Youth to ‘dive’ into Park City
For anyone looking for an exciting diversion from the hustle and hassle of holiday shopping, than Ecker Hill Aquatic Center may have the solution, as they host the USA Diving Holiday Invitational, Dec. 9-11. The event will feature about 60 young, promising divers from around the state, as well as Washington and Oregon. The diving will take place on the one-meter and three-meter springboards. SLAP diving, an amateur youth diving club serving both Salt Lake and Park City is hosting the meet. The meet is designed for youth ages 6-18 and will showcase beginning divers to top-level teenage divers. According to SLAP program director Gene McIntyre, the 16-18 age group level should bring in some of the best divers in the country — some who are doing up to three-and-half somersaults off of the boards.
"If you want to see some of the best diving in the country, you want to watch our older divers," McIntyre said.
Brandon Watson, a product of Brigham Young University’s youth age-level diving program and one of the top three males divers in the country, will be at the meet. McIntyre says that he is sure to impress the crowd. Watson will dive for BYU next year.
"He’s probably the highest level we will have and he’s a Utah kid," McIntyre said.
He says there will also be an opportunity to watch the youngest divers, who, while still learning basic skills, are already doing amazingly difficult dives for their age. The SLAP program started in Park City two years ago and has a developmental level for divers who are just learning the sport and an advanced level with divers competing on the state, regional and national levels. The program functions out of the University of Utah in Salt Lake as well. According to McIntyre, the season starts in September and runs until the end of July, with a six-week break in between. The long year allows the divers to compete in both the winter and summer seasons. McIntyre holds an in-house meet each month, so the kids can hone their competitive skills and perform for their parents, as well as traveling to meets around the state every four to six weeks. Thus far, SLAP has experienced a lot of success in the Salt Lake area and now in Park City. McIntyre says that he expects that four to six of senior graduation class will compete on the collegiate level. SLAP coach and Olympic diver Rachel Kunkel was a product of the diving program and has now come back to share her expertise. McIntyre also coaches alongside Highland High School athletic director Monica French. In the short two years, since SLAP adopted a Park City dimension, McIntyre says the growth has been phenomenal. Kids continue to join with virtually no advertising or recruitment done on the part of the program. "We have a program that has taken off in Park City, so we’re doing something right," McIntyre said. "It’s a great activity for kids." McIntyre has had plenty of experience creating diving activities for kids. He grew up diving in Oregon and went on to compete at the University of Miami in Florida followed by 30 years of coaching diving. He says he has enjoyed working at the Ecker Hill pool and hopes to continue to expand the program. SLAP shares responsibility for the meet with the Portland club team who will host the holiday event on alternating years. Park City was chosen as a host site to allow the Northwest travelers to enjoy the benefits of a resort town around the competition.
"We set the meet up so people can take advantage of all that Park City has to offer," McIntyre. "We made it more of a fun event."
McIntyre says that while the Utah and Northwest amateur youth diving programs are not quite as expansive as those in warm weather states like California, Florida and Texas, they still seem to hold their own competitively, and consistently turn out college recruits. According to McIntyre, in warm-weather states, they have facilities with multiple diving boards and other amenities to help their programs and most of the top recruits come from these programs. Currently, there are only about 100 youth competing in diving in Utah, compared to about 4,000 in the state of Florida.
Utah programs continue to grow, though. Right now, McIntyre estimates that the high school diving program will continue to grow statewide, and soon make state championship qualification difficult.
"It’s a compliment to people in our sport trying to make it grow," McIntyre said.
"I think that’s a compliment to our coaching and hard work in our program. I’m seeing programs growing." Ecker Hill will host a high school meet in January as well as the 4A and 5A State Championships in late January.
The Holiday Invitational will offer an opportunity for local kids to observe what SLAP is doing and hopefully bring more children into the program.
McIntyre will not set a final schedule until all of the participating teams have confirmed and then release a list of events early nest week. For more information on the Invitational schedule or to learn more about SLAP, call McIntyre at (801) 703-4298 or (801) 474-1188.
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Park City at the start of 2021 is preparing for the return of numerous special events, something that could help reignite Park City’s tourism-heavy economy and re-create some of the energy that was lacking in 2020.