Investigation concludes on BI swim coach

A 160-page report was released Dec. 2 on the investigation of Bainbridge Island Swim Club coach Kyle Harris after a public records request was filed by the Bainbridge Review.

The investigation was done by E.J. Swainson of Artius Consulting, which was hired June 13 by the BI Metro Parks & Recreation District. The report was finished Nov. 9. More than 20 interviews were conducted, and names of those making the complaints were redacted by the parks department. BISC coaches Leilani Tonsmann and Megan Livingston and manager Megan Pleli were named, along with coaches Jay Friend in Missoula and Hans Dersch of Bozeman.

Harris is still the coach.

The investigation synopsis shows five alleged areas of misconduct for Harris:

Safe sports boundaries violations

Made inappropriate comments about female swimmers’ bodies and questioned their showering practices; lurked and listened outside the female locker room; commented on female swimmers’ clothing; refused to allow female swimmers use of bathroom; and texted with swimmers after hours.


Singled out minority swimmer for wearing wrong swim cap, but overlooked reckless driving by white swimmers; used a racist exertion scale.

Harassed, intimidated and bullied swimmers

Yelled at female swimmer, “When I yell at you, you should flinch;” yelled at swimmer who left practice early for a test; inappropriate posters and stickers; lied and denied allegations.

Used harmful training tactics

Ignored, and disregarded medical professionals advice for swimmers; yelled at a parent over the phone while disagreeing with medical advice; had swimmers do “egg beater” exercises upside down; ordered swimmer to stop using medically advised stretch and replaced it with his own, which possibly injured the swimmer; ignored a swimmer who complained of a shoulder injury, and when the swimmer tried to complain to another coach, Harris yelled at both of them.

Comments on coaching

Tardy; had swimmers enter water without coach being present; stole food from a swimmer; used a swimmer’s chair at a meet; told swimmers not to speak to swimmers from team he used to coach.

Each area has pages and pages of examples from swim team members and their parents.

In general, parents were upset with Harris’s temper, inappropriate comments, inadequate coaching in regard to often being late to practice and not giving feedback, poor program management as in reducing practice time and resisting feedback from parents.

One especially contentious issue was his exertion scale, which was called “racially insensitive.”

His reply

Harris says in a letter that the previous coaches had run the program for 10 years and “built a very special team.” He had been on the job for just nine months and was still learning about the community, team members and their families. He said they had many successes along with some “bumps.”

“My primary focus remains the health and safety of my swimmers,” he says in the letter. He adds that he plans to have more parent meetings to improve communication about why he coaches the way he does.

During his interview with Swainson, he denied being sexist in his coaching, adding he tries to make everything as general as possible. He also denied being racist in his coaching and said if coaches are racist, “They should be let go.”

Dan Gallagher, representing Harris, says in the report that the feeder program for the high school is “awesome to watch” and has been very successful for years. He says there’s always confusion when there is a transition, especially from somebody like (previous coach) Carolyn Acklerley, who excelled at collegiate swimming and was a BI mom with deep ties to the community.

Gallagher says Harris is from the East Coast and his aggressive and authoritative approach hasn’t been appreciated by many on BI. He said people on BI are very sensitive to cultural differences and behaviors.

“But I personally have confidence that Kyle can move forward and do an excellent job as coach on the island and learn from these situations, and I’m hoping the two parties can continue to work together, and they can move forward in a beneficial way for the entire community.”