Citing safety, county to cut interscholastic diving

January 24, 1993|By Katherine Dunn | Katherine Dunn,Staff Writer

For 14 years, Harford County teen-agers have competed in interscholastic diving, but this will be the last season.

Some diving coaches hope to fight the decision to eliminate diving, but it appears to be too late.

"At the very least, they should give us a chance to present our case," said Linda Cisco, the Bel Air diving coach. "If one kid loses a scholarship, then they need to look at themselves, because they have let down the athletes. In some cases, they are literally taking scholarships away from kids."

Jack McCracken, county supervisor of high school physical education, health and athletics, said the decision, based primarily on safety concerns, was made a year ago.

"We wanted to make the announcement a year ahead of time, so everyone would know," said McCracken. "Like any other sport, some kids go to camp to improve their skills, and we wanted to give them time to plan."

After a postseason meeting last April with coaches representing seven of the county's 10 swim teams, McCracken decided to end the program.

"At the time, all seven wanted to get rid of diving," said McCracken.

Cisco, in her second year at Bel Air, said she was not present at the meeting nor does she know of any diving coach who was there, but McCracken said the meeting was open to all county swimming and diving coaches. He also said the possibility of dropping diving has been discussed informally for several years.

North Harford's Sam Colangelo, the dean of Harford County swimming coaches, agreed with McCracken's decision.

"Diving was just an accident waiting to happen, and I was glad to see it removed purely from a safety factor," said Colangelo, who has coached North Harford since swimming competition began in the county. "In order for diving to be safe, you need deep water, a good board, certified diving instructors and time to practice. All those factors could not be met consistently."

The inconsistent factors, said McCracken, were difficulty in finding qualified diving instructors and the inability for divers to get much practice time. The diving boards were safe and the water deep enough, he said.

"The major problem is we have 10 schools in the swimming program and only two diving boards," said McCracken. "Logistically, it's hard to get practice time. It's just about impossible to be fair to everybody and get diving time with two boards."

The seven teams with divers have to squeeze their practice sessions in between swim practice at Magnolia and Edgewood middle schools.

The pool at North Harford Middle School hasn't had a diving board for four years. Colangelo said that board was removed when regulations were changed requiring 10 feet of water under the board. North Harford's pool is only nine feet deep.

That left North Harford without a diving team and the Hawks in trouble in hotly contested meets on the road. In every away meet, the Hawks went scoreless in girls and boys diving, two of the 24 events.

Other teams have been unable to field diving teams, too, but for different reasons -- lack of coaching or just lack of interested athletes. This season, Fallston and Harford Tech have no divers.

"At the county meet, it's a big disadvantage for those teams," said McCracken. "To be fair, you have to have diving for everybody or not have it at all."

The county won't save on insurance when diving is eliminated, because the premium is the same, said Judy Ricker, of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education.

However, McCracken said he feared the possibility of a student being injured especially if he or she does not get much practice time.

Colangelo agreed, adding that he was happy to see the diving board go from North Harford four years ago.

"We have been extremely fortunate that no one has been seriously hurt," said Colangelo. "I've been present when kids have hit the board on dives. Several times, I've seen kids hit their feet or graze their legs."

Chris Gauthier, in his first year of coaching both John Carroll and Aberdeen divers, said he thinks the threat of injury in diving is no greater than in other sports.

"If you look at other sports like lacrosse and football, there were probably more injuries in any of those sports in one year than in all the years of diving put together. But nobody thinks about that," said Gauthier.

A rumor has been circulating that diving remained on the schedule this season only to give John Carroll senior Heather Martin a chance to win her fourth straight title. But McCracken said the rumor is unfounded.

While the timing is right for Martin, it is all wrong for many of the county's other top divers.

Bel Air sophomore Jenn Seidl and freshman Jenn Locke, and Havre de Grace sophomore Lindsay Schellenberger are all in the top four in the county in scoring this season. Bel Air sophomore Chris Callahan, whom Cisco said already has caught the eye of at least one college coach, is second among the boys.

Martin, who plans to dive at Frostburg State next year, said she knows how her peers must feel.

"I really like diving, so it's a real disappointment," she said. "We have a new diver, Laura Dembiec, and she's improved already. She's a sophomore, but she won't be able to go on. There are some other good young divers in the county, too, and it's a shame that they won't be able to compete anymore."

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