Zac Matteson has a classic sports moment.

Spring Lake senior Zac Matteson recently broke a 29 year old record in what his father, Chris, aptly described as “a classic sports moment”. Zac broke the diving record score for the Lakers on his last dive at the conference meet. He was running the numbers through his head and knew that he would have to nail the dive, a two and half flip, in order to beat the 11 dive score of 432.3 that was set in 1980. As he hit the water, Zac felt good about his effort. When he could hear the cheers of the crowd while he was still underwater, Matteson knew he met his goal and the scoreboard showed his total points at 433.

For Laker diving coach Tom Knight watching Zac set the record by less than one point was bittersweet. Sweet because he had been coaching Matteson for four years, but his mixed emotions came from the fact that he had been the record holder. When we spoke with Knight, he was very proud of Zac and the marked improvements in his diving over his high school career. But he was also impressed, as we were, by the perseverance Zac demonstrated on his way to setting the record. It seems that Matteson was ineligible for most of the season due to tobacco use.

This column is reserved for high school athletes who “are doing it right” and our subjects are not normally kids who have broken the rules, but the more we dug into the back story the more confident we were that Zac Matteson was indeed worthy of recognition. He accepted his punishment which meant he missed every meet but two during the whole season and he was required to do 30 hours of community service and attend classes on tobacco use. Matteson also attended every practice session and was there to cheer on his teammates at every competition.
An important part of the story is the love and support from Zac’s family. He had a strong foundation made up of his parents, step-parents, and grandparents.

“We can’t be more proud. I am proud that he stuck with it,” Chris Matteson said. “He didn’t give up even though there were times he wanted to. It is only when you push through that you say, ‘I’m glad I stuck that out.’”

The road to the school record started in Grandma Swartz’s back yard pool for Matteson. He used the pool and diving board regularly until he went out for the team as a freshman. His efforts paid off in a steady improvement. The first year he scored over 200 points in a six dive meet on one or two occasions. By his sophomore and junior years he was scoring in the 230’s. His score rose to 262 in dual meets as a senior. There is not much about diving Zac doesn’t like except when he gets cold sitting poolside waiting to dive. One of the things Zac likes the most about diving is that it is an individual effort.

“If you make mistakes, then it is on you,” Zac said in reference to diving.

That attitude is precisely what he needed to deal with the challenges of his final season. He took the punishment his mistake brought upon him, continued to practice and came out a winner.
When the crowd erupted at his final dive, it was not the first case of spontaneous clapping in the meet. As we mentioned, the conference meet allows 11 dives. For his eighth dive, Matteson nailed a triple flip – an extremely tough dive. Once they computed and entered their scores, the judges broke into applause for Zac.

“It was just unreal,” recalled coach Knight. “I have never seen that happen before. It was the coolest thing.”

A tip of the hat is in order to the Athletic Department at Spring Lake. Athletic Director Cavin Mohrhardt didn’t turn a blind eye to Zac because he was a great diver. Instead he meted out a punishment and those conditions were met. Sure it would have been better if tobacco use had never entered the picture, but once it did things were handled in an upright manner by all parties involved.

Zac is happy to have finished first in the conference and to have broken his school record. He and his family are gearing up for Regionals and hopefully State competition. Matteson’s long range plans include college to become a gym teacher and a diving coach. Maybe then he will help others to realize classic sports moments of their own.
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