SALISBURY -- The timing couldn't have been better as Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps spoke Monday to soon-to-be graduates of Parkside High about the "hardest time of my life" -- his drunken driving arrest here last fall.
senior week at the Eastern Shore school. Friday is the prom, followed
by the annual after-prom bash at the YMCA. Lots of parents, students
and school officials are busy urging students to sign a Prom Pledge not to drink during the big
"I'm here to talk about making good decisions,
because I made a bad one that could have endangered myself or someone
else's life," Phelps said. "I wasn't seeing the total picture. My true
friends were not with me. If they had been, they'd never have let me
in a car."
Phelps' appearances Monday at Parkside and two other schools helped to fulfill a plea bargain in
which he pleaded guilty to driving while impaired, and prosecutors
dropped a more serious charge.
As a part of his
probation, Phelps agreed to talk to students at the three Wicomico
County schools and to be a featured speaker at a "Healthy U"
rally at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury this summer.
Dressed casually in jeans, flip- flops and a linen jacket, a hint of
stubble on his chin, the 19-year-old swimmer -- who won eight
medals at last year's Athens Olympics, including six golds -- could easily have passed for a Parkside senior.
"We're all pretty much the same age here," said Phelps, who is from
Baltimore County's Rodgers Forge. "I was in the same situation you
guys are in about two years ago -- getting ready for the senior
prom. I remember that my friends were drinking, and I was the
[designated driver]. I think I was able to save the lives of some of my
Phelps told students that many of his friends drank on weekends through high school and that he often took
the car keys of drunken friends. "My mom always got the call that I'd
be a little late because I was driving somebody home."
Stephen Abresch, one of five seniors who volunteered to
talk to reporters after Phelps' appearance, said he thought it had
"It's an exciting time in our
lives, and it was basically a message that you can have fun in life,
but you have to take responsibility for your decisions," said
Eighteen-year-old Megan Hurchalla, who
plans to study communications at McDaniel College, said students were
more likely to listen to Phelps than other speakers.
"He's a celebrity, he's our age and not some 30-year-old who came
in to talk to us," she said.
Glancing occasionally at notes, Phelps was poised, speaking in a conversational style. He
has become a familiar advertising pitchman who has endorsed a
variety of products since his Olympic success.
Elzey, who heads the Eastern Shore chapter of Mothers Against Drunk
Driving, said he thought Phelps put students at ease.
"He has the capacity
to reach out," said Elzey. "If they take him seriously, he could
affect their lives."
In a tightly scripted visit, Phelps arrived at the school early, riding in a black sport util
ity vehicle with tinted windows, chauffeured by Salisbury defense
attorney James V. Anthenelli.
Phelps said he flew
in Sunday from the University of Michigan, where he has enrolled in
classes and is training with longtime coach Bob Bowman.
Recalling a recent
interview with the cable sports network ESPN, Phelps said he was asked
what one thing he would choose to change in his life. His arrest,
Phelps said he replied.
"Remember that your decisions, good and bad, will be with you forever," he told students.
From Tuesday's Sun