Whitman Crew hires Tolsun Waddle, Fabriana Velasquez to fill coaching vacancies 


Photo courtesy Tolsun Waddle

Tolsun Waddle now coaches the varsity women’s crew team, and Fabriana Velasquez leads the novice women’s team.

By Ethan Schenker

Whitman Crew’s parent board hired Tolsun Waddle and Fabriana Velasquez to coach the women’s rowing teams for the spring racing season, according to an email sent on February 26 from board President Dave Charlton to Whitman rowers and their families. 

Waddle serves as the coach of the varsity women’s team, the position that former coach Kirkland Shipley held prior to his arrest in August. Velasquez leads the novice women’s team, which had lacked an assigned coach since the start of this school year. 

Waddle has coached competitive rowing for nearly 20 years. He started serving as an assistant coach of a women’s racing team at TBC Racing — a DC rowing club — this past fall. From 2018 to 2021, he worked as head coach of Potomac Boating club’s (PBC) Women’s Sweep Team, and from 2002 to 2004, he was the head coach of the University of Georgia’s Club Rowing Team. 

Velasquez coached the varsity women’s crew team at South County High School in Virginia from 2018 to 2019, and during that same period, she was a coxswain on George Mason University’s crew team. From 2019 until this past December, she rowed on PBC’s Women’s Sweep Team under Waddle. 

“We know how well the program has done in the past and some of the challenges it faces moving into the future,” Waddle and Velasquez wrote in an email to rowers and their families before their hiring. “Our complementary skillsets [sic] will both help the healing process and will help the team continue to take steps forward in its quest of being a dominant force in scholastic rowing.”

Since Whitman Crew’s parent board canceled the team’s fall season after Shipley’s arrest, rowers spent the beginning of the year participating in a program with TBC Racing. The team returned for winter training in December, but the parent board had not yet filled the vacant coaching positions due to challenges finding qualified candidates who were willing to start midway through the year.

In his February 26 email, Charlton wrote that the parent board hired the new coaches on the condition that the women’s varsity team continue to work closely with varsity men’s coach Dusan Nikolic during the spring season. Nikolic helped coach the varsity women’s team throughout the winter season, and he had signed on as Whitman Crew’s head coach — which was Shipley’s former position — after the old coach’s arrest.

Everyone understands the issues and they’re all onboard [sic],” Charlton wrote. “One outcome of this new, more collaborative approach among coaches is that we’re likely to have better connections across all teams and to feel more like one big club instead of two or four separate ones.”

The parent board held a meeting with rowers and their families on February 17 after it recommended that Waddle and Velasquez fill the coaching positions. Participants had the opportunity to ask Waddle questions, and they provided the board with feedback on the potential coaches in the following days. 

In the email announcing the hires, Charlton wrote that crew team parents largely conveyed to the board that they would have liked to select from more options, but they believed Waddle and Velasquez are qualified and that families would be able to work with them. Charlton also noted that athletes wanted to move forward with the two coaches so they wouldn’t have to alternate coaching time with the men’s team, which would have meant spending less time on the water. 

“I’m hopeful that the start of the spring season will allow us all to focus on the reasons we came together in the first place to provide our children with a chance to challenge themselves and grow… and to cultivate a passion for a beautiful sport,” Charlton wrote.