Michael Sprague climbs out of the pool at Georgetown Prep’s Hanley Center and rounds the corner into the locker room, emerging a few minutes later in wrestling gear, his hair still wet.
It’s a typical winter afternoon for the quiet and unassuming senior, who has balanced two sports in one season throughout his high school career — diving and wrestling — and succeeded in both.
As a sophomore, Sprague won Interstate Athletic Conference championships in each sport during a four-day span. This week, he will compete in the Washington Metropolitan Prep School Swimming and Diving League championships Thursday and the IAC wrestling championships Saturday.
It might seem like an odd combination, the grace of diving and violence of wrestling, but at Georgetown Prep, where 30 yards separate the swimming pool and wrestling room, it is possible.
“The sports are more related than people think,” said Sprague, 17. “Diving is all body awareness, essentially. You have to be aware of where you are in the air. . . . Wrestling’s the same thing. You have to be aware of your body but with an added dimension of being aware of your opponent, too.”
Sprague started diving when he was 4 years old simply because he wanted to play on the diving board at a local pool. He started wrestling at 7 because he missed the deadline to sign up for youth football.
Today, Sprague is more competitive on the wrestling mat. He finished fourth at Beast of the East last month and is the Post’s top-ranked wrestler at 138 pounds. He hopes to wrestle in college and has spoken to coaches at Lehigh and George Mason, among others.
But Sprague also has a deep emotional connection to diving, a love he shared with his mother, Carol, who died of breast cancer when he was 14.
“Wrestling is kind of my new favorite sport,” he said. “Diving was my first sport.”
When Sprague first enrolled at Georgetown Prep less than a year after his mother’s death, he decided he would try to compete in both. His father, Steve Sprague, was amazed.
“He excels at both of them, and he keeps his studies up,” Steve Sprague said. “He’s got to be one of the only kids at Prep that’s ever done it.”
While many high school athletes prioritize one sport early on with hopes of landing a college scholarship, Sprague never felt compelled to choose. Instead he views each sport as a unique form of cross-training for the other.
Wrestling Coach Mike Kubik sees the result every day in No. 4 Georgetown Prep’s practices. He said Sprague has an unorthodox style on the mat, contorting his body to challenge — and sometimes surprise — his opponents.
“Michael will dive his head underneath and do what they call funk — expose his back, get in crazy positions — but he always sort of knows where he is,” Kubik said. “Somehow he comes out on top. You just don’t think there’s any way that he can, but he finds a way.”
Diving Coach Rick Robinson, who first met Sprague at a local pool when Sprague was 8, called this skill “kinesthetic awareness.” But what most impresses him about Sprague is his ability to make a mental transition from one sport to the other, all during the short walk from the swimming pool to the wrestling room.
“Diving is sort of a quiet sport where there’s not a lot of screaming and yelling, and you really need your composure,” said Robinson, who is also a school psychologist. “And then being able to go to wrestling, where the guy that you’re wrestling against basically wants to hurt you, you have to have that mentality to switch it over. . . . That’s a very difficult thing to do, but he seems to have mastered that.”
Sprague said the trick is to bring the same mind-set to each sport.
“I try to go at them the same way,” Sprague said. “Especially in wrestling, a lot of people get pretty fired up before a match, but I like to stay kind of calm.”
Sprague doesn’t practice diving every day and adjusts his weekly schedule depending on which meets and wrestling tournaments are coming up. On days when he does both, he is usually practicing for more than three hours.
After practice, Sprague returns home and takes care of his uncle, who is mentally handicapped, and his two grandparents, both in their mid-80s. Then he usually has a small stack of homework to worry about.
“I think it’s great,” Kubik said of the two-sport standout. “Too many kids nowadays play one sport. If you’re an athlete, you want to be an athlete. Plus, I think diving has a special place in his heart.”
Last Thursday, after a four-team swimming and diving meet at Georgetown Prep, Sprague quickly changed and ambled toward the wrestling room down the hall. After flipping through the air, he would soon be flipping his practice partner on a mat. His focus was renewed, and his hair was still wet.