Former Ball State diver Zach Whitaker always wanted to give back to the program that helped shape his adult life.
Until last month, he never had the opportunity to. In an August taping of The Price is Right, Whitaker won several prizes, including $25,000 and a new car on the televised game show.
Shortly after winning on the show, Whitaker immediately knew he would finally be able to give back to the Ball State men’s swimming and diving program.
“It was pretty quick for me,” Whitaker said. “[Giving back to the program] was an easy decision, and something I’ve wanted to do for a while, but have never been in a financial position to do that and so this coming along was just perfect.”
Whitaker dove for Ball State from 2003-07 and went to graduate school in Muncie for two years after finishing his time as a collegiate athlete.
Earlier this month, Whitaker came back to Muncie for a few hours while in the area for his brother’s wedding. It was his first time back on campus since he left graduate school nearly a decade ago and moved out to California.
“It was nice to come back, because that was the first time I had been back since I graduated and moved,” Whitaker said. “That was the first time I had gotten to see everything and be on campus and it brought back a lot of memories.”
Whitaker’s gift to the program was $1,000, a long wanted and much-needed mini refrigerator for the team’s locker room and cases of Gatorade to stock it.
Head coach Bob Thomas was grateful for Whitaker’s generosity back to the men’s swimming and diving program, which unlike other programs on campus, awards no scholarships to its student athletes.
“I think it says a lot about the individual, just that he’s still young, just out of college, living in California and here he’s on a game show and obviously gets lucky and is willing to give back a portion of that, which I think is just phenomenal,” Thomas said.
Thomas is in his 39th season coaching the men’s swim program at Ball State. The culture that he has built throughout his time here with the program has certainly reflected on Whitaker.
“The culture that coach Thomas has built is amazing,” Whitaker said. “I started at Ball State back in 2003 and I came in not knowing if there was going to be a team, because back then they were trying to eliminate the swimming program altogether. So coach Thomas and Laura Caudill, the women’s coach at the time, were able to rally together and save the team.”
Thomas was humbled to accept Whitaker’s gift, which he says the program will put to good use.
“He feels that [this program] definitely made a difference in his life and he wanted to somehow give back, and this a big way to give back,” Thomas said.
Contact Sam Barloga with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.