A few years ago, Bim and Vickie Blake of Kasilof were pondering the expense and commitment of sending their son Outside for offseason diving camps as a means to get him some training away from the high school season.
The costs of sending an athlete to a high profile diving academy proved intimidating, so the Blakes did the next best thing: They recruited several talented coaches and brought the diving academy experience to the Kenai Peninsula.
"He got interested in diving and wanted help," Bim said of his son during a break from camp last week ."He started diving in high school and we got a club started to help him year-round.
"A lot of kids were flying out of state for camp, but it's so expensive, we thought that maybe we can do something different and more economical for kids around the state."
The Blakes certainly met that goal. Their fourth annual two-week camp concluded last Friday with a U.S. Diving-sanctioned meet, and athletes from communities across the state, including Kodiak, Fairbanks and North Pole, and Anchorage, the Matanuska and Susitna valleys, Juneau, as well as the peninsula, were on hand for the event.
"This year has been the best year for us," Bim said. "Coaches coming up have seen what's happened. Kids go into their high school season, and they'll do something and it will be, 'Wow! Where'd they learn that?' Other kids want to get that kind of training, too. Word of mouth has been good (for the camp)."
Bim said that Vickie is the driving force behind the camp.
"She's the organizer," Bim said. "She's the one that whips the kids and the coaches into line."
To keep costs down, the campers, many of whom stay at the Blakes' house, are expected to pitch in and help out with everything from the daily meals to setting up equipment.
Participants agreed that the camp training was invaluable as they prepare for their high school seasons.
"This is the perfect way to get ready for high school," said Kenai's Rachel Knowles, who has been through the camp three times. She said this year was her most productive.
"I got a lot done this year. I had a lot more focus in camp. (The coaches) were really helpful. They all coach differently, and all those different opinions add up," Knowles said.
For some divers, the camp has been a great alternative to traveling Outside for training.
"I haven't (been Outside for camp) because I've been able to do this one," said Jessica Earp of Eagle River, a four-year camp participant.
The informal camp setting -- the camp doesn't even have an official name -- leads to a more personalized experience for the participants.
"It feels like people here are a lot more friendly, and you can learn a lot more when there's not as many people," said Kodiak's Greg Rose.
The camp coaches, Craig Brown from Penn State University, Pat Greenwell from the University of Alabama, Joe Greenwell from the Brandon, Fla., Diving Academy, and Clayton Moss of Moss Farms in Moultrie, Ga., also appreciated the informal setting.
"It's refreshing to do something different," Brown said. "We work with college kids all year, and to get back to roots and coach fundamentals -- rarely do you get a chance to give back."
"These kids are at a different level," Pat Greenwell said. "They have their fears, but they are all very hard workers."
U.S. Diving Summer Championship Meet
Friday at Kenai Central High School
Novice -- 9 and under: 1. Mariah Wall, 88.50. 14-15: 1. Dixie Meeks, 193.60. Junior Olympic -- 12-13: 1. Tori Coursen, 193.60. 14-15: 1. Marnita Coenraad, 278.95; 2. Lexie Wagoner, 254.25; 3. Margi Dashevesky, 243.25; 4. Maria Moses, 206.65. 16-18: 1. Katie Spohnholz, 328.80; 2. Jessica Earp, 325.25; 3. Rachel Knowles, 323.45; 4. Renee Smith, 248.55. Seniors -- 1. Morgan Hansen, 323.45.
Junior Olympic -- 12-13: 1. Ryan Borup, 296.20. 14-15: 1. David Arlington, 287.85. 16-18: 1. Casey Willis, 381.80; 2. Patrick Hoke, 351.90; 3. Chris Bancroft, 343.60; 4. Owen Barrington, 320.10; 5. Dustin Takao, 202.40.
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