Archive for the ‘ Florida ’ Category

Go Noles; Go Oswaldo Quevedo

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

I see the Facebook page NZSwim has published a photograph and quote from talented New Zealand swimmer, Paige Schendelaar-Kemp. Paige is clearly enjoying her time at Florida State University. This is what she says.

“Being a Florida State Seminole is a blessing I carry with me every day. I am a Seminole. I live and breathe it through my veins. Why? Because being a Seminole is not just Monday to Friday, it’s a way of life when you become a Seminole. You join a family of incredibly committed, dedicated, driven and loyal athletes.  It’s not just about who’s standing next to you but it’s about those who came before you and those who are to come.  We strive to be the best we can be and uphold the Garnet and Gold.  This year is our year.  Go Noles!!”

I don’t know Paige but I can understand her feelings. You see, I happen to know the guy who recruited her and is now the Assistant Coach for the Florida State team. His name is Oswaldo Quevedo. But we all called him Ozzie. He was a swimmer in my Florida swim team. He specialized in butterfly and, before we met, he swam for Venezuela in the Sydney Olympic Games.

He was also a huge talent. In the time he spent swimming for my Florida Club he broke two Master’s World Records in the 50 and 100 butterfly. He was swimming in the 30 to 34 year age group. Although I can’t remember the world record times exactly, they were 54 something for the 100 metres and 24 something in the 50 metres.

But better than all that you couldn’t find a nicer guy. A huge man at 6 foot 5 inches, he was always happy, always smiling. We had some great times together. Who would imagine a 30 year old Olympian and world record holder missing the final of his main event at the Florida State Championships because he was having trouble fitting into his tight swim suit. Ozzie did that but clearly thought it was hugely funny.

Below is a photograph taken at the same swim meet. Our club 4×100 relay team had just won the long course Florida State Championships. That was pretty special. We were not one of the big Miami or Ft. Lauderdale Clubs. And because of that, winning the blue ribbon relay was a great moment.

In the photograph Ozzie is on the far left, now complete with the tight swim suit. Skuba is next to him. He was a 50 second 100 metre freestyler and Florida Champion. Then there is Andrew who was Florida State High School 100 yards champion and Doug on the far right. Hidden in behind, in the straw hat, is a national 1500 metre champion, track athlete Alison. Her job was to make sure this crew didn’t miss any more events.

The four of them were huge fun to coach. Between them, I suspect they taught the coach more than he taught them. And not only about swimming. Ozzie managed to change another prejudice of mine. Until I got to know Ozzie I confidently held all the stereotype views on the Miss Universe contest. You know what I mean – nothing but a cattle market, all beauty and no brains, exploitation, all that stuff. But then Ozzie introduced me to his wife, Irene. She was certainly good looking but was also bright, well educated, interesting and funny. After a month or so I discovered she had also been the runner-up in the Venezuela Miss Universe contest. It was time for me to change my mind. Never judge a book by its cover.



And so I can understand the commitment Paige has to her school program. Her Assistant Coach is one of the best. He is one of the gentlemen of the sport. And, believe me, he could swim a bit as well. Paige, enjoy your stay at Florida. I’m sure you will. You made a good choice when you signed to become a Seminole.


The Coin Has Another Side

Saturday, June 7th, 2014

By David

In my last Swimwatch story I told you about Julie Reiser; an American who gives the place a bad name. But, I forgot to mention an episode that said much about Julie Reiser. During the period when she was in full flight, determined to see me leave the Aqua Crest Club, she went into the pool office to tell the pool staff about their despicable coach. For some time she relayed the purity of her American lineage and pompously revealed how she was a proud member of, what I think was called, the “Daughters of the American Revolution”. We should not, she told the Pool Manager, have foreigners teaching our children to swim. Sadly Julie was not aware that the Pool Manager was born in Jamaica and was as much a British Commonwealth foreigner as I was. As soon as Julie left the pool I was told about her pure and virile racism.

People like Julie have given the United States a terrible name around the world. It is an interesting fact that only 20% of Americans have a passport. In New Zealand the figure is 75%. 80% of Americans have no interest in how the rest of the world lives; no care or knowledge of the world they so easily invade. I hoped President Obama would change the image of the “ugly American”. That was his promise. Unfortunately, recent events suggest the “ugly American” has changed him.

