"Taking state" will actually mean just that for the winners of the high school diving championships on Saturday.

Because of a change of format, divers from all classifications will compete against each other for a true state championship. All the other sports, of course, only crown class champions.Those fans eager to see true state titles become a way of life in all sports shouldn't get their hopes up, however. This is only a diving thing.

"It's really without precedence," said Dave Wilkey, associate director of the Utah High School Activities Association.

If the state meets hadn't been combined this year by the UHSAA, diving would technically only be able to survive in Class 4A. For a sport to be sanctioned, at least 50 percent of the schools in a classification must participate, and the state's second-largest class is the only one with adequate numbers.

Diving participation has declined drastically in the past four years since a safety regulation was enforced to control the depth of high school pools. A lot of pools didn't meet the required depth of 12 feet or more, so they had to drop the sport.

A case was then made that it wasn't fair that diving points should count in the state swim meets when some schools couldn't train any divers. So, two years ago diving was turned into a sport of its own. Class champions were crowned in 3A, 4A and 5A in 1997 and '98.

"Now in order to keep diving as a sport and not lose it all together, we combined all of the classifications," said Tooele diving coach Mel Roberts.

Currently, only about 110 boys and girls compete at the high school level in the entire state. And many of them actually have to train away from their schools at sites such as the University of Utah or at other schools.

Officials are hopeful lumping them together will keep the sport around.

"We tried to preserve diving by giving it its own state title, and we've tried to dress it up so it is its own event," Wilkey said. "We've encouraged it to grow and we've given it fertile soil, but for some reason it hasn't grown."

The all-in-one championship format should make for an exciting competition, though.

Defending 3A champion Tooele has to be considered the favorite among the girls. The Buffaloes boast a very strong squad with All-Americans Kelli Frost and Lindsey Parrott and juniors Jennifer Daulton and Leslie Smith. They actually train at the U. under the direction of Doug Jamison.

"They're an exceptionally good team," Roberts said. "Those four are going to be formidable."

Olympus' Kelli Einfeldt, who's also an All-American, should give Frost a challenge for the state individual title. Her Titans won the 4A crown a year ago. Count on Tessa Dahl, a junior from Park City, to be in the thick of things as well.

Park City, Brighton, Box Elder and Highland are the favorites to win the boys' team title.

The boys who'll battle for individual honors include West's Rhett Panes, Park City's Tom Hofer, Orem's Devin Thomas and Mountain Crest's Dustin Burbank.

They're among the top 36 boys and girls divers from qualifying meets last week who will compete Saturday at Ecker Hills Middle School in Park City. The girls' competition will run from 9:45 a.m. until 1 p.m., and the boys will go from 3:45 to 6:45 p.m.