Coach Sheldon ushers in era of success for APS water polo

Along+with+fellow+APS+Knights+coaches+Robin+Smith+and+Monica+Szalma%2C+Coach+Stu+also+plays+for+Dynamo+Water+Polo+Club.++During+a+Dynamo+WPC+game%2C+Stu+%28dark+cap%2C+with+ball%29+reads+the+defense+as+he+decides+to+set+the+ball+to+his+teammate+in+front+of+the+white+team+goal%2C+pass+away+to+a+distant+teammate%2C+or+shoot.
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Coach Sheldon ushers in era of success for APS water polo

Along with fellow APS Knights coaches Robin Smith and Monica Szalma, Coach Stu also plays for Dynamo Water Polo Club.  During a Dynamo WPC game, Stu (dark cap, with ball) reads the defense as he decides to set the ball to his teammate in front of the white team goal, pass away to a distant teammate, or shoot.

Along with fellow APS Knights coaches Robin Smith and Monica Szalma, Coach Stu also plays for Dynamo Water Polo Club. During a Dynamo WPC game, Stu (dark cap, with ball) reads the defense as he decides to set the ball to his teammate in front of the white team goal, pass away to a distant teammate, or shoot.

Along with fellow APS Knights coaches Robin Smith and Monica Szalma, Coach Stu also plays for Dynamo Water Polo Club. During a Dynamo WPC game, Stu (dark cap, with ball) reads the defense as he decides to set the ball to his teammate in front of the white team goal, pass away to a distant teammate, or shoot.

Along with fellow APS Knights coaches Robin Smith and Monica Szalma, Coach Stu also plays for Dynamo Water Polo Club. During a Dynamo WPC game, Stu (dark cap, with ball) reads the defense as he decides to set the ball to his teammate in front of the white team goal, pass away to a distant teammate, or shoot.

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Along with fellow APS Knights coaches Robin Smith and Monica Szalma, Coach Stu also plays for Dynamo Water Polo Club.  During a Dynamo WPC game, Stu (dark cap, with ball) reads the defense as he decides to set the ball to his teammate in front of the white team goal, pass away to a distant teammate, or shoot.

Along with fellow APS Knights coaches Robin Smith and Monica Szalma, Coach Stu also plays for Dynamo Water Polo Club. During a Dynamo WPC game, Stu (dark cap, with ball) reads the defense as he decides to set the ball to his teammate in front of the white team goal, pass away to a distant teammate, or shoot.

By Sloan Hodges

A whistle screech cuts through the chlorine induced haze. A player from APS’s water polo team got fouled, and everyone searches frantically for the referee. The coach’s voice finally reaches their ears.

“Blue ball! BLUE BALL!! Go back on defense!!” The players, finally with a voice of guidance, swim in the right direction. This, along with providing ever helpful tips (“Get ON him! Don’t let that guy swim past you!!”) during the game, is why having an involved, loud coach is essential to a working water polo team. Two minutes in, one of the frustrated players on the APS team takes a swing at the opponent grappling on her swim suit. The player gets a kick out (temporary removal from play), but APS’s coach makes the tough decision to keep this strong player out for the rest of the game to teach her a lesson.

Coach Stuart Sheldon (Fondly known as Coach Stu by the members of the APS water polo team) is a middle-aged man with blonde hair, blue eyes and slightly ruddy skin. His face reddens as he passionately gestures and shouts at the slightly dazed, confused high schoolers bobbing in the choppy pool water. This is a common scene at APS practices and games, Sheldon gesturing and raising his eyebrows to complete his point.

Because most of the players start their water polo careers when they get into high school, Sheldon and the other APS coaches are essentially building half their teams from scratch every year.

“The one thing our team can really improve on is our defensive and offensive skills, and to do that, our players need to practice water polo outside of our regular season,” Sheldon said.

He started playing water polo as a freshman in college, and since has dedicated a good chunk of his life to the sport. “I was on the swim team, so I joined my college (Washington & Lee) water polo team because I knew it would help me with swimming,” he said.

