Falmouth sophomore Jillian James won the Class A state title in diving in February and believes she has a shot at breaking the state’s high school record for the event, set in 1998. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

There are a dozen state records for high school girls’ swimming and diving in Maine, and 11 of them have been established in the past seven years.

Only one remains from the previous century. In 1998, Katie Mailman of Falmouth achieved an 11-dive score of 477.90 points, a total that has yet to be surpassed.

Another diver from Falmouth, a 15-year-old sophomore named Jillian James, is well aware of Mailman’s mark. In February, James won the Class A state title with a score of 410.85 and said she “almost failed a dive” during that competition.

“I think it is attainable for me,” James said of Mailman’s record, “because I have put an abnormal amount of time into the sport. I’m working on some harder dives that will be worth more, and if I do well on them … ”

She left the rest unsaid. Of course, if James falls short of the state record this winter she still has two more years to challenge it.

A larger question is whether diving will still be there for her, or whether it might go the way of gymnastics, which is no longer sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association. The MPA Swim Committee is currently “monitoring” the status of diving as well as the state’s limited number of certified coaches.


“The few that we have are coaching kids from numerous schools,” said Mike Bisson, MPA assistant executive director. “It is a challenge right now.”

Ryan Green, the head coach at South Portland High, has seven divers (six from his school and one from Massabesic) training with him. Mike Bartley, the former Bates College head coach, takes in divers from multiple schools as a Cape Elizabeth assistant. Both James and defending Class A boys’ state champ Asher Ward of Kennebunk practice at Cape.

In last year’s Class A and B state championship meets, only five boys competed in diving and two were seniors. For girls, there were seven divers in A and eight in B. Five of those 15 were seniors.

Falmouth diver Jillian James competes during a meet at Cape Elizabeth High on Friday. In last season’s Class A and B state championship meets, only five boys competed in diving and two were seniors. For girls, there were seven divers in A and eight in B. Five of those 15 were seniors. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Green said the numbers are low but more stable than swimmers through the pandemic, which saw YMCA facilities in Freeport, Portland and northern York County dissolve their club programs and close their doors to high school teams who had been practicing there.

Sanford and Massabesic of Waterboro, two schools that regularly fielded solid teams in years past, have formed a co-op team. Windham has only a roster of 11 but only one boy. Westbrook has 13 boys and girls combined and Cheverus has 15.

“My take on this has always been consistent,” Green said. “Why take away an opportunity from anyone to participate in a high school sport? These divers may not be numerous, but they are individuals who might not have any other opportunities to connect with peers and represent their schools.”


Bartley, 78, has spent six decades in the sport and has spent a lifetime giving back to an activity that opened the world to him. Often, he said, the kids who are attracted to diving may be less comfortable with team sports.

“Many times they don’t fit in with other things,” Bartley said. “They may not fit in socially and they get into diving and it’s truly like magic, what happens to them.”

So much of diving requires discipline and focus and overcoming fear, Bartley said, and the self-confidence that follows can be transformative.

Jillian James trained as a gymnast until taking up diving just before sixth grade. “In gymnastics, I was pretty mediocre,” she says. “But with diving, I’m pretty good at it.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I’ve coached an awful lot of kids and I see this happen over and over and over again,” he said. “It just does something special for them.”

Consider James. She grew up in the world of gymnastics (her mom is a coach) with two older brothers who gravitated toward ice hockey.

Before she even reached 12, however, her body already had been through a lot. She has dealt with unexplained joint pain. She’s been to occupational therapy. She’s undergone two surgeries on her elbow and had a bone graft taken from her knee.


“I was in so much pain from gymnastics,” she said. “I kept hurting myself and my body just couldn’t take that kind of impact anymore.”

In the summer before sixth grade, James quit gymnastics and took up diving. A cousin, Nicola Mancini, introduced her to it. Mancini was a three-time state champion at Falmouth who continued her career at Bentley University.

Straight legs and pointed toes were part of the traits James carried over from the gym to the pool. She also brought a keen kinesthetic awareness while flipping or twisting in the air.

“In gymnastics, I was pretty mediocre,” she said. “But with diving, I’m pretty good at it.”

James played volleyball for Falmouth in the fall. At 5-foot-3, she played libero, a defensive specialist. She considered playing club volleyball last winter, but diving seems to have worked out well. So much so that she’s planning on continuing to dive beyond high school.

Already she has her sights set on Holy Cross. She has attended a dive camp on the Worcester, Massachusetts, campus and met the coach. Her decision to leave behind the bars and beam and vault and floor exercise was a good one.

“Diving is not as physically demanding as gymnastics, not even close,” she said. “But don’t get me wrong, it’s still not easy to do at all.”

She just makes it look that way.

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