The way Cody Taylor sees it, Jim Sheridan could have easily forgotten about him.
Taylor was a talented swimmer at Columbus North who walked away from the sport for a couple months following his sophomore year after not achieving the results he desired. But Sheridan kept faith in him.
When Taylor bought into what Sheridan was telling him and what he wanted him to do, Taylor went from not swimming the summer before his junior year to winning the state 100-yard breaststroke title that year. He added another title his senior year, setting a state record in the process, and is now one of the top freshman swimmers in the Big Ten at Indiana University.
“He had to know his last couple years were coming up, and he could have just let me go,” Taylor said. “But he wanted me to achieve that success. There’s no way I could have ever done it without him.”
Sheridan is retiring after 38 years of coaching, the past 21 coming at North and with Donner Swim Club. He will continue coaching Donner through the end of the summer club season, then will focus on his role of dean of students at North and as a grandfather.
“I can’t say enough good things about Jim,” 2003 North graduate Leah Retrum said. “As a community resident, it’s a little sad to see him go on behalf of the swimming community in Columbus, but I can’t fault his decision because he’s going to go be a grandpa.”
Retrum was a seven-time state champion and two-time national champion in high school. She went on to swim at University of Florida, where she was a six-time All-American.
“I definitely would not have made it where I did without the preparation he gave me and the work he did in helping me find the right college,” Retrum said. “We had a lot of time together at different swim meets, and the time he put in to get me to where I was above and beyond. I was very blessed to have Jim as a club coach and a high school coach during those formative years of swimming.”
‘A huge influence’
Sheridan, who declined to be interviewed for this story, began his high school coaching career at Columbus East from 1980-84. He led the East girls team to a state title in 1983.
After a few other stops that included stints as a college assistant at Clemson, Auburn and Iowa, Sheridan became the head coach at Clemson from 1991-94. He returned to Columbus in 1994 to coach Donner and the Bull Frogs.
Success soon followed with the North program. Led by Ryan Wochomurka, the Bull Frog boys won three consecutive state titles from 1998-2000.
“He was a huge influence,” Wochomurka said. “Jim is an educator. As a dean, and also as a coach in high school and college, they spend so much more time with you than your teachers and sometimes, even your parents. For me, he was a big influence, and I know he’s had an influence throughout his career with young men and women and giving them the tools to go on to college. He’s given them the tools through athletics to be phenomenal people.”
Wochomurka, who graduated in 2001, went on to swim at Auburn and is now in his eighth year as an assistant coach at Louisville. He said especially in high school and leading into college, Sheridan opened his eyes to the possibilities of what was out there in the swimming world.
“I saw his ability to reach people, and that really inspired me to follow in those footsteps,” Wochomurka said. “He developed a phenomenal team culture at North. When I started coaching, I tried to instill some of the team-building stuff that he did. I was able to carry some of the lessons from that into my coaching career.
“I’m sad to hear that North is losing a great coach, but I know it’s well-deserved,” he said. “I know he wants to spend some time with the grandkids.”
Tony Bieger has seen two of his daughters earn college scholarships under Sheridan, including current senior Marah Bieger, who is headed to West Virginia. Older daughter Erin made big time drops after the family moved from Mishawaka before her sophomore year, and she now coaches in the Donner program.
“With his coaching ability, he was able to get her a college scholarship with St. Francis in Pennsylvania,” Tony Bieger said. “Marah has done well, and Drew (a freshman swimmer) is coming out of his shell, but the interesting one is Katie, who he never even coached. She came back and taught swimming lessons for Jim for two years while she was in college. So all my kids have had a pretty good, positive impact from Jim.”
The late Bill Stearman was North’s athletics director when Sheridan was hired in 1994. Hedy George was the assistant athletics director from 1980-98 and athletics director from 1998-2008.
“It was a very exciting time,” George said. “Anytime you win a state championship, it’s exciting. He put it together with all of those early-morning workouts. He was hoping that those athletes would strive to be their best.