Of course in a country of 318 million there has to be some special people. And that is as true of the United States as anywhere in the world. Take a lawyer friend who swam in the Aqua Crest master’s program. Intelligent, probably to a Mensa level, fun, cosmopolitan, generous, kind – in every respect an interesting and decent person. Alison and I went to his place each year to watch the Super Bowl, an occasion that was as much fun as the game.

Two other members of my Florida adult fitness program were partners Suzanne and Stewart. They were fine people. People who did their county proud; far more than the F-111, aircraft carriers and right to carry arms so valued by many in the United States of America. Sadly, they have both died in the three years since I left Florida. But while we were in Florida they made Alison and I feel welcome and at home; frequently inviting us to dinner or lunch at their exclusive Florida Sailfish Club.

Both were fascinating people. Suzanne was born into a world of privilege and money. Whereas you and I might think mowing the lawns or drying the dishes were normal childhood chores, Suzanne’s teenage task was to look after the polo ponies. Her first husband was a lawyer who defended many mafia family members. His work was sufficiently valued that the family gave him a Caribbean island complete with house and landing wharf. Suzanne survived an airplane crash by swimming about a kilometre to the nearest Nantucket Island beach. She came to New Zealand for a couple of years, living with her daughter in Dunedin.

But the person whose background remained a mystery was Suzanne’s partner the quietly spoken, gentle man Stewart. Only this week have I discovered the fascinating company we enjoyed. Here is his obituary published in the Palm Beach Post. Stop, pause and reflect for a minute on the contrast between the life of this American and the classless chaos of Julie Reiser’s existence. As Sir John Walker once said to me, “Some people have class, others only have arse.” I’ll leave you to work out which was which.

The Palm Beach Post – Obituaries

James Stewart Cottman World War II Veteran James Stewart Cottman, Jr. former Baltimorean of Delray Beach, Florida Deceased July 8, 2013. Buried at Arlington National Cemetery December 9, 2013. Born January 18, 1925 son of the late James Stewart Cottman and Edith Russo Cottman. A 1941 graduate of Boy’s Latin School and 1948 graduate of Johns Hopkins University.

Volunteered for army duty in 1943 at age 18 and had a distinguished combat infantryman battlefield record in the African, Italian, French and German campaigns decorated with the Purple Heart for bullet wounds from a German sniper near Grosseto, Italy; two Bronze Stars for bravery and other unit citations and honors for which he was humble his whole life. He served 20 months on front line combat as a staff sergeant infantry squad leader in the 36th Texas infantry division.

He studied for his master’s degree at Columbia University’s Graduate Studies Department of Public Law and Government. He taught for one year at Park School before entering the State Department where he distinguished himself in a thirty year career as a Foreign Service Officer. He studied at the American University in Beirut and was initially a Middle East correspondent before involvement in United Nations negotiations assisting Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and President Eisenhower in the early 1950’s. He served as Vice Counsel and Second Secretary in the embassy in Bangkok, Thailand for four years and was well versed in Asian politics from his participation in the formation of SEATO.

Another assignment was served in the embassy in Bordeaux, France where he met and married a famous decorated World War II French Underground Fighter, the Countessa Marie Antoinette Fleurieu. He served in the embassy in Geneva, Switzerland where his work focused on NATO member associations and projects. He was fluent in French and German and was well appreciated for his knowledge and skill in exercising the proper protocol in foreign relations. His family loved him for his great sense of honor, his expressions on the rules of the game of life, his superior intellect and his limitless capacity to tell amusing stories and recite poetry. He was a member of the Colonial Warriors, Florida Chapter; a member of Alpha Delta Phi at Hopkins; a second lieutenant in the Maryland National Guard; baptized in both the Catholic Church and the Episcopal Church. He is survived by his brother Brooke Powell Cottman of Cecil County, MD, three nieces Cindy Cottman, Susan Brooke Cottman, Virginia Powell Cottman.

Rest in peace Suzanne and Stewart. Thank you for your warmth, your class, your friendship and your hospitality during eight years in the United States of America.  

Parents Behaving Badly

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

By David

I have been professionally involved in swimming for thirty years. As you can imagine I have experienced all sorts of parents – the good, the bad and the ugly. Most parents are reasonable people, concerned for the welfare of their children but prepared to give the coach the freedom to develop their children’s skills.

