"When my operations guy and I took it down, we were just irate," recalls Rigger, who regards his faux tree as "a sad symbol" of caution run amuck.
Conspicuously absent in the diving-board safety debate is any mention of specific, verifiable injury data. Fred Rigger laments "these mythological statistics" that supposedly show diving boards pose an abnormal threat.
He has an ally in Greg Munro, a professor at the University of Montana School of Law and an avid recreational diver. "What I'm interested in is the disappearance of municipal and college diving boards," says Munro. "The thing that's peculiar is we're still insuring rodeos and wrestling and football."
Out of curiosity Munro examined 50 years of appellate court decisions and found, on average, just one case a year involving a "serious" diving accident.
Research studies commissioned in the 1970s and 1980s by the National Spa & Pool Institute, the trade association later involved in the Meneely suit, concluded 75 percent of diving accidents take place in lakes and other natural bodies of water, not pools (a statistic the North American Spine Society cites in its literature). Those studies also concluded 95 percent of pool injuries are sustained in shallow water, nowhere near a diving board.
A study compiled in 2003 by S. R. Smith, an Oregon company that claims to be the largest maker of diving boards and pool deck equipment, estimated 169 spinal cord injuries a year result from dives taken in pools. However, just 10 percent of those involve a diving board.
"For some reason, there's a presumption that if somebody's hurt diving into a pool, it's from a diving board," says Tom Masterson, general counsel for S. R. Smith. "I think there's an unfortunate word association."
Why, then, has the tide turned so strongly against diving boards? Munro says it's an overreaction born of misconstrued data and one mega lawsuit.
Also, "There's no lobby for the boards. Adults don't dive."
Pool managers and pool users in Maryland must read the risk-versus-reward currents as best they can. Some stand firm. Some surrender and dismantle their boards.
Meadowbrook Aquatic Center dumped its high dive about 20 years ago under insurance premium pressure. Bob Klem, vice president of the board of directors at Whitehall Pool and Tennis Club in Bowie, says his club pays about $5,000 annually to keep their high dive open. But they also implemented major safety precautions: extending the handrails on the board and putting padding around the lip of the pool underneath.
"I believe it is kind of a rite of passage," says Klem. "We have kids as little as six or seven going off the high dive."
Forest Knolls Pool in Silver Spring is one of the few community pools in Montgomery County still clinging to its high dive, in continuous use since 1962.
"We've always been told we're kind of grandfathered in," says board member Nanci Schaefer. "We've had no accidents. It's the same premium with or without the board."
Once every summer Schaefer, 57, climbs up the high dive and jumps. Just to prove she can do it: "I challenge myself."
Ramsey Bigham Mihavetz, coach of the Bolton Hill Swim and Tennis Club swim team, remembers screwing up the courage to tackle the Bolton Hill high dive at about age six.
She also remembers that "milestone moment" when she attempted her first 360-degree dive - then got weak-kneed standing on the board and fell splat onto the concrete below, miraculously landing unharmed.
Her sons, ages 2 and 5, won't ever stand atop that lofty perch. Bolton Hill's diving board was dismantled long ago.
"I'm a mother now, so there's part of me that's glad something hazardous isn't around for kids," admits Mihavetz. "But they're missing something. There's a line somewhere, and I don't know where it is."