Chelsea Swim Coach steps down after 32 years

By Seth Kinker,

After spending 32 years in Chelsea, as a teacher at Beach Middle School and as the head coach of both the high school boys (for 32 years) and girls (for 24 years) swim teams, Dave Jolly was ready for a new challenge.

At 7:53 a.m. on Apr. 17 the twitter page for Chelsea athletics sent out a tweet of the announcement.

Jolly went to Eastern Michigan University, graduating with a teacher’s degree hoping for a job right after graduation. With it being the middle of the year, nobody was hiring, so he did some substitute teaching before realizing he couldn’t do that.

He went back to his high school and college part time job, driving a semi for 7UP. One day, he received a call while near the Mackinac Bridge at a Crystal Flash gas station.

“Hey, your boss called,” Jolly recalled the gas station attendant telling him. “He needs you to call him.” I called, and he said, ‘Hey Chelsea Schools called and wants to interview you for a job.’ Awesome. I go, ‘So when?’ He goes, ‘Today.’” 

His boss proceeded to go to Jolly’s house to get him clothes, drove his Cadillac to the bridge, handed Jolly the keys and told him to go get the job.

Jolly met with former Beach principal Darcy Stielstra and the hiring committee and went through what he recalled as the most in-depth interview process of his entire life. He was hired three days before the beginning of the school year in 1988 and got involved with the aquatic side of things almost immediately.

“I started as the guy down at the pool,” said Jolly. “I never worked so hard in my life. I would be there at 5:00 in the morning, and I wouldn’t get home much before 9, 10 o’clock at night that whole first year because I did everything associated with the pool. My hope was that I would get into the classroom, but there was no guarantee of that. To be honest, I was just so thankful to get my foot in the door.”

Then, as Washtenaw County saw its population increase, the schools expanded. The next year he was teaching science and was soon full time after that. He also had a second job, pool director and coach.

Jolly got the job coaching when the man who had accepted the job, that would be in charge of all pool related aspects, told the district he wouldn’t be coming, a week before school started.

“It put Chelsea into a little bit of a tailspin,” said Jolly. “They really wanted to hire somebody with experience because they didn’t want somebody like me, I can tell you that. They didn’t want a greenhorn. I am so thankful that Darcy took a chance on a super green, naïve young man. It was life changing.”

Jolly said the learning curve was steep but had great mentors in Larry Reid, the athletic director when he arrived, and Wayne Welton. He had a background in swimming, winning a state championship at Waverly high school his senior year as a breaststroker under the tutelage of Mike Payton, who Jolly said taught him grit and determination.

At Eastern Michigan, Jolly won a MAC championship and started doing a little bit of coaching there. It was at Eastern that his coach, Michael H. Jones, told Jolly he had to give coaching a shot.

Jolly did and it led to 32 years of teaching, a combined 56 years of coaching, a 2014 state coach of the year award, 6 regional coach of the year awards, 12 top four finishes at the state meet, and 222 all state swimmers.

He told The Sun Times he’s always lived by something his dad told him, that if the decisions he made could always be student focused, that he would always do right.

With the swimming program, Jolly had to decide what type of program they were going to have, he came from a successful background and had high expectations out of the gate.

After realizing kids get involved with sports for a variety of reasons, as well as getting married and having his first child, he said that it gave him perspective.

“Then, I started really becoming a coach,” said Jolly. “I took people where they were and developed them from that point versus just having this bar up here and say, ‘You all got to be here.’ That was when things really started to roll, when I basically said, ‘Everybody has gifts. It’s my job to find them and help them to use them.’”

The opportunity to coach at Hope College was just too much to turn down. He has family in the area, Joni went to Hope (who he met on a blind date through his sister who went to Hope), and his father used to be an assistant superintendent for Holland Public Schools.

One of his former swimmers, Jake Taber, is now the co-head coach for the men’s and women’s swimming and diving teams at Hope and Jolly wants to help him once again.

“When do you know that it’s time? Honestly, you just know,” said Jolly on leaving Chelsea. “This last year and a half, I was like, what’s my new challenge? What’s going to be my focus? I’ve accomplished just about all that I can at the public-school level. I’ve coached tons of All-State athletes. I’ve coached All-Americas. I’ve coached kids that have gone to Olympic trials. I have been so gracious to be invited to the Cum Laude Banquet numerous times in my career and celebrate in educational excellence. One day, it was like, I am ready. I am ready to give everybody a hug and say thank you and go do that new thing that’s going to give me a new drive and that new passion. I’ve always thought, boy, wouldn’t it be neat to coach at the colligate level? Now I’m going to get that opportunity.”

Jolly interviewed for the job on Apr. 10 and was offered the job on Apr. 12.

“It made me feel very humble but also gave me a sense of true pride in what I do,” said Jolly. “I have ridden a wonderful wave of relationships and comradery. I’m just truly thankful. It’s been a great run.”

Seth Kinker

Reporter/Digital Media for The Sun Times News

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