After nearly ten years at the helm of Cayman Islands swimming, Dave Kelsheimer is gone. An ongoing dispute over various issues between Kelsheimer and government sports director Dalton Watler apparently went beyond the limits of both men. Kelsheimer says he can no longer work under Watler, and the sports director says it is best for Kelsheimer to coach elsewhere. Kelsheimer’s contract expired on January 8 and was not renewed.
During his time here, Kelsheimer built a competitive junior swim programme that rivaled any in the Caribbean. Prior to his arrival in 1995 no Cayman Islands swimmer had ever won a medal at the CARIFTA Championships, the region’s top age-group meet. During Kelsheimer’s tenure, Cayman swimmers earned more than 250 CARIFTA medals and set 25 records. Three Caymanian swimmers qualified in six events for the 2004 Olympics. No Cayman swimmer had ever qualified for an Olympics before last summer. Kelsheimer was named Coach of the Year by the Cayman Islands government in 2003.
‘I love it here,’ said Kelsheimer. ‘I love the people and I love the support the swim programme received from the public. I just don’t understand why we couldn’t get that degree of support from my boss. I am reluctant to speak about this publicly but I feel I can’t leave without saying anything. I owe people an explanation. I want them to know that I want to be here but I just can’t. It would be wrong of me to try and force the issue when I’m not wanted.’
Watler emphasized that Kelsheimer was not fired. ‘He has decided not to renew his contract,’ said Watler. ‘We both have strong personalities and we had disagreements. We decided it is best to move on.’
Watler added that he is confident the Cayman Islands swim programme will maintain its high standard post-Kelsheimer. He also expressed support for Cayman Islands assistant coach Dominique Ross as a possible temporary or long-term replacement for Kelsheimer.
‘I’m gutted,’ Kelsheimer continued. ‘I built this programme from the bottom up. I’ve invested most of my adult life here. This is very tough for me.’
Kelsheimer, an American citizen, won’t be lining up for unemployment checks. He was immediately hired by Highlander Aquatics in Orlando, Florida, a private swim club. That contract runs through May. Kelsheimer says he would consider returning to the Cayman Islands to coach in a non-government position after his obligations in Orlando are up. A government contract is out of the question as long as Watler is sports director, he said.
‘Our differences are just too vast,’ said Kelsheimer. ‘We have tried to make it work. In 2003 he didn’t want my contract renewed. There has always been this rancor. I don’t know why he couldn’t just get on board and enjoy what we were doing. It was a non-stop barrage of memos and criticisms, no matter how well the team performed.
‘It was unfortunate because I would have loved to see him embrace what we are doing and enjoy the success that we had. But I could no longer spend more time dealing with the sports director than I do coaching kids.’