Kenyon Dives Headfirst Back into Diving After a Decade of Inconsistencies
Published: Thursday, February 10, 2011
Updated: Thursday, November 15, 2012 00:11
Too often the diving team is overlooked as a mere add-on to the iconic Kenyon swimming team's title: Kenyon Swimming & Diving Team. The team is so overlooked, in fact, that the program has not had a consistent coach in recent years, and as a result, not enough of a consistent influx of recruits to build a successful program.
Beginning in the 1930s, the Kenyon College archives document Kenyon diving as the same entity as Kenyon swimming. The swimming coach in those days, Chuck Imel, was a Jack-of-all-trades — in addition to coaching swimming, he coached diving and basketball and served as the College's publicity director. Imel did his part to start the ball rolling on the success of the program but faced major setbacks as many of his star athletes were drafted, including two of his ace divers, Dick Brouse and Howard Davis. These two showcased "the best bit of diving ever shown here by a college diver" at an Ohio Wesleyan University dual meet, despite the dangerously low ceilings of the OWU pool at the time (Columbus Dispatch, Jan. 25, 1937). The divers left to carry Davis' torch for the remainder of the '30s were Ned Brouse, Johnny Long and Dick Olin.
As the swimming program began to seize multiple consecutive Ohio State Conference championships, some real diving legends were increasingly drawn to Kenyon during the 1960s. As current Head Men's Swim Coach Jim Steen said, "Kenyon established a good tradition of diving in the late '60s with Greg Offenburger." Offenburger, a young diver who shocked the squad on in his collegiate diving career with his early ability to be a "definite contender for the diving championship" as just a sophomore, proved to be one of the Kenyon greats throughout his career, a "pleasant surprise" to head coach at the time Dick Russell.
In the 1970s, in the midst of the influx of women enrolling, Kenyon became the first school in Ohio Conference history with women participating in a previously all-male sport. Tamis Kaplan, both a diver and a breaststroker, and Linda Peacock were the first women athletes to benefit from the recent Ohio Conference ruling allowing women to compete in all non-contact sports. Said Kaplan, "All the guys have been really great about it … they haven't shown any resentment towards us" (Kenyon College Sports newsletter, Jan. 16, 1975). These were the lowly beginnings of the women's swimming and diving program at Kenyon — these Ladies were forced to change in the coaches' locker rooms and compete against the boys, some of whom they actually defeated. Said Richard Sloan, head coach at the time: "The women have been very well accepted and are supported 100 percent, even by our male diver who has been beaten by one of them. What's more, we feel they will be consistent point winners in most of our meets."
Kaplan and Peacock continued to compete for the men's diving team, along with Ellen Mooer, even with the establishment of a women's club swim team that had its own divers. Self-described as "women's-libbers attempting to break the sex barrier" (Kenyon Collegian, Jan. 23, 1975), these women practiced and competed with the single male diver, Jake Layton, and carried the team with consistent performances. The "Swimmin' Women" soon achieved varsity status in 1975, establishing themselves with a bang as putting forth "the finest team effort I have witnessed in my 12 years' involvement with swimming," said first-year head coach Steen (Kenyon Collegian, Nov. 20, 1975).
It wasn't until the mid-1980s that the diving program really came into its own. "The diving team of the mid '80s up to the late '90s was better than any team in that time," Steen said. The reason? The hiring of the "best diving coach of all time," according to Steen — Fletcher Gilders. Gilders, an NCAA Division I record-setting national champion for Ohio State University, was one of the most successful divers in collegiate history. He was so successful as a diver that his national record, set while at OSU, was not overturned until Greg Louganis came along. After a very successful and decorated career as the swimming and diving coach at Ohio University (developing three Olympic divers and winning eight Mid-American conference titles), he came to Gambier to coach the diving squad in 1985. During his 12 years coaching at Kenyon, Gilders produced three Division III champions and won three NCAA Division III Coach of the Year honors. Now deceased, he is remembered much fondness and respect.
The diving team took a turn for the worse after Gilders' retirement. Without such a dedicated, consistent and "high-caliber, absolutely adored" coach as Gilders, according to Steen, the program had since fallen into somewhat of a rut for the latter part of the '90s and into the 2000s.
"When I arrived this fall, there were two girls [Cambria Foden '13 and Perrie Grace '13] and one guy [Andrew Dunn '13] who had participated on a limited basis last year with [Professor of Humanities Tim] Shutt as the coach," said current Head Diving Coach Andy Scott. "[Foden] had a gymnastics background and some previous experience in high school with diving and wanted to see it offered here at Kenyon, so she really got the ball rolling after a hiatus of several years. There have been some very successful moments in Kenyon's diving past with national champions in the '90s and early 2000s, but it has been almost a decade since they have had a consistent coach to lead the program."
This lack of consistent leadership has hopefully been put to a halt by the resurgence of the diving program under the leadership of Scott, who was hired to head Kenyon diving in August of 2010. A grad of Ouachita Baptist University, he gained experience from five years of coaching at Springfield College and Duke University, where he doubled the size of the program. His most recent coaching job was establishing the diving program at the Division II University of the Incarnate World, where he coached a total of three All-Americans and four NCAA national qualifiers. When he got a call to coach for the College, Scott said he had to seize the opportunity.