Public speaking can be a nightmare for people of all ages.
Recent Jamestown High graduate and First Colony Flyers alumnus Corey Shideler was not the valedictorian or salutatorian of his class. But he applied and earned the right to speak at commencement June 17 anyway, along with classmate Allesandra Plourde.
Shideler will attend the U.S. Naval Academy in the fall, and his parents are moving to Lynchburg, meaning the former Jamestown and 757Swim standout felt compelled to offer a goodbye on a sweeping stage.
"I just felt like it was a great opportunity to give one last message to the community that really made me who I am today," Shideler said.
On Monday, the Flyers officially bid their own farewell to Shideler before a Virginia Peninsula Swim Union meet with the Kingsmill Sharks.
Shideler swam with First Colony for 12 years and finished his Jamestown swimming career at the Virginia High School League Group 4A championships in February by contributing to the 200-yard freestyle relay team's gold-medal performance.
Monday's meet offered Shideler, who is considering studying naval architecture, a chance to reflect on what being a member of the Flyers has meant to him.
"I remember when I was young and I looked up to all the people that are my age now," Shideler said, "and they had such a big impact on me, and I think about them all the time. I can't imagine what it's like for the younger people. Soon it will be their turn to make an impact on people below them."
Shideler's final competitive meet was for 757Swim in a spring sectional meet in Christiansburg on a relay that he swam with fellow First Colony Flyer and Jamestown classmate and teammate Taylor Watson. They were joined by Evan Lynch and John Morrow.
Lynch and Morrow are Bruton High and Queens Lake Eagles standouts, and their partnership with Watson and Shideler is a reminder of how small of a community VPSU can feel despite boasting 2,000 swimmers.
Last Monday at Queens Lake, situated near the York River, Tom Rooks served as the public-address announcer as Queens Lake took on Windsor Great Park. The following week and about 15 miles down the Peninsula near the James River, Craig Larson owned the PA duties for the First Colony meet.
Larson's daughter, Caroline, rowed for Rooks in the Williamsburg Boat Club and will compete in college next season for George Mason's varsity program.
"It's just a unique community from the standpoint of some of them may go over to Lafayette to swim, or Jamestown or Warhill," Craig Larson said, "but they all come together as a big family for summer swim."
Larson stepped up to the PA mic when wife Ruth, a James City County supervisor, became Flyers president three years ago. Anne Anderson is First Colony's head coach, while Brian Vereb serves as meet director. Anderson formerly coached William and Mary's swimming program and Vereb is also a former Division I coach.
Combined, that is some serious leadership power, but with 119 kids, they may need all the help they can get. And Kingsmill, which won the meet, boasts considerably more swimmers.
"First of all, I want them to learn to swim," Anderson said. "And I want them to have fun. I want them to think swimming is fun."
Kingsmill's large team added to a festive and packed Division 1 opener that was so crowded First Colony needed parking attendants before the meet.
"This is like a Jimmy Buffett concert," said Craig Larson, after he ducked out of his booth to catch a glimpse of daughter Abby swimming.
Abby Larson has verbally committed to swim for Virginia Tech, where she will eventually join Shideler's Jamestown classmate Joelle Vereb, Brian's daughter.
Despite being the best high school swimmers on the Peninsula, Abby Larson and Joelle Vereb continue to swim for First Colony in the summer. So does Flyers teammate and Jamestown standout Carter Catherine Roehrle, who Vereb said is likely soon to commit to a college program.
The spirit, pageantry and camaraderie can last all day at First Colony, where sharks and minnows contests in mornings or afternoons are the norm leading up to competition evenings.
VPSU spectacles are remarkable, even to a veteran like Brian Vereb, who coached at the University of Akron, College of Wooster, Ball State and Fresno State.
"I've lived in five different states and I've never seen anywhere that has the turnout that Williamsburg has," Vereb said. "… The fact that we have over 2,000 kids is amazing. It's unlike any place I've ever seen."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.