taulman said. “It’s a whole different feeling going into the water.”

East freshman Kate Fox said Glass talked her into diving.

“It’s such a good feeling when you learn something new,” she said. “And I just kind of try stuff.”

Olympians freshman Julie Connor followed her friend, Taulman, to practice.

“It sounded fun, and it was something new,” Connor said. “I was a gymnast, and I like trying new things.

“The water here is really cold, though. But it also was really fun.”

Over the Christmas break, Connor attended the Ripfest Diving Camp at the IUPUI Natatorium in Indianapolis. She discovered that while the numbers might not be

huge in Columbus, there are many young divers who take their sport very seriously.

East’s divers are coached by John Kessler, who has coached various sports at North or East, including diving, on-and-off since 1973. He said he is coaching this season because East was having a hard time finding someone to work with the divers.

Kessler said that East’s facilities aren’t perfect for diving, but that “everyone’s got their own burden to bear.”

He also noted that he doesn’t believe that the landscape of Indiana diving is changing, because he said it has been hit or miss in terms of numbers for as long as he has coached the sport.

“It’s the kind of sport where I tell the kids, ‘This is a life lesson. You have one shot to make a great impression.’”

Lessons or not, Kessler said that not just anybody can jump off that board.

“I don’t know that you can push people into it,” he said. “It is scary.”

He said it would help if East could start a youth diving program at its pool to help channel kids into the program.

“This sport is about being fearless,” he said. “You can’t be afraid of the board. That’s what I am working through with our girls right now.

“And you also need to have some coordination to twist and turn.”

Lauren Hawes was an accomplished diver at North who graduated in 2008 and now has returned to coach the divers.

“Having good divers is important to a swim team,” she said. “We would score a lot of points.”

Hawes has to do the best she can with low numbers.

“We get a lot of young siblings of kids who were divers,” she said. “Then we get gymnasts who might have gotten injured.

“But the majority of the kids we get haven’t tried it. They might have grown up at Donner Pool, or on lakes or the ocean. The majority of them are kids who aren’t afraid to do anything. They are active kids who are not afraid of the water and they are adventurous.”

At the moment, Tierney McAlister is the only girls student at North who is adventurous enough to try diving.

“It’s a long season,” Hawes said. “We start in October and we end in February. A lot of kids are into other sports. They are just burned out.”

While she said diving is fun, Hawes said North has high expectations of its swimmers and divers. “We want to see them excel,” she said.

Hawes has high expectations of freshman diver Kaemon Jiles, who earlier this season won the Bloomington North Diving Invitational. His brother, Keegan, is a former North diver.

At 5-foot-2, Kaemon Jiles had been concentrating on soccer, but he decided he had a knack for diving.

“Diving is about not really thinking too much,” he said.

“You clear your mind when you do it. And your mind really doesn’t come back until you are out of the water. It’s definitely a mental game.”

He admits there are times when he is very scared before attempting a dive.

“Yesterday I was freaking out,” he said. “But once I do a dive, I feel totally accomplished.”

The dive Kaemon Jiles accomplished in practice was a forward three somersault. Sheridan said it has been years since a diver at North could complete such a dive. If Giles can hit it during the meets leading up to the state meet, his year could be very special.

To make his season special, he dives four times a week at 5:30 a.m. and five to six times a week in the afternoon.

“My No. 1 goal is to go to state,” he said.

His favorite dive is the front 1½ full twisting somersault.

“It just looks like the coolest thing ever,” he said.

Those involved believe diving is one of the coolest things ever. Now they just want kids to feel the same way, and to walk through their door.

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