But Sheldon soon realized that he got a lot more than he bargained for by joining Washington & Lee’s water polo team.

“From the start I loved it from a mental perspective, but had to suck it up physically for a couple of years,” he said.

He and his teammates, from Washington & Lee University, some of whom he still sees around the pool today, kicked butt and took names. His college, Washington & Lee, had a heated rivalry with the University of Arkansas-Little Rock. When they faced UALR in Sheldon’s home pool for the conference championship, both sides’ fans packed the stands and spilled over onto the slippery tile floor.

“It was bedlam,“ Sheldon said.

Respected professors slammed metal flooding chairs into the ground, inspiring the crowd further. When the game was tied 11 to 11, the referees stopped play. The crowd was creating as much noise as a jet engine at full throttle for take-off. Once they quieted, play was resumed.

Obviously inspired, Sheldon’s team pulled through.

“We won 12-11 off a time out,” he said.

This was only one of the experiences Sheldon had while playing water polo in college. “There was this one time when a player’s shoulder got dislocated right in front of me during a game, but that was nasty!” Sheldon said.

Water polo stuck with him for the rest of his life, despite, perhaps, troubling experiences. “I’ve been playing for, wow, 30 so years now.”

Sheldon adds that he isn’t the only one who has played for such a long time. “I repeatedly see faces that I’ve seen from college.”

Sheldon and other former college players are growing water polo in Atlanta today. Originally, Sheldon moved to Atlanta from a two-year coaching job at Holmes High School (near his college in Virginia) to get more into the field he was interested in: sports marketing. But even as a newcomer to the city of heat, he was helping people cool down with the contact sport. Sheldon and a few other players started the water polo clubs at Emory and in a Dynamo pool, but “had to keep moving because they needed the pools for their practices.”

After acting as a referee for five years, Sheldon heard of an open position coaching the APS Knights High School team, which his freshman son would be joining. There, Sheldon inherited the rag tag team along with Robin Smith, co-coach. While Sheldon is uncertain how long he will be coaching, he definitely is embracing the experience.

For all the help the other three coaches give him (The coaches: The ‘fat old guys’ as Sheldon jokingly called them, Coach Stu and Coach Robin, very new goalie coach Breanne, girls coach Monica), Sheldon admits that balancing work, home, playing sports and coaching is very difficult.

“During water polo session, I don’t do any other volunteering besides coaching, and I try to travel less for my company, but it is still difficult.”

Although Sheldon is into water polo, he admits that he is active in his Master’s (adult) swim team. “I much rather go to water polo practice, but because I don’t make many dynamo water polo practices, in the morning at 5:45, most mornings I am swimming a master swim practice. But I’m done by seven.”

“I can never catch a break,” joked Will Sheldon, the eldest son Sheldon’s three boys, now a sophomore at North Atlanta. “No, but I think that having my dad as coach has made me a better water polo player all around.”

Sheldon got married to Karen, who went to the University of North Carolina, and they had Will, Stuart, and Jack. The family often spend time volunteering together, and helping out at their church, Northside Methodist. Because their sons go to North Atlanta and Sutton Middle School, they can often be found around there as well.

“I want kids to have a healthy life long sport and I want them to give water polo a try. When you are in eighth, ninth, tenth grade, it is a great challenge,” Sheldon said, “I would also love for any APS school that wants a team to have one.”

“He’s a pretty good coach,” said Jessica Hume, a Grady sophomore wading through her second session of high school water polo. “He knows what he is doing. I think he is the best coach for our team because he seems in tune with the other players and coaches.”

Sheldon is surprisingly calm when dealing with throes of teenagers, all clamoring for his full attention. During practice, No. 7 shouts across the pool a question about his position, a handful of kids are asking Coach Stu what do when you are man down. The only time Sheldon gets aggravated is when people aren’t paying attention.

Sheldon and his fellow coaches are whipping their team into shape, and no one has objections.

“It must be difficult to coach a mixed team,” Grady mother Cay Mims said, “Coach Stu is obviously really passionate and enthusiastic. You can tell he really loves the game. He gets into and that’s a huge part (of being a good coach).”

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