IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Sean O’Toole, a football player while growing up in Cincinnati and attending Miami (Ohio) University, is the father of Loyola Academy senior and three-time state diving qualifier Alex O’Toole.
Sean O’Toole came up with a rather unique word for a bad dive.
“My dad calls it a ‘bellywhopper,’ “ Alex O’Toole says.
The son executed a combined 11 dives in two days at the state swimming and diving meet at Evanston Township High School on Feb 23-24, with none of them coming close to bellywhopper status.
But Alex O’Toole used his belly — the fire in it, specifically — to nail the final dive of his prep career, an inward double-somersault tuck with a high degree of difficulty (2.8). The Rambler, a first-time state finalist, earned 47.6 points on the plunge to finish with an eighth-place total of 442.65.
The third-place finisher at the previous weekend’s Niles North Sectional with a sturdy 491.75-point effort, O’Toole had entered the state finals session in 10th place (320) after eight dives in the prelims on Feb. 23.
“Alex showed some killer instinct on that final dive, a risky dive,” LA diving coach Tony D’Amico says. “What a great way to cap a career. That’s a dive, a moment, I’ll remember for years when I think of Alex, a wonderful kid to coach, a kid with great athleticism, strength and grace.
“All season,” he adds, “that dive hadn’t been one of his stronger ones. But he was incredibly relaxed for someone who hadn’t competed [in the state finals] and incredibly determined to not mess up his final dive in high school. Super solid … Alex was super solid all season.”
D’Amico, O’Toole explains, considered that 11th and final dive a “meet dive,” meaning O’Toole didn’t practice it as often as he did the other 10 dives on his list.
“It’s always about the takeoff on that dive,” says O’Toole, 17th at state as a junior and 21st in his first state-meet appearance two years ago. “If the takeoff is good, I’m good and feeling good about it. I made sure to throw it aggressively and spin fast. As I got ready to do it, I took it all in, the atmosphere, and I thought about everybody watching me — my family, my teammates and coaches, my friends.”
O’Toole’s mother, LeeAnn, signed a young Alex up for diving lessons after a discussion about the sport with the mother of a gymnast. The gymnast was friends with Leilani, a gymnast and Alex’s sister.
“I knew I loved it because every time I got out of the pool after a dive, I couldn’t stop smiling,” recalls O’Toole, who, as a Windy City Diving club member shortly after his 16th birthday, qualified for USA Diving Nationals (3-meter, 16-18 age group) two years ago. The boy went up against mostly young men in the battle of the boards and advanced from a zone meet with a ninth-place showing.
O’Toole took a break from diving in his freshman year, opting to play club volleyball (as a libero) and volleyball for the LA’s freshman ‘A’ team (as a setter).
“I returned to diving my sophomore year with more maturity,” says the resident of Edgebrook, a neighborhood on Chicago’s Northwest Side. “I had a better idea of what I had to do in practice to become the diver I wanted to be.”
For O’Toole, an athlete with impressive air awareness, diving at the next level is, well, up in the air at this point. It will depend on the school he chooses to attend.
“I hope he dives in college,” D’Amico says. “Alex could dive for a Division I college, no problem. He’d be an outstanding D-II or D-III diver if he ended up at either of those levels. He’s got the strength, the finesse and the work ethic to continue in the sport. His work ethic was outstanding in his years with us; I never had to ask him to do more to prepare for a meet.”
O’Toole’s other passion outside the classroom is music. The four-year member of the school’s band and marching band is a percussionist; he plays the tenor drum for the marching crew.
“Music,” he says, “will always be a big part of my life.”
O’Toole lost a major figure in his life in 2013. His mother passed away then.
“My mom was the bright light of my day,” O’Toole says. “Funny; she was so funny.”
LeeAnn O’Toole’s reaction, to hearing her husband refer to a blown dive as a bellywhopper?
Alex O’Toole has no doubt what it would have been.
“My mom would have laughed every time he said it,” the son says.