Graduation wraps up another memorable summer for Junior Lifeguards

Friday night was Theo Freidenrich's final graduation from the Newport Beach Junior Lifeguard program, which has been a part of his life for five years.

The 15-year-old is part of one of the smallest groups of junior lifeguards, the 'A's, who are the oldest and most experienced young guards.

At a graduation ceremony that started around dusk on the Balboa Peninsula, Freidenrich stood in front of more than 1,000 junior guards with their parents and detailed a summer filled with learning about Newport, the value of its harbor or beach and, of course, competing in watersports like outrigger canoeing.

He thanked his instructors for "Making my last summer [in junior guards] one of the most memorable."

Freidenrich was one of 1,409 participants to attend the six-week summer program focusing on ocean safety.

From training for what to do in emergencies to tests like jumping off the Balboa Pier, the junior guards worked with 50 instructors to push their physical ability and build their comfort level in the waves.

The program in Newport is in high demand, according to organizers, with spots selling out online within four minutes at the beginning of the summer.

Friday's graduation marked the culmination of their season.

Speakers thanked volunteers and employees and organizers handed out awards to instructors and the guards.

Skeeter Leeper, the program's supervisor, thanked one particular group last: parents.

"Thank you guys the most," he said. "You guys were the ones that got the kids in the pool in the winter time when it was cold out. You got them to our swim tests and kept them going and kept them getting their uniforms and got them here on time every day."

As thousands of parents found spots on the grass to sit, they watched their kids in a prologue video talking about what they learned through in junior guards.

"The most challenging thing about junior guards is the Monster Mile," one said, referencing the event where competitors run a mile down the beach and then swim a mile back.

Capt. Mike Halphide, director of the program, summed up junior guards in his own way.

"When you came in and did your swim tests back in April, most of you would have never thought about being able to swim a mile," he said to the graduates. "You were just hoping to get through four laps in under that 1:55 right?"

His next statement drew cheers and applause from kids and parents alike.

"And you swam around the pier," Halphide said. "You jumped off the pier. You ran a mile. Some of you ran six miles and swam a mile today. That's an amazing thing."

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