Some parents are very good. Swimwatch readers may remember a butterfly and freestyle swimmer called Nichola Chellingworth. She swam for New Zealand and was a multiple national champion and record holder. She was also one of the nicest people you would find in sport or in life. I coached Nichola for several years. Her father, John and mother, Anne were model parents: interested, helpful and concerned but who never invaded the coach’s area of responsibility. I am certain that the success of Nichola’s swimming career owed much to her parent’s common sense involvement.

Olympic relay gold medallist, Rhi Jeffrey, also had (has) an excellent father. Rhi’s swimming career has had more than its share of peaks and troughs; from the peak of the Athens Olympic Games to barely being able to break 30 seconds for 50m freestyle when she began training in New Zealand. Doug, her father, did an impossibly good job of steering a supportive and even path through it all.

Only my daughter, Jane, had better parents. Sorry – only joking!

Unfortunately, and it is a sad reflection on the human condition, my most vivid memories are of the bad and ugly parents. Here are my “Famous Five”.

One mother was responsible for recording the results of our club’s swimmers. About six months after a provincial championship I asked for a report on the championship results. I recognized an error in the report. Toni Jeffs was correctly shown as winning the woman’s 50m and 100m freestyle. However, I did not recognize the name of the swimmers shown in second and third. They were from another club. That was strange because I knew that the recorder’s daughter had been second in both races. In fact, it was the first time her daughter had been beaten by Toni. I called the recorder and asked her to check the results because her daughter’s swims seemed to be missing. Two months later I had not received a reply so I rang to see if the result had been corrected. I will never forget her answer. “No,” she said, “I remember those races clearly and my daughter never swam.” Would you believe it? History was changed because a mother could not bear the thought of her daughter being beaten. To this day, I would imagine, those results remain a fiction in provincial swimming history. And if readers are thinking Swimwatch may have made too much noise about the Wellington Region adding names to their minutes, it’s to make sure the sport avoids fiddling with results and times that we have seen in the past.

My next “parent behaving badly” is all too common. What made this example worse than others was the prodigious talent of her son. For the sake of this story we will call him Jason. He could swim. He could run. He was a brilliant gymnast. One Saturday Arch Jelley came to Wellington to take an athletic program being offered by our club. Jason was there obviously enjoying the drills and exercises; clearly better at them than most. Later that day I went up onto the slopes of Mt Victoria to watch the annual Vosseler Shield cross country event. This is a killer of a race; winding its way up and down very steep tracks through the Mt Victoria reserve. I was surprised to see Jason galloping along in front of the junior boy’s race. Later that evening I went to the Kilbirnie Aquatic Centre to watch our club take part in a Wellington Region interclub event. Jason was there again winning all the events in his age group; 400 freestyle, 100 fly, 200 IM, you name it Jason was in there and winning.

The following week I asked Jason’s mother to pop into my office for a chat. Gently I suggested that athletics, cross country and six or seven swimming races in one day might be too much; might be harmful in the long term. His mother looked stunned. Wasn’t I aware that her son had won all his events, his father already had the photos framed and displayed on Jason’s bedroom wall? Besides Jason just loved the whole day. I tried to find a way of saying that there are many things children might like but a parent’s job is to decide what was best not what was liked the most. Clearly my caution was having no effect. Why was I trying to ruin Jason’s athletic career? Why was I trying to stop him having fun?

The last time I saw Jason he was with some of his mates, about nineteen or twenty years old, overweight, unshaven, drinking a bottle of beer and smoking a cigarette outside the Wellington Railway Station. I guess he was enjoying that as well. However New Zealand had lost a sporting talent largely because his parents could not control their addiction to seeing their son compete and win swimming and running races.

My next “badly behaving parent” was probably the best and certainly the hardest working parent volunteer I’ve ever seen. He was a senior executive in a large international company. How he managed to find the hours he worked for the club was beyond belief. He was also a very courageous man. He won an award for walking into an oil refinery fire and turning off a leaking valve. You may be asking, how could such a man cause a problem? Well, his daughter was a very good swimmer and a huge amount of fun to have on the team; bright, funny, rebellious, hardworking, all the qualities I enjoy being around. But she misbehaved during an overseas trip to Europe and I decided some discipline was necessary. I banned her from a team trip to a meet in Kingston, Jamaica. The father took that badly and conducted a pretty vicious campaign to have me removed from the club. That failed and he ended up leaving the club. However during the turmoil one consistent theme repeated frequently in his many emails was that I was destroying his family. I thought it was a huge irony when, shortly after his email war with me, he left the family home to live with a married woman who was also an executive in the same large company. Never been quite sure how all that fitted in with me destroying his family. And for that he has reached third place on my list.

