Gettysburg athletic director Casey Thurston had no prospect of putting a diving program on her radar.
“It wasn’t even on my radar because we don’t have the facilities for it,” she said of the idea.
But sometimes an opportunity comes along that is too good to pass up. The Warriors can already boast a growing swimming program, but when Karli Richards Thurston asked for an investigation, it set a plan in motion.
“Karli had emailed me and I believe (Director Jeremy) Lusk CC’d there as well, asking if it’s something we’d be interested in,” Thurston said of the program’s creation. “I don’t have much experience with swimming and diving, so I reached out to our head (swim) coach Amanda Turner to find out, and she got the word out and helped with that.”
To her credit, Richards has an impeccable resume.
Both her mother and father dived in college, and she was an All-American high school diver for the Mercersburg Academy. After graduating from high school, she attended the University of Notre Dame, where she received a scholarship to join the diving team. After her time in South Bend, she received medical training at Temple University, and while she did so, she served as a dive coach at the University of Pennsylvania.
She then moved to Gettysburg with her husband Scott Stenger and their three children: Solie, Samuel and Sailor. Richards, who comes from a diving family and is a diver herself, immediately started looking for a place to teach her children how to dive. First they attended Messiah University in Mechanicsburg, but were then forced to look again as the school filled its diving pit.
That led her to Mount St. Mary’s, where she began working alongside longtime swim coach for The Mount, Neil Yost.
“I had worked with them and was talking to Neil Yost and he was talking about starting a program. So I really helped start and coach that program in the early years,” says Richards.
Richards coached the Mount St. Mary’s diving team from 2016-19. In the meantime, she also worked as a foot and ankle surgeon in her family’s Chambersburg practice, Richards Orthopedic Center, which was founded by her grandfather, Robert Richards Sr., and is currently run by her father, Robert Richards Jr.
When her daughter Solie, who is also a nationally ranked water skier, entered high school, Richards began looking into whether Gettysburg would add a diving team.
“Waterskiing is actually her main sport, but she also wanted to dive and I knew the school didn’t have a team, so I got in touch to ask about the opportunity,” said Richards. “They said we had to find a place to house the children, but they were totally behind the idea.”
According to Thurston, Richards took the lead and used her connection with Yost to help land Gettysburg practice time.
Currently, the Warriors only have three members on the team: Stenger, sophomore Matt Herkowski and junior London Mitchell. The latter two had never dived before this season.
“Amanda Turner was really active in trying to help,” Richards said of recruiting. “She was promoting diving in the school and one of the boys, London Mitchel, lives near us. Then Matt Herkowski, who learned about it through the high school announcement.
Richards says she enjoyed the first season of coaching, especially working with the new divers.
“I’m actually used to working with athletes who are new to the sport because even when I had athletes in other places, a lot of them were just trying it out,” she said. “But we have made a lot of progress this year, to the point where we are even able to participate in 11 dive meetings, which I never thought would be so soon.”
Both Richards and Thurston hope the program can continue to grow in the coming years.
“I just feel like the more opportunities we can give kids the better, especially with quality coaches like we have,” Thurston said. “Karli has done a great job and it’s great that we can continue to offer this kind of thing to our students.”
Clay Sauertieg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org