UF fires water polo coach after allegedly being ‘overly touchy’ with players

David Huelsman speaks at Alachua County Commission meeting
David Huelsman speaks at a 2020 Alachua County Commission meeting.
Courtesy of Alachua County Commission

The University of Florida fired the former coach of its water polo club team — who also runs the most prominent youth water polo organization across northern Florida — two weeks after the school began looking into complaints he was “overly touchy” and pressured college athletes to share a bed with him during away matches, according to records.

David William Huelsman, 43, of Gainesville was fired March 7, four days before being promoted to information technology director for UF’s College of Education, a position he had already accepted with a $140,000 salary. His termination letter said he was “not in good standing” with the university.

The school did not explain its decision in writing, according to a copy of his personnel file.

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Huelsman is president and head coach of Gator Water Polo Inc., a non-profit that operates youth teams and instructional camps for scores of players between 10 and 18 years old, according to its website. He’s also been the swim and dive coach at Gainesville High since 2012 and the water polo coach at the school since 2016. 

Reporting for this story did not uncover any allegations involving his work with players for Gator Water Polo or the high school teams.

In an interview, Huelsman said the university never explained to him a reason for his abrupt firing, and he was unfamiliar with sexual misconduct claims against him. He said he first learned about UF’s scrutiny, which the school characterized as sexual harassment, when a Mainstreet reporter showed him the report from the school’s Title IX office, which investigates reports of sexual misconduct, discrimination or violence.

“I don’t have a clue what this is,” he said. “I am totally blown away by this. It’s obvious someone has some kind of vendetta against me.”

The report, obtained under Florida’s public records law, said “club leadership” of UF’s water polo team complained on Feb. 22 that Huelsman had shared beds with athletes on away matches and requested that certain players who it did not identify share a bed with him. Team leaders described Huelsman as “overly touchy” and said some players quit because Huelsman made them uncomfortable, the report said.

Asked in an interview whether he ever shared a bed with a player, Huelsman answered: “Not to my knowledge.”

One former player, who spoke with Mainstreet on the condition of anonymity due to this person’s concern over a pending employment situation, said the two shared a bed in 2022. The athlete was a UF graduate student at the time, older than most undergraduates. The former player said there was nothing sexual or strange about the experience, and Huelsman fell asleep right away.

“I didn’t think it was weird because we are all adults,” the former player said.

The case summary said UF investigators sought to contact individuals characterized as victims in the initial report from UF’s Department of Recreational Sports, “but no one stated they were harmed.” It concluded that the allegations from the person who initially complained did not rise to a gender equity violation under the Title IX federal civil rights law.

Gator Water Polo sign at at Dwight H. Hunter Northeast Pool
Photo by Matthew Cupelli An advertisement for David Huelsman’s non-profit Gator Water Polo at Dwight H. Hunter Northeast Pool tells early morning swimmers to try water polo and offers them a discount.

The law prohibits sexual harassment that is so severe, pervasive and offensive that it bars a victim’s access to an educational opportunity or benefit, in cases when a college or university still has authority over the harasser, and when the school’s response to the harassment is deemed clearly unreasonable.

The summary, which said the case was resolved April 29, noted that Huelsman was no longer affiliated with the university after March 7. It said the case against Huelsman was “documented” but did not rise to the level of a formal Title IX investigation.

Beginning as the head coach of the UF club team in 2016, Huelsman led the team to four state titles and was the Florida conference coach of the year for three consecutive seasons. He stepped down as coach of the club team about a year ago.

Huelsman’s former boss in the IT department, chief information security officer Robert Adams, declined to answer any questions about Huelsman’s firing. In a letter he sent to Huelsman, he said UF paid him a three-month severance, worth $28,008, and said Huelsman was ineligible to be rehired at UF for at least three years, given his poor standing with the school.

The Title IX case summary also did not specify the reason for Huelsman’s firing but noted the significance of March 7 as a “next deadline date,” the same day that UF fired Huelsman. A UF spokeswoman, Cynthia Roldan, confirmed Huelsman was no longer the coach but declined to comment further.

One student and player on the UF team, who spoke with Mainstreet on the condition of anonymity over what the player feared would be backlash from the area water polo community, said Huelsman repeatedly made inappropriate comments about the player’s appearance. One time, the player said, Huelsman commented on how much better he looked after shaving some facial hair.

“I exist as a player,” the student said. “I should not have any attraction in your mind.”

The former captain of the UF water polo team, Parker Strickman, who played from 2017 to 2021, said he was shocked to hear about the university’s inquiry. He said he never witnessed any unusual behavior from his coach and believes Huelsman would never try to sleep with players.

Strickman said he fears the allegations may harm the water polo scene in Gainesville.

Gator Water Polo, Huelsman’s non-profit, generated more than $316,000 in annual revenues, according to copies of the most recent financial records publicly available, including $112,600 in athletic grants from Alachua County between 2021 to 2023. The group routinely hosts tournaments to grow the Gainesville water polo scene, and Huelsman is widely regarded as a key figure in establishing the sport in north-central Florida.

One of the Gator Water Polo board members, Jean Feuerstein, said she was unaware of any allegations. She said no one affiliated with Gator Water Polo has ever voiced concerns to her over Huelsman.

“He’s a great guy,” she said. “This is a shock to me.”

Financial records said Gator Water Polo spent $37,290 on salaries and other employee compensation, but Huelsman was not paid in his role with the organization.

While Huelsman has been coaching water polo at Gainesville High since 2016, it is not a full-time position. The school district paid Huelsman $4,272 as a supplementary employee for his work as coach of the boys and girls high school teams for the 2023-2024 season, district spokeswoman Jackie Johnson said.

According to a bio on the Gator Water Polo website, he also coached baseball at Gainesville High from 2007 to 2014.

Editor’s note: Matthew Cupelli (mcupelli@ufl.edu) is a rising senior in the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He reported this article under the supervision of Prof. Ted Bridis, who teaches investigative reporting in the college and runs the Fresh Take Florida news service.

This story has been updated to correct that Huelsman became water polo coach at Gainesville High School in 2016.

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BillS

“I didn’t think it was weird because we are all adults,” the former player said.(gotcha – your secret is safe with us(wink)……If he/she/it/they,etc. did this with college age one can almost guarantee a close look is warranted for the minors he coaches/coached. Just sayin’—where there is smoke there is fire with these types of people. As for UF’s termination: I’ll bet they did their due diligence and would not take their action without a careful internal review

JD Eliott

Incredible example of judicial overkill, to smear a good employee and community leader for nothing more than ridiculous concerns. Suspect there is a lot of homophobia going on in this case!

anon1793

I know this person and it sure seems that someone had it out for him. He was always extremely professional at his job and I am not sure how to take this. Apparently if you tell someone they have a nice haircut or that they look nice after shaving it is now a fireable offense. Unbelievable.

Ollie

I’m amazed by that as well

RacSan

I know David personally and professionally. He coached my son at GHS baseball, and we trusted (still would) him with our kids. This allegation appears to have no substance.

DenHen

I have also known David for many years. In several different ways including him coaching. One person against how many players with no issues?