John Shearer: Signal Mountain Swimmer And Diver Win State Championships

Saturday, February 16, 2013 - by John Shearer
Shown, from left to right, coach Deborah Mynatt, Marissa Roth, Mathias Porter and coach Will Hunt.
Shown, from left to right, coach Deborah Mynatt, Marissa Roth, Mathias Porter and coach Will Hunt.

Mathias Porter’s ankles greatly aided in his state swimming championship last weekend, while Marissa Roth’s elbow was an indirect factor in her state diving championship.

The two Signal Mountain Swimming and Diving Team members also apparently used their heads and hearts plenty in becoming the only local participants other than several competitors from state champion Baylor School to win an individual or relay event at the Tennessee Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association state swimming and diving championships.

Porter won the 100-yard breaststroke with a time of 56.35 seconds at the University of Tennessee’s Allan Jones Intercollegiate Aquatic Center in Knoxville, while fellow junior Ms. Roth was the 1-meter springboard diving champion with 439.25 points over 11 dives.

Roth, the daughter of Wendy Roth Bender and Ron Roth, was actually a repeat champion in the diving. But the excitement over winning apparently is not starting to feel repetitive by any sense of the imagination.

“You don’t get to stand up there and be state champion every year,” she said. “It’s a great experience. I like it.”

As with many divers, her introduction to the sport came through gymnastics, as she began participating at the Tennessee Academy of Gymnastics at age 4.

However, about the time she was entering middle school, she had an elbow injury that kept her from participating for a while. Around the same time, she started diving in the summer league program with the Signal Mountain Green Giants.

Deborah Mynatt, a veteran diver who was coaching that summer and is also the diving coach for the Signal Mountain school club team, quickly noticed some talent.

“Marissa immediately stood out as a beginning diver,” she recalled about first seeing her in the summer of 2006. “She was athletic and coachable. There was a delight in learning to do things the diver way, melding skills learned in gymnastics to the form and techniques of diving.”

For Roth, the sport itself stood out, as it seemed fun and was not quite as time consuming as gymnastics. As a result, she began focusing strictly on diving.

These days, she also spends a lot of time training under McCallie School diving coach Phil Lesselroth at McCallie’s pool, and likes having two coaches.

“It’s nice to have two coaches because they look at different things,” she said.

Coach Mynatt is quick to point out that Ms. Roth has achieved plenty on her own.

“Marissa’s success is due to her talent as an athlete and her desire to be the best in diving,” she said. “She continues to push for the best form, and willingly does a dive ‘just one more time’ to achieve excellence.  It is a pleasure to coach someone like Marissa.”

Roth is not quite ready to pick a college where she wants to dive on scholarship. But she is definitely glad she chose diving as a sport and is greatly enjoying it.

“There’s nothing more thrilling than being scared of a dive and doing it and saying, ‘I didn’t die,’ ” she said.

For Mr. Porter, his connection to swimming dates back to his birth. His grandfather, Michael Porter, had the school record at the Naval Academy in the butterfly, but in the days when a breaststroke kick was used.

Other relatives have been successful swimmers, and Mathias seems to think it relates to having ankles ideal for that particular stroke.

“I have really flexible ankles and it really helps,” the son of John and Florence Porter said. “It’s definitely a family thing.”

However, he is apparently not flexible about missing training. Signal Mountain coach Will Hunt said he has heard from Baylor coach Dan Flack and the others with the Baylor Swim Club year-round program how serious Porter is when working under them.

“Without exception, each has mentioned how hard Mathias Porter has been working, and it is just a pleasure to see things come together for someone who obviously puts the work in,” coach Hunt said.

Porter – who would like to swim at Navy or possibly a Southeastern Conference school -- was overjoyed to see the fruit of his labor in the form of his first high school state championship.

“Going into the meet, I was very confident, but I was surprised, too,” he said. “There is very tight competition. But it felt great knowing that hard work pays off.”

Both Porter and Roth cheered each other on, even though the events they won were held on different nights. The other members of the Signal Mountain team were also excited, as was the entire Signal Mountain Middle/High School.

Swimming is somewhat different from other sports in that the Signal Mountain club team is not sanctioned or funded by the school, and most of the competitors spend the majority of their training time with year-round club programs at places like Baylor and McCallie.

However, the pride over the accomplishments by the two state champions is certainly being enjoyed plenty by the Signal Mountain school.

“We may be small, but everyone enjoys each other and the kids represent their school, community and families with grace and poise,” said coach Hunt, a volunteer coach who works as a financial advisor with Morgan Stanley. “And at the end of the day, that’s what it is all about.”

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