Tempe middle school teacher makes good on Olympic-sized promise to diver

  • Slug: Sports-Olympic diver, 579 words
  • Video planned

Cronkite News

TEMPE –  When diver Sam Dorman was in the eighth grade at the now-closed McKemy Middle School, Matt Tully made him a promise.

“If you make the Olympic team, I’ll be there,” Tully, Dorman’s physical education teacher at McKemy, told him.

It seemed unlikely at the time. Dorman was using crutches to get around because of a shattered foot.

“I’m like, all right, that’s a long ways away, but all right,” Dorman said. “I kind of brushed it off.”  

Fast-forward to August 2016, a 24-year-old Dorman stood on the deck at the Maria Lenk Aquatic Center in Rio De Janeiro for the Olympic Games. It was the finals for the 3-meter springboard synchronized event.

He found Tully in the stands, sitting with his parents in the front row.  

“Most people say they’re going to go, but they don’t go,” Dorman said. “He followed through with everything, which is really cool. He was my favorite P.E. teacher, so to have him there was awesome.”

Tully witnessed Dorman and his diving partner Michael Hixon make the podium, winning silver medals. It is the best American finish in the 3-meter event at an Olympics, and only the second medal in the event.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Tully said. “I knew he had a really good chance. There were only eight teams. He almost had a 50-percent chance of medaling, and they just hit every single dive. All those divers were so phenomenal that they had to hit every single dive to medal. I’ve never seen his dad so excited in my life.”

The dedication to diving was always a part of the fabric of Dorman’s life. It’s how Tully’s  Olympic promise to him was born.

“Back in middle school, he just worked so hard at his diving,” said Tully, who now teaches at Connolly Middle School. “I actually tried to get him to come out for our sport teams that we have on campus, but he didn’t have time because he was always diving.

“His goal was to make it to the Olympics, so I promised him if I he made it to that goal, I’d definitely be there.”

The night Dorman punched his ticket to Rio at the U.S Olympic Trials in Indianapolis, Tully jumped online to book a flight. Being a month out from the opening ceremony, the time crunch posed as a challenge.

Lucky for Tully, he was able to find a place to stay with a work friend in Rio.

“I’ve always wanted to go to the Olympics and compete when I was a kid,” Tully said. “Then I always wanted to go watch it at some point, but I never thought I’d actually realize that.”

Although the promise was made roughly a decade earlier, the relationship between Tully and his former student endured. His ties from coaching alongside Sam’s father Paul in the Tempe Elementary School District helped him to keep tabs on Dorman.

“Sam always would text me and let me know when his big dive meets were so that I could follow it online whenever I could,” Tully said.

Standing in Connelly’s gymnasium, he wears a Rio 2016 t-shirt featuring Dorman mid-dive, a documentation of both teacher and student’s first Olympic experience.

“What makes him different is the self-motivation that he had,” Tully said. “His family is not the kind of family that would push. He just had it within him to make it to the Olympics and just push himself.”