By Jill Ragar Esfeld
ROELAND PARK — “I just had my mind set to winning,” said Bishop Miege senior Jacob Stockton. “It was my destiny.”
Even though he trailed by 15 points heading into the 5A state 1-meter diving finals, Jacob kept his cool and his confidence.
And it paid off.
He won the gold with an inward double somersault, one of the highest- difficulty dives of the meet.
“For four years,” said Bishop Miege swimming coach Dennis Mueller, “Jacob has been on a mission to win the state championship in diving.
“And he finally accomplished that feat this year.”
Jacob is the first male diver to win state for Bishop Miege.
That’s an accomplishment in itself. But it’s made even more impressive when you consider the fact that Jacob is Bishop Miege’s only male diver.
And the school doesn’t have a dive coach.
Jacob has been on his own, working his way to the gold, since his freshman year.
Jacob’s family moved here from California when he was 10 and settled in St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park.
“We asked what people do here during the summer,” said his mother Teresa. “We always went to the beach.”
That’s when Jacob began diving in a local summer league. He was hooked from the start.
The activity spoke to his fearless nature. He went on to play other sports and succeeded at anything daring.
But nothing challenged his desire to excel like diving.
“I loved going off the diving board,” he said. “And eventually I said, ‘I’m so tired of doing a front flip and a back flip and a jump, I want to do more.’”
And he did more — gravitating toward dives that required the most skill.
That improved Jacob’s standings because diving scores are multiplied by the degree of difficulty.
“Jacob’s dives are usually higher difficulty than other kids,” explained his mother. “So even if he doesn’t do perfect, it averages out to be a higher score.”
When Jacob made the move from St. Agnes to Bishop Miege High School, his parents approached Mueller about Jacob diving for the swim team.
On his own
Mueller welcomed the diver, but admitted he would be on his own for coaching.
“I’ve been judging diving for 20 years,” he said. “I judged at the state meet and I could tell him what he did wrong.
“But I couldn’t tell him how to correct it or execute it.”
Jacob attended daily practice with the swim team at the Roeland Park Aquatic Center but went off on his own to dive.
“I’d practice for about an hour and a half every day,” he said. “I just kind of remembered everything by heart; mostly just practiced fundamentals.”
“He’s had a coach off and on where we’ve paid someone,” said his mom. “But he hasn’t had anybody at all in a year.”
He never had a coach with him at practices or diving meets.
“I really didn’t feel bad about that at all,” he said. “I was just like, ‘I can do it. I don’t even care, coach or not, I can do it.’”
And he did do it, qualifying for state every year — and coming in second both sophomore and junior years.
“And I’m like, senior year, I must get the gold,” he said. “And I worked hard.”
Faith and discipline
Part of Jacob’s hard work involved training himself to worry about only himself.
“Over the years,” said Mueller, “the number one thing that I’ve always told him is don’t worry about anybody but yourself, and things will fall into place.”
When Jacob is on his own at a diving meet, you can find him sitting alone against a wall, eyes closed. He says he’s always thinking through his next dive.
He doesn’t watch his competitors.
“I just close my eyes and then when I hear the splash, I open them and wait for the scores,” he said. “I clap for them, no matter how they did.”
And he doesn’t let his own scores get to him.
“I never get mad about it,” he said. “Getting mad will just make you do worse. Whatever the scores are — that’s what it is.
“I’m just taking it one dive at a time — getting out of the water and worrying about my next dive.”
And his faith plays a big part in that process.
“I just always know the Lord is with me,” he said. “I pray every night and say, ‘Get me through it. Help me do my best.’
“And no matter how I do, I always fold my hands, shut my eyes and say, ‘Thank you, Lord.’
“I thank the Lord for everything.”
Help from above
Jacob may have another secret weapon — an angel watching over him.
“We lost a son, Jacob’s older brother,” said Teresa. “Spencer was our oldest and he was only 5. He had a brain tumor.
“It was hard. It’s been tough on Jacob, too.”
Though he has two younger sisters, Jacob misses his older brother and has confided in his mother that sometimes when he’s diving, he feels that Spencer is with him.
“He has said at meets, ‘Mom, I think he’s watching over me,’” she said.
“I do sometimes just feel like he’s with me when I do great,” said Jacob.
Especially in February, the month in which Spencer died. February is also the month of the state diving championship.
So perhaps it was no coincidence that a little miracle happened at the end of the diving season.
“We got lucky,” said Mueller. “A friend of mine came on board the last few weeks and helped Jacob a lot.”
Indeed, Mueller discovered his longtime neighbor, Church of Ascension, Overland Park, parishioner Kerry Menegay, had been a high school diving champ in Ohio and an All-American at the University of Michigan.
When Menegay heard about Jacob, he was eager for the chance help a young diver accomplish what he had in 1977 — win a state championship.
“I work for Hewlett Packard,” he said, “and they encourage volunteer work.
“I had really good coaching over the years — some of the best in the world — so I was like, ‘It’s time to give back.’”
A coach at last
In high school you’re allowed to have a private coach.
“So that’s how we treated it,” said Mueller. “Jacob basically hired him for free.”
When Menegay met Jacob, he was impressed.
“The fact that he got through the season with no coaching is phenomenal,” he said.
Jacob was equally impressed with his new coach.
“He helped me out a lot,” he said. “He really did teach me how to reach better, he taught me how to get better height, better entries — how to tighten up and stuff.”
But Menegay credits Jacob with being willing to work hard and make the changes necessary to improve.
“He was a great student,” he said. “There were mechanics we worked on that were completely different from coaches he’d had in the past.
“It’s hard when you’re making changes like that, especially before a major competition.
“That’s what I was so impressed with — he wanted to compete and he made the changes.”
Jacob’s hard work would pay off, but not without his determined spirit.
After the diving preliminaries on Thursday night, he was behind by a significant margin.
And on Friday morning, he called his mother from the meet in Topeka. She could tell his confidence was low.
Down to the wire
“He knew he was behind,” said Teresa. “The kids that were with him were the swim team, so they were doing their preliminaries.
“So he was up in the stands all by himself.”
But fellow Miegians came to his rescue.
“My mom texted me pictures,” said Jacob. “They were of my friends and teachers at Miege holding signs saying, ‘Go, Jacob! You’ve got this.’
“That really did pull me up.”
Jacob improved his standings on Friday, but was still down 15 points going into the finals on Saturday.
His last two dives put him over the top.
“One that was difficult for him was his second-to-last dive,” said Menegay. “That was a reverse one-and-a-half tuck.
“You’re going forward and you have to come back toward the board in the air.
“It’s very hard to do and, two weeks ago, he still had kind of a mental block around that dive, and he got through it.”
After Jacob’s final dive, the inward double somersault, he knew he’d done well, but still wasn’t sure he’d won the gold.
His mother remembers him coming up to her and asking, “Do you think I did it?”
“I said, ‘I think you’re right in there. But whatever you get, you be proud,’” said Teresa.
Then Jacob went over to shake the hand of one of his most ardent supporters, Miege principal Randy Salisbury.
“And while I was shaking his hand,” said Jacob, “one of the swimmers came up and told me, ‘Jacob, the KC Star wants to interview you.’
“But then, just for confirmation, I asked him, ‘I won?’ and he said, ‘Yes, you won!’
“And then my coach texted me and said, ‘You did it, buddy. I’m proud of you!’”
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