By Kevin Deutsch
A former Coral Springs Swim Club member on Wednesday joined several other residents in alleging bullying and a toxic culture in the organization, blaming head coach Bruno Darzi for the problems.
Speaking during the public comment portion of a Coral Springs City Commission meeting, former swim club member Ethan Persten, 15, said the dysfunction has led to an exodus of talented swimmers. The issues have persisted for years and included bullying by coaching staff members as well as some swimmers, according to the teen.
Persten and other speakers blamed Darzi, his coaching staff, and some members of the club’s board of directors for the alleged harm suffered by swimmers.
“Coral Springs Swim Club is a club that once thrived with talented swimmers, but now stands without these competitive and promising athletes who sought refuge elsewhere…. swimmers had left this team…mostly due to the constant bullying and toxicity enabled by their head coach and owner, Mr. Bruno Darzi,” Persten said.
“As a matter of fact, I was the victim of several bullying situations. The worst one was being kicked aggressively on my back during a practice. My mother filed a formal complaint to Mr. Darzi, who took no interest in the matter and did not follow the safety sports code of USA Swimming and the swimmer’s Code of Conduct with the swimmers involved. These swimmers continued to bully me emotionally and mentally over the course of years with no consequences to them at all.”
“Mr. Darzi is aware of all of this harassment and does nothing to stop any of it…Mr. Darzi has shown several times that he does not care for his swimmers at all,” said Persten, who urged a change to the club’s leadership.
Darzi did not immediately respond to an email from Coral Springs Talk seeking comment.
After Persten’s remarks, Mayor Scott Brook told the teen, “My heart is with you.”
“I’m understanding there will be action that will be taken in the future,” Brook said.
City Manager Frank Babinec said the city had “been made aware recently of some issues that were brought to our attention related to our contract with the swim coach.”
Coral Springs officials have conducted interviews in connection with the situation and are gathering information, Babinec said. He said a recommendation would be brought to the commission based on the city’s findings and that staff was moving quickly to address the issue.
“We do have an active contract with this coach, so that would come back to the commission for action,” Babinec said.
Commissioner Joshua Simmons thanked Persten for his “strength and courage” in speaking out.
“No one in any organization in Coral Springs should have to deal with anything where they don’t feel comfortable, or they don’t feel safe, or they are being bullied,” Simmons said. “That’s not the brand we represent as a city, and I’m sorry that you had to deal with that.”
Martha Persten, Ethan’s mother, told the commission she had informed city officials last month of the “magnitude of toxicity and bullying that has been going on in the Coral Springs [Swim] Club, enabled by the owner and head coach of that team, Mr. Bruno Darzi.”
She said she provided the city with complaints from five other parents of former club swimmers, and asked the city to install new leadership at the club.
“We’re done with the abuse, the retaliation, and the bullying from Mr. Bruno Darzi and his staff toward our children and some parents like myself,” Martha Persten said.
Solanger Villanueva told the commission her daughter swam for the club for two years and was bullied by a member of Darzi’s coaching staff, with Darzi’s knowledge.
“It’s not only one swimmer, it’s a lot of swimmers,” she said.
Glen Hanks, whose children went through the swim club program, told the commission that “these problems are not new.”
The dysfunction, several speakers said, began after Darzi replaced former Coral Springs Swim Head Coach Michael Lohberg, who died in 2011.
During a legendary career, Lohberg was six-time Olympian Dara Torres’ coach and confidant. His swimmers won three silver medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, he coached at six Olympics and qualified swimmers for every game from 1984 to 2008, Coral Springs Talk reported in 2013.
“The quality of the program has gone downhill” since Darzi took over, Hanks said.
According to the swim club’s web page, Darzi was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and has coached for more than 24 years.
“The Olympic-caliber coach has coached several Olympic swimmers including five-time Olympian Dara Torres and three-time Olympians Vlad Polyakov and Arlene Semeco and senior, junior and collegiate swimmers,” states Darzi’s biography on the page. “Darzi has coached on the international scene, including the Summer Olympics, Pan American Championships, and South American Championships.”
The biography also says Darzi is a “former national-caliber swimmer for Brazil and CSSC…since taking over the head age group position at CSSC in 2004, has had several swimmers produce numerous National Top 10 times, broken Florida Gold Coast and club records…has been chosen as a member of the FGC All-Star coaching staff in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008 and also a five-time member of the Southern Zone Team Championships FGC coaching staff…in his first year of coaching was awarded the “Spirit Award.”…ASCA Level 5-certified, highest level attainable. He earned the ASCA Age Group of the Year award in 2006 and 2009.”
- Kevin Deutsch is an award-winning crime journalist and author. A graduate of Florida International University, Kevin has worked on staff at The Miami Herald, New York Daily News, and The Palm Beach Post.
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