Chris Reese was 6 years old when he first stepped on a diving board at West Howard Swim Club in Mt. Airy.
“I was half excited and half nervous,” he recalls. “It was the first time and I was like ‘yes, let’s do this,’ but then I was like, ‘no let’s not.’ I did a front-dive tuck and a back somersault.”
He doesn’t remember how well the two dives went, but he knows he won the event and earned a medal.
“I did place first, but I’m pretty sure I was the only one in that category,” he said.
“I saw him and I was kind of surprised,” said Eric Reese, Chris’ father, of the first time he saw Chris compete.
“He’s sort of a bizzaro. I don’t know if that’s the right word, but he was just made to do this. That’s probably what I would equate it to. He was made to be pretty on a diving board.”
Now a 16-year-old getting set to begin his junior year at Glenelg High School, Reese is one of the most accomplished springboard divers in the Central Maryland Dive League. In his 11 years of competition, he has won eight league titles to go with two second-place finishes and a third.
“Chris is truly a phenomenal diver,” said West Howard Swim Club diving coach Kasey Wootton, who has been involved with CMDL since 1986. “I’ve only coached him two years and I think a lot of it is self-taught and is him being so talented and so athletic, which sets him apart. I think there’s only a certain few that can give him a run for his money.”
At the league championships on July 24, Reese once again won in dominating fashion. He captured his second 15-18 boys title with a score of 261.10, 34.7 points more than the second-place finisher.
“It’s great,” Reese said of winning his eighth championship. “I put in a lot of time and effort. I’m in it to win it. I want to win and get first place. I’m one who doesn’t like to lose, and if I do lose I tend to get pretty upset.”
In addition to the numerous championships, Reese holds two league records in the 13-14 and 15-18 age categories. He set his most recent record in the first meet of the year on June 30 with a score of 323.45, which broke a record set by Justin Eakins in 2005. Eakins went on to earn a diving scholarship to Eastern Carolina University.
“I was really on my game. I hit all my dives and what I like to do is I memorize what the scores are and I like to calculate them because I know the score of difficulty of each dive,” Reese said. “So I add them up and figure out what I need to get a certain score. My goal coming into the year was to score at least 300 points and in that meet I got that and also broke the record.”
“He was playing baseball since January, so I think he was ready for something different. So once dive season started, he was pumped to get back on the board. We didn’t think he really had a chance to break that record,” said Eric Reese. “I don’t even think he had broken 300 before. So we didn’t have any idea that was going to happen. I’ve never seen him dive like that before. He hit everything.”
Reese admits that he has been a natural from the start. After winning his first meet when he was 6, he moved up to the 8-and-under category because he was able to do the three required dives in the age group. He qualified for every meet the rest of the regular season, and at the CMDL championships he says he “crushed everyone.”
“That’s the first time I knew I was going to be a good diver.”
With his son getting more involved over time, so did Eric Reese. Eventually, it turned into a family affair each summer.
“I got involved with the team first and became the team rep for a while, and then we were hurting for coaches about five years ago, so I decided to get certified to be a coach,” Eric Reese said. “His twin sister joined the team around then too. We pretty much lived at the pool. That was our vacation for the year: joining the pool.”
As he got older, Chris Reese started spending more and more time on the springboard and learning more complicated dives. But Eric Reese recalls when Chris was 10 years old, he had an opportunity to break the 10-11 age group record but fell two points short because he was afraid of “smacking,” which is when you land on your back or stomach. Instead, he went for an easier dive.
“You’re going to have a missed dive, and when you smack, it hurts. He didn’t care a whole lot for that, so if he wasn’t confident he was able to keep progressing without smacking he wouldn’t do it,” Eric Reese said.
Eventually, though, Reese gained more confidence and advanced his technique. Currently, Reese’s six dives are: a reverse dive straight, a reverse one-and-a-half straight, a front double-half twist, a back one-and-a-half pike, a back one-and-a-half somersault with a half twist and a one-and-a-half somersault.
“My favorite part about it is doing the actual dive,” he said. “You feel free and you feel like nothing can hold you back, like no strings attached. You’re chained up and as soon as you leave that board the chains break and you just soar.”
Reese says he wants to play baseball and dive in college, though he admits it would be a difficult task. Coaches can start communicating with juniors in high school on Sept. 1, and Reese hopes to get more knowledge about schools then.
For now, though, he has his sights set on improving his records and winning a few more titles.
“My goals now are to improve my record that I hold right now in 15-18 because I still have two years to do it,” he said. “And I want to win two more titles to be able to have 10. That’s a good number.”