Next to Cayman International School are arguably some of Grand Cayman’s finest sports facilities. People might think it takes many people to run the facilities, but it’s actually a small team headed by Caymanian Jeffrey Wight, who gave up a good job in the Civil Service for the challenges – and rewards – of the private sector.
It’s not all that often that you see young people leave the security of a good job in the civil service for the rigours of the private sector. But that’s exactly what Jeffrey Wight, Camana Bay’s manager of sports, recreation and venues did in late 2008 when he left the Ministry of Sports to join Dart Realty.
For Wight, the reasons for leaving civil service weren’t based on money.
“I left a lot of money and benefits on the table when I came here,” he said. “But it’s been more rewarding.”
In carrying out his job functions at Camana Bay, Wight uses the knowledge he gained while obtaining a Master’s degree from the University of Central Florida, where he completed the DeVos Sport Business Management programme. That programme not only focused on the business side of the career, but also on the social importance of sports.
When he got his degree, Wight wasn’t sure what he’d do with it in the Cayman Islands because the opportunities were limited.
“But I always wanted to come back to Cayman,” he said, noting that it was an easy decision in any case because he’d received a scholarship from the Cayman Islands Government and by contract he either had to come back and work for the public service for a while or he would have had to pay back the amount of the scholarship.
The business and benefits of sports
After completing graduate school, Wight returned to Cayman in January 2007 and went to work at the Ministry of Sports, first as an intern and then as a full-time employee. While at the Ministry, one of the projects Wight worked on was developing a National Sports Strategy.
At the time, most of Camana Bay’s sports facilities were incomplete, but the plans had been announced and Wight was interested.
“I kind of put my name in the hat just to see what they had to offer,” he said.
The hiring process took some time, but eventually Wight was hired – just prior to the completion of the swimming pool and the Arts and Recreation Centre, Camana Bay’s 20,000 square foot multipurpose indoor recreation and events facility.
Much like he had done at the Ministry of Sports, Wight worked on developing a strategy for ensuring the facilities were used by the community. Unlike in the Ministry, however, commercial feasibility also had to play a role at Camana Bay.
“The way the government looks at sports is a lot different that the way the private sector looks at sports,” he said. “For us, this is a business and I’m trying to operate it as a business.”
Wight pointed out that Camana Bay’s sports facilities are at least on par with anything owned by the government, but the big difference is he has to charge a fee for usage whereas the government doesn’t.
But business aside, Wight believes that sports play an important role in society, something that was stressed in the DeVos graduate programme at university. Among other things, that programme looked at the social aspects of sports, including the possible role of sports in promoting racial and gender diversity.
“I believe in the power of sport to bring communities together,” he said.
Wight found that the Dart Group, in the context of Camana Bay, shared a similar philosophy.
“We’re trying to promote the community feel at Camana Bay through the sports programmes,” he said.
During the week days, Cayman International School has the rights to use the sports complex, but in the evenings and on weekends, others can use the various facilities. Part of Wight’s job is to manage the reservations for the complex, which include everything from sports organisations using the playing field or indoor courts for games or practices or to individuals renting the tennis courts. A number of organisations rent the Arts and Recreation Centre for things like fundraising auctions and even the Island Living Show.
In addition to those uses, Camana Bay has some of its own programmes, such as its annual multi-sports summer camp, the Orlando Magic basketball camp, and organised running events like the annual Tower Run. Its largest programme, however, is the Camana Bay Aquatic Club, which is for children aged 10 to 18 as it is only the second swimming club on Grand Cayman.
Started in December 2010, the camp grew from 13 to 82 swimmers in its first half-season and then had 150 participants to start this year, Wight said.
There’s a perception that Camana Bay attracts only expatriates and well-off Caymanians, but Wight said the sports facilities are used by all demographics.
“I think the sports community is different than the rest of the community,” he said, noting that the Camana Bay Aquatic Club has a surprisingly good mixture of demographics.
“And the majority are Caymanian, which I’m pretty happy about,” he said.
Wight said he thought Camana Bay in general gets a “bad rap” for the perception that it is exclusive to any particular demographics. He said that he often sees children playing in the fountains or families having picnics in the Town Centre and that they weren’t there necessarily to visit the shops or restaurants.
“You don’t have to spend anything,” he said. “Camana Bay has something for everyone and that’s the same with the sports and recreation programmes.”
A founding member of the Aquatic Club, Wight also serves as its president, adding to his many responsibilities and workload.
“That’s my biggest challenge,” he said. “Keeping up with all the work with limited staff.”
Wight has two full-time swimming coaches helping out with the Camana Bay Aquatic Club, as well as one more full-time employee and one part-time employee working with him. In addition, the sports facilities have a maintenance supervisor.
Another challenge Wight faces is finding people and organisations in the community to support his programmes. Although the Dart Group and the Dart Foundation support many worthwhile causes and programmes on Grand Cayman, including some of Camana Bay’s sports programmes, the idea isn’t for Dart to fund everything.
“If I keep losing money on every programme I do, I don’t know how long I’ll be doing it,” he said with a laugh.
Instead, Wight has to also try and find sponsors for his programmes, something that has been easier said than done because people see the Dart Group as a great benefactor with lots of money.
“It hurts trying to find sponsorships,” he said.
Just last month, however, Wight had a big breakthrough when MaplesFS signed a two-year agreement to become the Camana Bay Aquatic Club’s first platinum sponsor.
Working for the Dart Group
There are no immediate plans to add more sporting facilities at Camana Bay, but should the ForCayman Investment Alliance finalise its deal with government concerning the George Town Landfill, preliminary plans have the Dart Group converting the landfill to a multipurpose park with a variety of sports and recreation facilities. Wight hopes that happens and that he’s involved in the planning discussions.
“I’ll always advocate for more sports and more facilities,” he said. “And I hope I’m always in the conversation here at Dart.”
Despite the workload, Wight finds his job fulfilling, especially when he sees the programmes he’s put in place benefiting the Grand Cayman community.
Wight said he enjoys the ethos and working culture at the Dart Group, which puts emphasis on, among other things, honesty and integrity. He said he found the company socially responsible, moral and ethical, important elements of his DeVos Sports Business Management programme.
In addition, he likes that the Dart Group is innovative and open to new ideas.
“This is a company where your ideas are accepted and heard,” he said. “Sometimes they are picked up and sometimes not. But I’ve had ideas shot down initially and then picked up later on.”
Wight said the Dart Group is dynamic and that’s he’s constantly learning new things.
“And it’s never boring,” he said.