And, one away from top place comes Linda, mother of Jamie. Some people just don’t travel well: in Spain, they can be found on the lookout for McDonalds or a Subway sandwiches; in Turkey searching the internet for the nearest Burger King and beside the Rhine in Cologne complaining about the absence of Californian chardonnay. Well Linda was one of those. I took her and her daughter on a team to swim in the Mare Nostrum series five years ago. Why have those three meets caused me so many problems – they are relaxed but competitive events in some of Europe’s most idyllic locations? Anyway, a week before the first meet in Barcelona, Jamie got sick. I wasn’t sure what was wrong so along with Linda, I took Jamie to the doctor at the camp we were training at. He prescribed some antibiotics and told us to take the first meet carefully but Jamie should be fine for the second meet in Canet.

The day before the Barcelona meet I told Jamie I had scratched her from her longer races but had left her in the 50m freestyle. She could swim that event, but only if she felt up to the task. She said she wanted to swim and I agreed. Jamie swam. Her time was slower than her best but in the circumstances was a good swim; an indication of better things to come. Linda however could not handle the modest result. She carted Jamie off to various tourist attractions in Barcelona that afternoon and arrived back at our apartment announcing that she had spoken to husband and was on her way back to Florida the following morning. And that’s what she did.

The rest of the team swam the other Mare Nostrum meets in Canet and Monte Carlo. By the time we got home Linda had filed a formal complaint with the Florida Gold Coast Association claiming I had neglected her daughter’s ill health and had forced Jamie to swim the 50m freestyle. It was rubbish of course; especially when it was pointed out that the same Linda that was saying Jamie was too sick to swim 50m had carted Jamie around Barcelona for hours looking at tourist attractions. Linda’s complaint also said that I had sent, the sick Jamie, down to the shallow end of the Barcelona pool to practice turns. That lie was easily rebutted. The Barcelona pool doesn’t have a shallow end. It’s the same depth all over.

Florida Gold Coast dismissed Linda’s Mare Nostrum complaint. But Jamie was taken to another club. It was sad. Jamie was a tremendous talent; at 12 and 13 years old one of the best in the United States. In 2014/15 she should have been on a full scholarship to a good Division One program in a school like Auburn, Texas, Stanford, Florida or Georgia. Instead, I see, she has settled for Florida Atlantic University swim team in Boca Raton. Jamie had the potential to swim for her country and never will. That can be the price kids pay when parents behave badly.

But the winner, comfortably out on her own, is Julie Reiser. Where to start – loud, brash, aggressive, opinionated, with scant respect for the truth. I always thought Julie Reiser was the custodian of many of the qualities that much of the world hate about the United States: an American who gives the place a bad name. Ironically she used to promote a “Made in America” certification website. If Reiser is an example of domestic production, it may be best to stay with “Made in Mexico”.

She was on the committee of my Florida club. She complained about everything. Nothing was good enough. While I was there Ozzie Quevedo (currently an Assistant Coach at Auburn) broke the Master’s world records for 50m and 100m butterfly. Obviously I gave the swims prominent mention in the club newsletter. At the next Board meeting Reiser dismissively said, “You’re not taking credit for that are you?” As she was speaking I noticed Ozzie walking into the pool. I called him over and asked if the training he had done with the club had helped his world record swims. “Of course it did,” he said. Reiser never forgave me for that well-earned public put down.

She bombarded the members, the committee and my family with emails accusing me of all sorts of bad behaviour, sometimes highlighting sentences in her emails in red, bold font to apparently make a stronger point. Picking up on the incident with Jamie in Barcelona, she used that as a launching pad to destroy everything we had built at that club over the previous four years. She claimed financial indiscretions that never happened and were proven false, as well as personal attacks that seemed to come out of the blue. I actually to this day have no idea why. Her own children seemed happy; she herself had seemed happy at the club for quite a while. It was a thriving, growing community of swimmers, from 50-second Long Course 100 freestylers to kids who were learning to kick with kickboards. I never before believed that someone who simply shouted the loudest for longest could actually win, no matter how bad or wrong or untrue their claims. However, Julie Reiser proved that screaming at the top of her lungs while other people tried to quietly reason was the best course of action to get your way. It was a highly distressing time for a lot of people involved in that team, many of whom not only ended up leaving the team, but moving away from the area. One or two very promising athletes ended up leaving the sport entirely – moves I do not think would have happened when they did if Julie had not taken down their swim team.

