Maggie James paused on the way to her gymnastics practice and watched the college divers take the plunge.
Years later, James has made her own path into the pool.
The Ames sophomore won a state 1-meter diving championship last year. She first was drawn to the board when her youth gymnastics practices were held in Iowa State’s Beyer Hall — the same building that offered a window overlooking diving drills.
“I remember watching them dive off the platform and springboard,” James said. “I really wanted to try it out, because that was the same thing we’d do in gymnastics.”
She won the state title with a score of 447.80. She has a chance to join two other girls as winners of four championships: Mary Fischbach of Fort Dodge (1979-82) and Peggy Anderson of Dubuque Wahlert (1970-72, including fall and spring 1971 meets).
James’ first dive as a 10-year-old lacked the grace and precision she has now.
“I smacked my legs and my arms against the water,” James said. “It was a little shaky, but I got better.”
James was urged to join the high school team by another twist of fate. Amy Pyle, her former gymnastics coach, was changing sports, too. They ran into each other at a local Target store.
“I said, ‘Oh, I might be coaching diving next year. You should go out for it,'” Pyle said.
Pyle, who also coached Iowa State’s gymnastics team until 2000, said the big difference is going head-first toward the water instead of landing on your feet in gymnastics.
“Once you’re in the air, it’s the same thing,” Pyle said.
James brings an awareness of where her body is in the air as she tucks, spins and splashes.
“She’s just pretty to watch,” Pyle said. “She’s one of the best twisters in the country.”
James has worked out tough dives. There’s the reverse 1½ pike, where she draws her legs toward her face, rotates and pushes out with her hips and head. Or the back somersault with 2½ twists.
At the state meet, she edged teammate Sarah Kemp by 4.7 points.
“There definitely was a lot of pressure,” James said. “Most of the pressure I put on myself. I wanted to compete, and I wanted to help out my team a lot.”
Ames won team title, beating runner-up West Des Moines Valley by 90 points.
“She put the blinders on,” Ames swimming coach Dan Flannery said.
James said she hopes to compete in college — and perhaps in the Olympic trials someday.
For now, she’s aiming at a second state medal. She keeps her first in a case in her bedroom and may have to make an addition, if she can find room.
“Hopefully,” James said, smiling. “I think I do.”
Todd Blythe developed his skills as one of the state’s best receivers. Now, he’s teaching others to develop their own.
Blythe played for Indianola in several sports before graduating in 2003. His biggest success came in football, where he was twice named a Des Moines Sunday Register all-state receiver.
As a senior, he was an Elite team pick. He caught 61 passes for 945 yards and nine touchdowns. He had 299 receiving yards in a game against West Des Moines Dowling, a mark that ranks fourth best in state history.
He went on to play at Iowa State. Blythe caught 176 passes for 3,096 yards and 31 touchdowns, all school career records. He continued his playing career with the Iowa Barnstormers.
Blythe switched from the field to the sidelines, coaching for two seasons at Simpson. He’s now in his first year at Northern Iowa.
HANG TIME: Saydel punter Jacob Sherman booted a 78-yarder last week against Ballard of Huxley. That boot him for a tie for the 13th longest punt in state history, according to Iowa High School Athletic Association records. The all-time best of 86 yards was set by Kelly Goodburn of Eastwood of Correctionville in 1978 against Manilla in a playoff game.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON … Curtis Boothe has been a successful girls’ basketball coach at Central Decatur of Leon for years. His son, Carter Boothe, has an apparent gift for the game, too. Carter tied for the 11-year-old title in the Knights of Columbus International Free-Throw Championship. Carter tied three other boys with a 25-of-25 shooting performance.
VOLLEYBALL RANKINGS: The state’s No. 1 teams, according to the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union: Class 5-A Iowa City High, 4-A Sioux City Heelan, 3-A Mediapolis, 2-A Dike-New Hartford and 1-A Grundy Center.