The Monroe School District Board of Directors heard testimony last week from parents requesting it explore options to better support Monroe High School students interested in diving. 

Currently, it is challenging for the Monroe High School girls and boys swim teams to excel in competition because swim and dive are considered one sport. Schools in the WESCO North Conference, which encompasses 11 different high schools in Snohomish, Skagit and Island counties, compete in both swim and dive during meets. By not having divers, Monroe High School has typically been issued an immediate deduction in points, since swim and dive points are combined to produce a school’s final score.

That changed this year with 16-year-old junior Payton Leidholm, who excelled in diving even as a newcomer to the sport. And other kids are becoming interested in it as well, said parent Kerry Boone during the Nov. 28 regular school board meeting at the Monroe School District administrative building.

There are both male and female students interested in competitive diving, Boone said, but since there really isn’t a formal diving program, it is challenging to assess how many kids might want to participate. She encouraged the school board to explore opportunities for a cooperative partnership, possibly with the Snohomish School District, adding it’s crucial the Monroe district bring something to the table.

She said she’s been informed that funding issues are a roadblock in terms of acquiring an assistant swim coach that could work with Monroe students on diving. And it’s not a matter of certifying Monroe’s swim coach to also coach diving, as the two sports are distinctly different and require separate types of expertise.

Boone said a partnership that uses coaching staff from a neighboring district could be a viable solution. 

“We have a great swim coach,” Boone said. “She’s fantastic, but like most swim coaches, she does swim, not dive, and that’s a very different and very dangerous, separate sport.”

Boone said she loved the inclusivity that the high school demonstrated during homecoming, which sought to recognize all clubs and sports rather than just football as is tradition at many schools. She would love to see that mindset carry over into supporting an enhanced diving program, because the interest is there, she said.

“It’s been really difficult to get any attention for divers,” Boone said. “And there are kids that are really passionate and talented and have a great desire to participate.”

Boone’s 14-year-old son, Benson, is one of those kids. The freshman is brimming with excitement about diving, having recently been introduced to the sport.

“High school is awesome. I’ve had great opportunities to participate in awesome activities and sports,” Benson said. “I recently tried out dive, and I really like it a lot more than any other sport I’ve ever played, and I’ve played a lot of sports, so that’s saying a lot.”

Benson and Payton take dive lessons twice a week at the Snohomish Aquatic Center. The classes are taught by Snohomish School District dive coach Marc Hughes, who coaches students at both Snohomish High School and Glacier Peak. With boys swim and dive season underway, Benson spends as much time on the board as he can, but with lessons available only twice a week, he receives far less coaching than students from schools where there are structured diving programs. 

Shannon Leidholm also addressed the school board, offering background about her daughter. Payton took up diving over the summer, she said, just a couple months before the start of the girls swim and dive season, which begins in late August. Payton is a former gymnast, but had to retire from the sport due to a broken back. It took her about a year to recover from the injury, Leidholm said, and during that time she missed the camaraderie of being on a team so much that depression set in.

“I knew I had to get her into something, and I had some friends who kept telling me to get her into dive,” she said. “She decided to try it.”

She took to it naturally, Leidholm said. Payton excelled so rapidly that she made it all to way to this year’s Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) State Championships held at the King County Aquatic Center on Friday, Nov. 11. This was despite the fact that Payton had far less practice time than the divers she was competing against, her mother said. 

Another huge drawback to Monroe not having a structured diving program, she said, is that students receive far less time on the board then other divers. Two lessons a week are not sufficient, she said.

“That’s 80 percent less dive time than the other divers she competes against,” Leidholm said.

When Payton found out she would have the opportunity to compete at state, it was Hughes who opened his doors for her. The dive coach received permission from the Snohomish School District for Payton to practice with the girls on his team.

Now in the off-season, Payton plans to practice as much as possible in preparation for next year.

“She’s passionate about it, she has a real opportunity for a scholarship, and there are many other kids like her,” Leidholm said.

She encouraged the school board to looks at options to help support the program. 

“The community of dive coaches is amazing. I think that’s been the most amazing part about it, is that they’ve really wrapped themselves around my daughter and encouraged her,” she said. “I think if we reach out, the opportunity is there.” 

Swim coach Haley Graham attended diving practice at the aquatic center last week. Benson and Payton both enjoyed instruction by Hughes, spending as much time on the board as possible. Graham is hopeful the district will be able to come up with a way to accommodate students interested in diving. It’s been fun watching Payton excel and Benson discover the sport, she said.

“He lights up every time you talk about it, and as a coach, you want that for your athletes. You want them to light up and be excited,” Graham said. “Also, I want to grow the program.”