There is a box of sports medals in a closet at Miguel Bernal’s house, but not by his choice.
A few years ago, when his mom, Shannon, left the house, Miguel sneaked his medals into the trash. When his felt “N” came in the mail for his letter jacket after wrestling on varsity at North as a freshman, he tried to throw that away, too.
His mom kept finding her son’s achievements in the trash, wondering why he was bent on eliminating them.
Miguel isn’t concerned with “things.” He knows what he has accomplished, and even after breaking a 46-year-old City League meet diving record Friday, Shannon said her son would probably say, “Cool,” and move on like he has with the medals.
“I feel like I know what I accomplished in my heart,” Miguel said. “The things that I have, it’s cool to have, but it doesn’t really mean much.”
Bernal finished his senior City League season off with a 487.20 score for his 11 dives at the City League meet at Heights. The league meet record was set in 1972 with a score of 451. The second-place diver Friday scored 414.15.
That’s how a lot of his competitions have gone since he was young. Miguel started doing flips on Shannon’s bed when he was 18 months old. By 8, he was bored with his tumbling classes and had to be bumped up to the next age group.
Miguel was born to flip, Shannon said, but he has learned to shift his focus to more important feats.
Their biggest cheerleader
Most of the competitors splatted on the water at least once during Thursday’s preliminary diving round, but when they scored high, the event leader’s cheering was loudest.
Bernal cheered for divers from Heights and South the same as his teammates from North. The district combined its diving programs this season, and many of the kids train together with coach Chris Fleming.
The community is strong. Before the event started, Bernal was bumping fists with Carroll’s Logan Carter, who sat second after the first night of dives. Later, Bernal was talking with East’s Jadyn Hinson, giving advice on how he could improve his launch from the board.
“I just tell the guys, ‘You’re not competing against me. You’re competing against yourself,’ ” he said.
Bernal wins the group’s training session every day, and that’s hard sometimes for the others. They joke and ask him, “When are you gonna let one of us win?”
Fleming said bringing all the schools’ divers together in one pool should help the camaraderie within the district and the City League’s competitiveness with the rest of Kansas.
Bernal finished sixth last year at the Class 6A championships. He wants more for the field, he wants more for himself.
“When I’m here with these guys, I get more excited when I see them doing real good on their stuff than when I’m doing good,” he said. “I expect a lot of myself, a lot of myself.”
Their biggest friend
During Thursday’s session, a man walked up to Shannon to talk about her son. They had never met.
The man’s son has a learning disability, and Miguel spends much of his time with him and other kids who have similar disabilities.
“You have such a great, great son,” the man told Shannon.
Miguel has gone on several field trips with the kids. He shoots videos with them, laughs with them and learns from them. He said hanging out with them is a little emotional for him and a lot of fun.
“He doesn’t feel superior to people,” Shannon said. “He sees people as people. It’s hard when they’re little because you don’t see the rewards of all the effort you’re putting in as a parent, but once they get older, you see it. And it’s amazing.”
When Miguel was 3, he and his family took a trip to Mexico, where Miguel’s father is from, and met with some of the local families.
Miguel picked a handful of his action figures to take. Shannon helped her son pack, and when she saw the toys, she thought they were for him.
“He gives them to to kids there in Mexico,” Shannon said. “It was the first time that it really came from him."
His next step
Miguel Bernal is just starting the college selection process. He hasn’t been offered any diving scholarships, hasn’t sent any letters or had any communication with universities.
Fleming said they are putting together a highlight tape to send to colleges, but for now, the lack of interest from the next level isn’t keeping Miguel down.
“Wichita isn’t known for diving,” Fleming said. “We just gotta get it out there that this is who he is, and this is what he can do.”
Bernal’s passion lays in climbing, and though he enjoys diving, he paused when asked whether he would even accept a scholarship. He said he would need certain days off to go climbing.
Moreover, Shannon said it has been difficult to find universities that fulfill Miguel’s interests as a climber, diver and firefighter, following his father’s career path.
There is more to Bernal than diving into a pool, though he still has plans. He said his goal is to reach 500 points and to win a Class 6A title.
But he said he knows there is life beyond medals and accolades.
“I always feel like improvement is needed,” Miguel said, “in everything.”
Teams: East 348, Heights 285, Carroll 146, North 143, Northwest 127, Kapaun 111, West 106, South 66, Southeast 27.
200 medley relay: 1. East 1:39.24. 2. Heights 1:42.06. 3. Carroll 1:50.18. 200 free: Ooten, E, 1:50.25. 2. Hall, H, 1:51.22. 3. Harding, C, 1:56.89. 200 IM: 1. Hwang, E, 2:04.04. 2. Quah, E, 2:07.14. 3. Smith, C, 2:07.32. 50 free: 1. Garcia, W, 21.32. 2. McPherson, E, 21.32. 3. Overlees, NW, 22.46. Diving: 1. Bernal, N, 487.20. 2. Carter, C, 414.15. 3. Adams, H, 381.35. 100 fly: 1. Gantenbein, H, 52.62. 2. Hwang, E, 55.71. 3. Riley, N, 59.82. 100 free: 1. McPherson, E, 47.02. 2. Garcia, W, 48.34. 3. Overlees, NW, 50.10. 500 free: 1. Ooten, E, 5:00.34. 2. Hall, H, 5:00.50. 3. Harding, C, 5:26.14. 200 free relay: 1. Heights 1:31.91. 2. Carroll 1:34.81. 3. Northwest 1:35.04. 100 back: 1. Gantenbein, H, 51.85. 2. Hutchinson, E, 53.90. 3. Hadorn, H, 54.52. 100 breast: 1. Quah, E, 1:00.40. 2. Smith, C, 1:01.06. 3. Thompson, H, 1:05.57. 400 free relay: 1. East 3:16.46. 2. Heights 3;34.79. 3. West 3:37.27.