The Cornerstone Diving Club has been having a successful first year at West Hartford’s Cornerstone Aquatics Center.
By Tracey Weiss
The combination of one dedicated coach, a talented group of gymnasts, and a trampoline has turned into a team of divers that have stormed into regional and national tournaments in less than a year.
Members of the new Cornerstone Diving Club, based out of the Cornerstone Aquatics Center in West Hartford, have already placed at the United States Diving Regional Championships, held in May in Rochester, NY, and at the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) Eastern Nationals in Coral Springs, FL, last month.
The team, with members from West Hartford, Avon, Glastonbury, Farmington, Simsbury, Suffield, and Wethersfield, is coached by Scott Pierson. His training methods “stress the importance of correct fundamental skills and dive progressions,” he said.
“I can’t say enough good things about the divers we have on the team,” he said. “They’re breaking records after less than a year of diving.”
As a competitor, Pierson began diving at age 5 and continued year-round until age 23. During that time, he became a Fairfield County and High School State Champion in Connecticut. At the University of Miami, under Olympic Silver Medalist coach Tom Gompf, Pierson was a qualifier for Division I NCAA competition, a National AAU Finalist, and qualified for, and competed in, the U.S. Olympic Trials.
Pierson was head coach for the University of Houston where he recruited national and international divers for Division 1 NCAA competition, was voted Diving Coach of the Year in the Southwest Conference by fellow coaches, trained international divers for Olympic participation, and concurrently ran a children’s diving program, the Houston Diving Club, which had more than 80 members and was the undefeated Texas State Champion three years in a row.
Glastonbury resident Aileen Casey, whose daughter, Jade, is on the team, calls it “an Olympic-worthy training program. Scott is a really good coach.”
For divers he trains, the traits he looks for are “flexibility, fearlessness, a love of swimming, and those who are not afraid of deep water.”
“Any child who has spent time in gymnastics or dance will be prepared to train,” he said, which is why most of the team members, like West Hartford resident Ali Colburn, are former gymnasts.
“Ali Colburn has all of those traits,” Pierson said. “She also has an excellent work ethic and has extremely high coachability. She translates my words into her physical ability and she’s not afraid to try something new.”
Ali joined the club when her gymnastics friends did and since then, has placed in the last two regionals she has competed in.
“I like that my time in gymnastics has helped me to go right into diving,” Ali said. “The coach is super nice – he inspires us.
“Gymnastics isn’t always the healthiest environment,” she added. “I enjoy going (to diving) practice. It feels really good, especially to learn new skills. Everyone cheers for you. We support each other.”
“She is just a good kid all around and very coachable,” said Ali’s mom, Michelle Colburn. “She tries hard with everything she does. Gives 110%. It’s been a fun journey to watch.”
Starting a club
In 2018, while coaching the diving clubs from Avon and Farmington High Schools at Cornerstone, that Pierson got to know Mike Kerrigan, Cornerstone’s general manager.
“We talked about how Cornerstone has the potential for a world class diving program,” Pierson said. “We talked about what we would need and he went and got permission from the town.”
What they needed were 1-meter and 3-meter diving boards, which cost $35,000 to buy and install. And within six months, the money was raised, thanks to private pledges, money raised through gofundme.com, the USA Diving Foundation and the Town of West Hartford.
“We are very excited to support Cornerstone Diving and the world-class training it will afford our members and local community,” said Kerrigan in a recent press release.
Springboard diving on dry land
As the club began to gel, COVID hit and Cornerstone closed temporarily. Last summer, club members practiced at outdoor pools. They also rented a trampoline with a spotting belt and set it up in a club member’s backyard.
“We have a parent who is an epidemiologist and she helped us stay safe, too,” Pierson said.
With Cornerstone re-opened, the club is at the pool, with the new 1-meter board installed. Due to code issues, at this time the 3-meter board has not be installed.
But it won’t stop there. Future plans, according to Pierson, include raising another $35,000 to buy more diving boards and perhaps partnering with a gym to do dry land diving, which are diving boards in front of foam pits, he added.
“We’ve got a world class program here,” Pierson said.
Joining the Cornerstone Diving Club
The Cornerstone Diving Club is a year-round springboard diving training club, with different levels of training, for children ages 8 and up.
The Junior Olympic team trains advanced divers who are ready to compete in USA Diving Regionals, Zones, and National Junior Olympic Championships. This team of dedicated athletes is selected on an invitation basis.
The Pre-Junior-Olympic trains novice divers to prepare them for competition in their respective age-group. Ex-gymnasts and dancers are highly encouraged to apply.
The Beginner Team learns the key fundamentals required in springboard diving to advance to a successful competitive level.
It’s not too late to sign children up for the summer program.
A version of this story originally appeared in the July issue of West Hartford LIFE.
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