Not much happens at that pool anymore, at least not in the way it happened before mid-2009. The destruction of the team that once existed there is almost solely Julie Reiser’s doing, along with the people who listened to her at Palm Beach County.

To give you a feel for how bad her accusations became here is an email I got yesterday from one of my better Florida swimmers.

“Hi David! Just read the article Jane posted. It is nice to know that people reap what they sow. We always believed you and knew you and Alison had nothing to do with any of that. To this day XXXXXX and I still talk about how bad we feel that you were falsely accused. It’s too bad they had to be a part of the team. Hope you know how much the rest of us loved having you here! Definitely glad her sins found her out :) I’m sure this news puts a smile on your face! Hope you are doing well!”            

The “news”, we will get to later in this post…

Things got even worse when I discovered Reiser had asked the club to invoice her boy’s training fees as a single amount and call it a gym membership. I investigated further and discovered she was claiming the cost back from her then-employer who offered gym memberships to the staff as a corporate perk. I told the employer. I was not happy to be accused of financial mismanagement, only to find that my accuser was defrauding her employer with my coaching programme. Julie was sacked and left the swimming club.

But you may be wondering, what is this mention of Reiser’s sins all about. Well, with that history imagine how I felt when I read the following headline in the Boca News last Friday.

Made In USA Founder, McCline For Congress Director Reiser Jailed

by Staff • May 19, 2014 6:20 pm

Julie Reiser

Julie Reiser, Courtesy Palm Beach County Jail

There may be some Swimwatch readers who want to read more about the most recent events in the life and times of Julie Reiser. Here is the link:

That has to be kama. Perhaps even schadenfreude. Or as a friend of mine from Florida said today in an email on the subject – “Four greatest words in the English language:  I told you so.”

Amen to that.

Well that’s my Famous Five. Pray God it never grows to become the name of another well-known Enid Blyton series, “The Secret Seven”.

Parents: Some Clubs Do Have ‘Em

Friday, December 9th, 2011

By David, with a lot of quotations from Gawker.

We’ll let you know which bits we added at the end.

You’ve probably never heard of Marty Martin. He spent most of his life as an anonymous CIA operative. But he very recently came out of the closet as the man George Bush put in charge of finding Osama bin Laden in the aftermath of 9/11, and guess what? It turns out the man Bush put in charge of finding bin Laden is an extremely shady and allegedly corrupt war profiteer. Who would have thought?

Martin, of course, never succeeded in catching bin Laden. He ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 2002 to 2004, a fact that we now know only because he emerged to grab some credit for bin Laden’s death and celebrate the agency’s discontinued torture program: “We got beat up for it, but those efforts led to this great day,” he told the Associated Press three weeks ago. Prior to that, he was just a nondescript former agency official who went into the security consulting business after retiring. The closest hint to just how key an official he was came from references to a “Marty M.”—described as a sort of Jack Bauer of the bayou—in former CIA director George Tenet’s memoir.

Now that we know who Martin really is, we can get a sense of what kind of guy George Bush turned to for arguably the most crucial job in the war on terror.

1. The Kind of Guy Who Bilks Taxpayers for His Own Enrichment

In 2007, after leaving the CIA, Martin joined International Oil Trading Company, a Florida company that delivered fuel to U.S. forces in the Middle East. In 2008, congressional investigators accused it of ripping off the Pentagon to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. This year, the Pentagon’s own audit found that the company overcharged the government by as much as $204 million on a series of massive Iraq war fuel contracts.

2. The Kind of Guy Who Bribes Foreign Officials

According to a Florida lawsuit against International Oil’s owner Harry Sargeant III, Martin paid a $9 million bribe to the head of the Jordanian intelligence service back in 2007 to secure his company’s exclusive rights to ship fuel across Jordan to U.S bases in Iraq. (That allegation comes from the Jordanian king’s brother-in-law, Mohammad al-Saleh, who is suing Sargeant for purportedly screwing him out of a $100 million stake in the company.)

