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After Jacob Hedberg earned his fourth straight Illinois state diving medal with a career-high fifth-place finish as a senior in 2018, Garry Cacciapaglia, Belvidere Co-op’s diving coach, went out to dinner with Hedberg’s parents. They wanted to talk to him.
“Wait! Are you moving?” Cacciagaglia asked.
The answer was yes, to the Indianapolis suburbs so Jacob’s younger brother could get more specialized coaching.
“I was heartbroken,” Cacciapaglia said. “I couldn’t wait for Josh to come to Belvidere. But I wasn’t upset at all. Our area — not even Chicago — could provided what he needed.”
Rockford has produced 15 state springboard diving champions, including three-time boys champ Tom Wright of Guilford (1989-91) and three-time girls champ Carrie Zarse of Auburn (1988, 1990-91), as well as Ron Merriott, who won NCAA titles at Michigan in 1982 and 1984 and an Olympic bronze medal in 1984 on the 3-meter springboard.
Josh Hedberg, who was born in Rockford and grew up in Belvidere, could become the best of all of them.
“The potential is absolutely there,” Cacciapaglia said. “And the drive is absolutely there. And he is absolutely in the best place to be.”
Josh Hedberg finished fourth this summer at the Olympic Trials and in December became the youngest U.S. male diver to ever qualify for the World Championships. He was only 14 at the time of both events, but he will be 15 years and 4 months old when he dives at the World Championships in Fukuoka, Japan, in May. That is three months younger than Thomas Finchum was when he competed for the U.S. at the 2005 World Championships in Montreal.
Fourteen of the 17 members of the U.S. National team have ties to Indiana. Being near Indianapolis — the Hedbergs live in the suburb of Noblesville and Jacob graduated from Indiana University in Bloomington and is now preparing to start medical school there — is even more important for Josh, whose best event is 10-meter platform diving, far different from the 3-meter springboard competition in Illinois high schools. When the Hedbergs lived in Belvidere, Josh’s grandfather would drive him to the Milwaukee area, which had the nearest platform diving facility.
“Every few months we would go to Wisconsin to go on the platform,” Josh Hedberg said. “I would try out the 5-meter platform. I fell in love with it. I absolutely love platform diving.”
“Whenever those practices were offered, Josh would be so excited and thinking about which dive he was going to do and which dive he wanted to learn,” his mom, Alina Hedberg, said. “We saw how much he absolutely loved it and wanted for him to continue.
“Before we moved, we researched to make sure we would give him the best opportunity to grow. This was a strategic move. We checked out the area, checked out the coach and visited a couple of times before we committed. They have an international school of diving here. We knew this would give him the tools to grow and succeed.”
Josh made a big splash at the Olympic Trials. He fell two spots short of making the team, but even though he was 10 years younger than some of the competitors he posted the only perfect 10 at the Trials on one of his dives.
“That was very exciting for me, a very special moment,” Josh said. “I have done it many times like that in practice and was very excited to do that one in the meet.”
Hedberg, who takes his high school classes online to allow him more flexibility to pursue his diving, has competed in international events in Chile, Columbia and Arizona.
“When I went to Arizona for the Pan American Championships last October, Ron Merriott came to my 1-meter to cheer me on. That was cool,” Josh said.
“Ron is a fantastic guy,” Alina Hedberg said. “We so enjoyed meeting him. It was like a little mini Rockford reunion.”
Josh said his best dives are an inward 3 ½ tuck — facing backward and spinning forward 3 ½ times — and a reverse 3 ½, where he starts out facing forward and then spins backward 3 ½ times. He said he was never nervous at the Olympic Trials. “I wasn’t intimidated. I knew I could be up near the top,” he said.
He remains just as confident and excited about the upcoming World Championships.
“I am going to give it my all at that competition,” Josh said, “but I am not going to treat it any different than any of the other competitions.”
Rockford's diving champs
Ron Merriott (Guilford), 1984 Olympic bronze medalist, 1982, 1984 NCAA 3-meter springboard champion
1972, Chip Geiger, Guilford
1978, Rob Bolinger, Guilford
1983, Kent Griswold, Guilford
1985, Matt White, Guilford
1989, Tom Wright, Guilford
1990, Tom Wright, Guilford
1991, Tom Wright, Guilford
2008, Philip Devine, Byron
2016, Payton Staman, Hononegah
Girls state high school champions
1984, Marcy Longnecker, Guilford
1988, Carrie Zarse, Auburn
1990, Carrie Zarse, Auburn
1991, Carrie Zarse, Auburn
1993, Kenzie Zeller, Guilford
This article originally appeared on Rockford Register Star: Josh Hedberg could become greatest of all divers to come from Rockford