MHS Students Coach Gators Dive with Flair

Lauren Lamson

Of the 276 athletes who participated in Middleton Gators Swim and Dive this summer, only 32 were on the dive team. Gators Dive is often caught in the shadow of swim, but it is a close-knit, record-setting group of athletes and coaches described by many kids as a “summer family.”

The coaches, Middleton High School (MHS) students Garret Ballweg and Bella Starr, Lakeside Lutheran student Kenzie Probasco and MHS graduate Alex Starr, wanted to take advantage of their team’s size — small even compared to other All City teams — to create community for their divers. That meant learning their favorite colors, playing games like spike ball during down time at meets and, most memorably, coming to each meet in costume. 

Costumes are a long-standing Gators’ tradition that the coaches brought back part way through last year as a way to bring more excitement to meets. Every dual meet and at All City, the coaches and divers dressed in themed costumes. They planned themes together, choosing things like jerseys, color-block, USA and “dress like a little kid.”

The Gators experienced success alongside their fun. June and July were filled with improvement; Hanna Jodlowski set a pool record in the 10 & Under Girls dive category. The team won two dual meets. Jodlowski won the 10 & Under Girls category at All City, which took place on July 25 and 26. 

The coaches pushed their athletes to try new things and overcome fears, but their positive energy made these challenges feel a little more comfortable. According to Taylor Samuelson, a returning diver, Gators is “a team where there is enough pressure to have fun. We encourage everything but it’s not forced.”

Dive’s reputation is a dichotomy, with some seeing it as the easier alternative to swimming and others as a sport that is just too intimidating. But in many ways, dive poses less of a barrier to entry than swim, which makes inclusivity a strong attribute.

“Dive is a great way to get kids used to water without the intimidation of strokes and endurance,”  Coach Probasco explained. 

Only about a third of the team actually competed in meets, but the Gators held an intersquad meet on July 11 to give divers a chance to compete against members of their own team with fewer required dives and less pressure. 

Most of the Gators divers are in elementary and middle school, and dive’s lack of popularity among high schoolers spills over into the MHS swim and dive season with ill effects; swim and dive function as one team at meets and depend on each other to score high. With fewer divers, that is difficult. In fact, Coach Alex Starr was once the only diver on the MHS boys’ dive team. 

Partly because of this, the Gators coaches hope to generate excitement around dive for younger participants. With the personal connections they made and the comforting environment their athletes rave about, it seems like they succeeded. Many divers said they will be returning next summer.