3. The Kind of Guy Who Helps Launder Illegal Political Contributions

In 2008, the Washington Post reported that Sargeant, a billionaire, raised funds for John McCain’s presidential campaign with help from an unnamed “former head of the bin Laden unit” who worked for him. The men reportedly skirted campaign finance laws by funnelling the money through Arab-American “straw donors.” McCain quickly returned $50,000 of Sargeant’s lucre. The Post never named the ex-chief of the CIA bin Laden unit involved in the fundraising, but unless two former heads of the bin Laden unit were working for Sargeant at the time, that man was Marty Martin.

4. The Kind of Guy Who Gets Totally Psyched When People Die In a War He Profits From

In a court filing last week, attorneys for al-Saleh quoted from an e-mail that Martin wrote to Sargeant in 2008 in which he appeared to gloat over the escalation of violence in Iraq:

“Fyi, word of a ‘re-surge’ is floating around amidst shit hitting the fan in Iraq today. ☺”

The “shit hitting the fan” was the Battle of Basra, the Iraqi Army’s attempt in March 2008 to finally roll up militias loyal to Moqtada al Sadr. It was widely seen as a debacle and victory for al-Sadr, and many feared the conflict threatened to reignite the civil war. That month, 40 Americans died in Iraq. ☺!

5. The Kind of Guy Who Has a Daughter Who Swam In My Last Swim Club and Whose Wife Was the Club Secretary

Believe it or not that’s right. I did wonder why he spoke fluent Arabic on the phone while other parents watched their Bronze Squad offspring attempt the 25 metres butterfly. What did he do to afford a $2.6 million house and an international business jet? At a swim meet in Jupiter he brought me up to date on several ways of killing a human being without needing a weapon. That too seemed a bit different from other swim team parents. His ex-British diplomat wife, Carla, was very picky about where the swim team’s money was spent. So picky, she once questioned whether I could have used French side roads instead of paying motorway tolls when I took our club’s best swimmers to Mare Nostrum. For the sake of a few Euros, she made a hell of a fuss. Aware of the concern about the growing Euro toll booth bill, paid to get swimmers from Canet, France, to the tour’s last stop in Monaco, the swimmers paid several of the toll booths themselves. Still, when they got home, Carla didn’t care. The expenditure from the club was still unacceptable.

It seems she may have a several million times bigger financial problem that is about to see her husband return to the care of the US Government. Karma – it’s a wonderful concept.

Anyway, that’s Marty Martin, the guy George Bush put in charge of the bin Laden hunt. Glad it worked out for him.

Harry Sargeant’s lawyers couldn’t be reached for comment on this story. The CIA declined to comment. And Marty Martin’s bin Laden-hunting predecessor, Michael Scheuer –- who served for two years as a special adviser to Martin’s unit –- claims to have never heard of Marty Martin (which we can only presume is a CIA first-rule-of-Fight-Club omerta thing). Reached on his phone, Martin said: “No no, man. I don’t want to talk to you, man,” and hung up before we had a chance to ask a question.

Swimwatch thank the American political blog GAWKER for this story – all the bits that is, except the paragraph about Marty and his wife being parents of a swimmer on our Florida swim team. Again, if you want to read the original, you can find it here .

Somewhat associated with this story – our apartment in Florida was in a complex called the Delray Racquet Club. One of the more infamous residents of an apartment in the floor just above our unit was Mohammed Atta. On September 11 2001 at 8.46am he flew American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Centre.

Just… wow.

Sexual Abuse Allegations: US Swimming’s Preventative Measures

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

By David

I see that US Swimming is currently struggling to handle a series of sexual abuse allegations. Recently two of their coaches have been locked up for thirty years or so for molesting young swimmers and filming swimmers in the girl’s shower room. In the six years I was a member of US Swimming I thought their level of concern and management in this area was about right. They conducted full international background screening checks every two years, their Code of Conduct Rules were clear and while I was in the US close to forty coaches were expelled from the organization for sexual misconduct.