“Jim has been a very dedicated and a high-energy coach who has always had high expectations for his athletes and the swim teams in general,” George said. “He was 365 days almost of coaching, and I think it takes a person with a lot of resiliency and energy to run those programs like that. I’d say it’s been quite a ride for him.”
Developing a legacy
That ride continued when current AD Jeff Hester took over in 2008.
“I knew of Jim before I came to Columbus North and then once I got here, he lived up to every one of my expectations of him,” Hester said. “He’s kind of a legend in the high school swimming world in Indiana. I enjoyed working with him very much. He definitely set the standard on hard work. I don’t think there was anybody here more than him, and I think that’s kind of rubbed off on some of the other coaches. They’ve taken that and tried to duplicate it.”
Sheridan has been selected as Indiana boys coach of the year four times and Indiana girls coach of the year four times. He was inducted into the Indiana High School Swimming Hall of Fame in 2007 and the Marshall University Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
“It’s always been a positive experience,” said East girls coach Jill Arnholt, who has coached against Sheridan the past four years. “Whenever I’ve asked for his opinion or help, he’s always provided it. I have a lot of respect for him. He’s done a lot for high school swimming and Indiana swimming.”
“Jim and I get along really well,” East boys coach Dave Fribley said. “There’s definitely a lot of cooperation. Any issues or questions or problems or getting times on kids he’s going against, there’s no problem at all. He’s bent over backwards to help us out.”
Fribley pointed to a case a few years ago when he had a couple of state qualifiers. The Olympian swimmers rode to Indianapolis together, stayed in the same hotel and warmed up together.
“(IHSAA assistant commissioner) Sandy Searcy came down and said it was so neat to see the schools rooting for each other’s kids,” Fribley said. “She said in some parts of the state, that would never happen. That’s a good example of how the two schools have gotten along in recent years.”
In addition to his four state team championships, Sheridan has coached more than 40 individual event champions. The last of those came Feb. 28, when freshman Michael Brinegar captured the boys 500-yard freestyle.
“He’s helped push me harder in this sport and make me a better athlete,” Brinegar said. “He’s helped motivate me and the rest of the team when we needed it.”
“I’m happy that Michael Brinegar won the 500 (last) weekend because that’s the kind of note that Jim deserves to go out on,” Taylor said.
Donner Swim Club president Brian Russell said he will miss working with Sheridan.
“Coach Sheridan has been a tremendous asset to the city of Columbus and the sport of swimming,” Russell said. “He is a class act and always has his athletes’ best interests in mind. I am grateful for his passion, enthusiasm and dedication over the years to both Donner Swim Club and Columbus North High School.
“Coach Sheridan doesn’t measure his team’s success by their trophy case, but by the smiles on his swimmers’ faces, their improvement in the water and their passion for the lifetime sport of swimming,” he said. “Coach Sheridan will be missed, but he’ll always be a part of the Columbus swimming community.”
A look at Jim Sheridan’s swimming and coaching highlights:
1973-77: Swam for Marshall University
1977: Won Marshall’s scholar-athlete award for swimming, graduated with degree in physical education and health education
1977-78: Served as graduate assistant coach at Marshall
1980-84: Was coach at Columbus East
1983: Led the East girls to their only state swimming championship
1984-86: Served as graduate assistant coach at Clemson
1986: Earned master’s in guidance and counseling from Clemson
1986-88: Led Trinity Prep High School and Trinity Aquatic Team in Winter Park, Florida
1988-90: Served as assistant coach for University of Iowa women’s team
1990-91: Was head assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Auburn
1991-94: Returned to Clemson as head men’s and women’s coach
1994: Returned to Columbus as boys and girls coach at Columbus North and coach of Donner Swim Club
1998-2000: Led North boys three consecutive state championships
2007: Was inducted into Indiana Swimming Hall of Fame
2012: Was inducted into Marshall University Hall of Fame
2015: Announced retirement from coaching, effective at the end of the summer club season