Janet Knoppel, from Swim Mom to Official “I’d do it all over again!”

2012 Summer JO Officials

Janet Knoppel (second from right) wth the Summer JO Officials 2012.

It’s not uncommon for our officials to begin their careers as ordinary day-to-day swim parents. Another thing they all have in common—they like to stay busy.

According to Janet Knoppel, whose daughter began swimming around 1977-78, she didn’t like sitting in the stands gossiping, so she worked in admin instead. Then she moved into the position of starter and referee.

In 1983, she worked with Tina Martin at the dedication of the USC pool. Tina was instrumental along with Mary Jo Swalley in organizing and running the 1984 Olympics.

Janet’s daughter swam with Joe Mykkanen who was the brother of Olympic silver medalist John Mykkanen. She knows the Mykkanen family well because she has worked at many meets at NOVA meets, where the Mykkanen children are swimmers and mom Joanna is a coach. She said most Olympians she knows, like John Mykkanen and Janet Evans, don’t push their kids. Instead they ask, “Did you have a good time?”

According to Janet, “It has to be the kid’s decision to swim.” Her own daughter swam all through high school and started swimming in college. She injured her shoulders after two weeks and then did rowing and volleyball. Her daughter swam with the Arcade Riptides and Industry Hills Aquatic Club where Olympic gold and silver medalist Jenna Johnson swam.

Her daughter became a teacher and enjoys coaching, too. Her granddaughter loves the water. They had her in lessons before age two. They hope she’ll swim competitively, too—when she’s old enough.

Janet taught at Gladstone High School in Azusa and was assistant principal at San Dimas High. She’s enjoyed working at CIF since the early 90s. “I know many of the kids and it’s fun to watch their growth. It’s really exciting.

“As an official, the commitment is up to you,” Janet said. One of the things she enjoys most is “training officials and working hand in hand with them.” She has her National certification and said she learns a lot by mentoring. “When I work with an observational starter or referee, I ask what do you see? I teach them to see beyond the one lane.” Janet said she was happy to hear “one official say, ‘I’m so excited. I can see four lanes at once.’ ”

According to Janet, being an official “is not about finding fault, it’s being surprised when they do something wrong.”

At a Nova Grand Prix Meet Memorial Weekend, she was surprised to watch a girl from Stanford swim past the 15-meter line. The Stanford coach asked her, “You didn’t see that did you?” She said yes, she did. The swimmer came up and told the coach, “It’s because of all those underwaters you’re making us do!”

A bit of advice that Janet tells the officials she trains: “Coaches are the advocates of their swimmers. I tell new officials that this is their role. When they have questions, just answer them, don’t get into a confrontation. Once they understand what you saw, they will understand. It’s all about the kids. Without the kids, we could all go home.”

She explained why Southern California Swimming officials are so professional: “Officials from across the country may work only three our four meets a year. In So Cal, we work three to four meets a month. Plus, I work high school and college season. We’re on the deck a lot and have a chance to hone our skills.

“Southern California Swimming is the epicenter of swimming of course because of the weather. But we have great clubs and coaches, both large and small teams. We have great facilities, coaches and officials.

“Our officials nurture the kids. Ninety-five percent of us get to the level of the little kids. We get down physically on our knees to talk to them to tell them they did a really great job, but that they were DQ’d and explain why and wish them good luck.”

John Ries Began His Illustrious Career in a Back Yard

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With a coaching career that started in a Southern California backyard in 1961, Coach John Ries has fascinating stories to tell. A native of So Cal, he played high school baseball, basketball and football at Pomona High School. He swam for one year in college at Cal Poly Pomona.

His father-in-law Herb Weightman ran a swim school and he asked John to help out with summer lessons. It was in June when John returned home from the service that he began coaching. With 60 kids in their program, they had to get creative on how to conduct their lessons. John explained that his father-in-law drilled holes every two feet around the pool and put in poles. A rope was attached to the poles with belts to go around the kids. They had 20 to 30 kids in the pool at once doing stationary freestyle. With this unorthodox method, they developed some good swimmers in the AAU.

Claremont had a team, but there was a tragedy with a female diver training for the Olympics. According to John, a young boy dove or jumped off the high dive onto the diver and paralyzed her. The swim team was canceled after that. People were obviously upset about the accident, but they were also up in arms that the whole team was canceled.

“Eventually, word got out about what Herb and I were doing in Pomona. We were asked to start up a team at El Robles Junior High in Claremont,” John said.

The team became the Claremont Crocodiles. John laughed when he recalled the gift the team gave him one year—a live crocodile. From 1962 to 1971, John coached the Crocs.

“Chaffey High school asked me if I could coach there. I went to Chaffey because they had a 50-meter pool. I worked there for 10 years until 1982 as head coach of the Chaffey Tiger Sharks. Dave Radcliffe, who competed in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, was a prior coach for the team.

“I went to Industry Hills and I was there for 10 years. I started as an assistant coach but took over for Don LaMont. Don went to USC. We had Olympians, national level swimmers. When I was at Industry Hills, it was beautiful. It had a first class hotel, a 50-meter pool, a 25-yard pool, lockers—it was state of the art and the best in the country at the time.”

John’s next step in his swim coaching career was retirement. He said, “I retired and then Stan Clark, who owned the Claremont Club, asked me if I would come start a swim team. He was building a 50-meter pool. He hired someone else and that coach had some weird ideas. They got rid of the other coach, so he approached me again. I’ve been here for more than 25 years.”

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The Claremont Club 50-meter pool.

Although John says he’s coached a number of great kids, a few of the swimmers who were standouts during his coaching career include:

Jeff Kostoff, Industry Hills, 1984 Los Angeles Olympics and 1988 Seoul Olympics. Distance swimmer and 400IM. He held the 500 free national high school record for 30 years and the 1650 Stanford record for 21 years. He’s an assistant coach at Stanford.

Jenna Johnson, Industry Hills, 2X gold medalist at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, 400-free relay and 400-medley relay, plus silver medalist in the 100 fly.

Olympian Doug Northway, “Fourth at Olympics for distance in 1972 Munich Olympics. Rick DeMont, who is the coach for Arizona Wildcats, won first, but they stripped his medal because of his inhaler for asthma. They’ve been trying to reinstate his medal. But, the rest were bumped up and Northway got the bronze medal.” In the 1976 Quebec Olympics, Northway swam prelims for the gold medal winning relay team, but at that time they didn’t award medals for swimmers who swam only in prelims.

Noelle Tarazona, UCLA and NCAA competitor, 3X All-American, Assistant Coach at Pomona-Pitzer. “She has been all over the world with her swimming. Also, she’s been to Colorado Springs as a representative to talk to USA Swimming about what can be improved. Hardest working girl ever.”

Joe Dykstra, “Joey swam from six years old through high school with me. Swam at the University of Washington and is currently a PAC 12 head coach for the Utes. Fantastic kid. One of the top ten swimmers I’ve ever coached, and is wonderful as a person.”

John attributes the fun atmosphere, stability of staff and great families to his success in his coaching career. “Everyone gets along, the olders are good to youngers. We have a banquet and we don’t charge the swimmers. It’s a luau, beach party at Christmas. We try to keep it fun all the time. It’s important to have great athletics, but it has to be fun for the kids to work hard.”

He said, “It’s important to teach coaches how to teach strokes properly. If you don’t have that, you don’t have a program.”

John’s thoughts about his swim coaching career is best expressed by him:

“I’ve enjoyed great groups of kids. I love what I’m doing. I’m still doing it.”

photos from http://www.claremontclub.com/club/scripts/section/section.asp?NS=HOMEPAGE