The system wasn’t perfect. I’d been in Florida for four years when a local coach, and President of the Florida Gold Coast region, was locked away for having sex with an underage female swimmer and distributing nude photographs over the internet of young boys taken in the team’s changing rooms. I’d only been in Florida a few months when one of my swimmers pointed out this fellow and said he was sleeping with one of his young swimmers. I heard that said several more times before he was caught. Each time I put the remarks down to malicious poolside gossip. I even told one of my older swimmers he really shouldn’t be spreading that sort of noxious stuff. Being a newcomer I never dreamed of reporting their comments. I also thought that if it’s a topic of open conversation in my team, Florida Gold Coast’s management must have heard the same rumors. They weren’t doing anything; neither would I. We were wrong.

However it’s not an easy thing for the US authorities to get right. I’m certainly not qualified to tell them how to address such a complex and difficult issue. What I do want to discuss are two narrow aspects of this malaise that demonstrate its complexity and its difficulty.

I’ve heard US Swimming is considering making it compulsory for coaches to allow the parents of swimmers to attend all swim practices. It’s fairly unusual in New Zealand for parents not to be allowed into the pool, but in the United States many clubs enforce some version of a “No Parent” rule. For example a club team near where I lived, based at Florida Atlantic University, limited parent access to the pool during practice. The St. Andrews Swim Team, also in Florida, publishes its version of a “no parents allowed” rule in their team rule book. Here’s what it says.

“Parents/Guardians are not permitted on the pool deck during scheduled practice times. Access to the pool deck is permitted during the final ten minutes of each practice session. There are shaded picnic tables at the pavilion for your convenience. This will allow for the coaches to attend to the swimmers without interruptions and will enable us to build an effective coach/swimmer relationship.”

I agree with the US Swimming proposal. It is ludicrous for any club to exclude parents from the pool. Parents have every right to watch their children at practice. What do these clubs have to hide? When it comes to abuse of any sort it is not only important for coaches to be above reproach they should be seen to be above reproach. Parents can’t do much seeing sitting in their car in the pool parking lot. Besides I’ve always considered parents to be an integral part of the swimmer’s coaching team. They have an obvious and vital role to play in an athlete’s sporting success; feeding swimmers, caring for them when they are sick, making sure they rest, all that important “outside the pool” stuff. I actually enjoy parents being around. It makes it a lot easier to communicate how children are progressing when parents can see it for themselves. It also means that when there is something to say, it can be said immediately. So, any move to open up all US Swimming practices to parents would certainly get my vote.

If US Swimming provides the parents of America with additional access, as I think they should, then those rights should come with responsibilities. Without some controls coaches will become an endangered species. Years ago I gave up getting into a pool with learn to swim or training classes. I just wasn’t prepared to take the risk of some parent making a complaint that is almost impossible to defend. In 2005 Nancy Gibbs wrote an article for Time called “Parents Behaving Badly”. In it she tells horror stories of teachers victimized by out of control parents. For example:

“Mara Sapon-Shevin, an education professor at Syracuse University, has had students call their parents from the classroom on a cell phone to complain about a low grade and then pass the phone over to her, in the middle of class, because the parent wanted to intervene. And she has had parents say they are paying a lot of money for their child’s education and imply that anything but an A is an unacceptable return on their investment.”

US Swimming has a duty to protect their good coaches. I’ve been fortunate. I have only experienced one case of “parents behaving badly”.

I should have been cautious of Linda from the start. On her first day at the pool she told me that she had paid for a private detective agency to conduct a thorough check into my life in the Virgin Islands, the USA, New Zealand and the UK and I was approved as a suitable coach for her two daughters. As time went by I discovered she’d seldom traveled outside Florida, she hated things foreign but drove a steel grey Audi SUV, reading “People” magazine was her major intellectual stimulation and she’d caused trouble and walked out of her daughter’s first elementary school. In Barcelona her daughter swam in a 50 freestyle race and came last. Linda sitting behind me in the stands burst into tears and walked out. A week later she emailed a complaint to my employer saying I’d “forced” her daughter to swim. Fortunately the complaint was full of lies. For example she said I’d told her daughter to “splash around in the shallow end” of the Barcelona Pool. The problem is that pool is two meters deep all over; there is no shallow end. Her complaint was full of silly errors like that and was dismissed.

My point is that just as parents need access, good coaches need protection. It is important US Swimming provides added safeguards for parents and their children. They must also ensure good coaches are protected by instituting a range of sanctions that deter parents on the lunatic fringe.