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.”

Mary Jo Swalley Leaves a Legacy of Children First

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Cecil Gordon and Mary Jo Swalley in Long Beach. (photo from the Richmond County Daily Journal.)

I talked with Mary Jo Swalley during a break at the Women’s PAC 12 Swimming and Diving Championships in Federal Way, WA where she was wearing one of her many hats in the swimming world. She was serving as an official, a role she’s held for years, as well as being the executive director of Southern California Swimming and vice president of USA Swimming.

Her swimming career began in high school when swimming was a mandatory class. She grew up in Antioch, CA and there was a state law that if a school had a pool, by their senior year, all students had to know how to swim. She said that at 5’ 11” she was an “aquatic type” and she taught others how to swim in high school. In high school, students tried different sports for six-week blocks of time. She said that rather than being competitive in a sport, the goal for the girls was to “learn the rules and socialize.”

In college, Mary Jo was one of the first 16 women to graduate from University of California, Berkeley Law School.

Eventually, she moved to Santa Barbara and when her son was three they got involved with swimming. The aquatics director for the YMCA lived up the street. Next thing she knew, she became commissioner of the YMCA. There were 28 teams and she was responsible for all their schedules. Among the biggest teams in those days were Santa Barbara, San Bernardino, Glendale and Peninsula. The YMCA championships were held in the Belmont Pool.

Mary Jo mentioned that her son swam with Olympic medalists John Mykkanen and Dara Torres. When her son was older and transferred to SCS, Mary Jo soon became involved with the LSC.

In 1983-84 one of her best memories was working with Christina “Tina” Martin on the 1984 Olympics. She said her good friend Tina talked her into it. They stayed in a “roach-infested apartment and lived off of frozen pastries for a month.” Mary Jo was in charge of the ceremony and awards, while Tina was in charge of the venue. As Tina said, the experience was “life altering” and the highlight of their years working in the swimming world.

After more than 30 years as Executive Director, Mary Jo retired in December 2016. She began her journey running Southern California Swimming when USA Swimming broke off from AAU. Her responsibilities grew along with the SCS, which began with 6,000 swimmers in 1984 to 25,000 today. She described her job responsibilities as serving the board as needed and conducting the day-to-day business of running the LSC. The board itself is made up of volunteers. Her office was responsible for developing the website https://www.socalswim.org/ on an original Mac. Mary Jo handled everyday issues, including membership, scheduling, website, meet settlements and other duties.

Mary Jo said the biggest growth happened across the country with the popularity of Michael Phelps and that was true in SCS as well. She said the Eastern Section saw an increase in membership by more than 12%.

One of the changes she’s seen in swimming throughout the years is that kids specialize in one sport at a very young age today. They didn’t use to and her own son swam three days a week in the 11-12 age group and did just as well as those who swam six days a week. She said that trying a variety of different sports is better for kids overall.

She recalled one of the worst calls she received from a parent. The mom wanted to know where the nearest Olympic Training center was. She said she had been told that her children were gifted in swimming and she wanted them with the best coach and team. “I told her it was best to swim close to home. Then, I asked how old her kids were—they were two and three,” Mary Jo said.

According to Mary Jo, “The solution is to provide more parent education. USA Swimming Safe Sport needs to be used by the parents. If the parents don’t access it, the kids won’t know about it.”

In all of her years dedicated to swimming, Mary Jo’s legacy was always placing the needs of the children first. “It should be about the swimmers,” she said.

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Here’s a list of accomplishments and roles Mary Jo has held, from her bio on USA Swimming:

USA Swimming Elected Offices

Administration Vice-President
Program Development Vice-President
Local Administration Vice-President
Domestic/Age Group Operations Coordinator
Age Group Planning Committee
OIOC

USA Swimming Volunteer Contributions

Rules & Regulations Committee
National Championship Meet Referee
FINA Official
Registration Committee
Club Development Committee
Meet Director 6 National Championships
Manager 6 National Team trips
Awards/Deck Coordinator for 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games (aquatics)

Southern California Swimming Service

General Chair
Age Group Chair
Registration Chair 29 years
Meet Referee 32 years
Manager 30+ team trips

Contributions to Swimming Organizations

NCAA – Meet Referee (D1)
PAC 12 – Meet Referee
High School – Referee
YMCA Swimming Commissioner

Academic

AB – University of California, Berkeley – Political Science

My Commitment to You

Our top focus must always be our athletes from novice to Olympian, inclusive of the
diverse and disabled. A safe environment for every athlete, coach and volunteer in every
endeavor whether building the base, growing the sport or achieving excellence is
required. It would be my honor to continue to serve on the Board as your representative
and voice, to collaborate toward a successful future for our great sport.

Christine Martin: From Southern California Swim Mom to the World Stage

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Christine Martin on deck at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, while she was very active with SCS. (photo permission of Christine Martine)

Christine (Tina) Martin began her amazing swim officiating career as a typical mom. Like many Southern California swim moms, she signed her kids up for summer league and then onto year-round swimming. In 1973, when her youngest was five years old, she decided to get more involved. More involved is putting it lightly!

She became meet secretary from 1974 to 1984 and an official in 1982. She said during these years, there were few women referees and officials on deck.

Looking back on her career that includes officiating and leading So Cal Swimming, Southern California Aquatics Federation, Masters, NCAA and more, Martin said, “Our work on the Los Angles Olympics in 1984 was life altering.”

She and Mary Jo Swalley were two women in charge—at a time when few women were on deck.

“Mary Jo and I had a huge influence. We were known as Siamese twins. 1984 was a big highlight of our careers.” Martin said the Olympic Swimming Committee let the local committee run the show. She and Mary Jo planned, staffed, designed and managed the operating plans. “We were the ones who came up with and developed the concept. Our little group was able to put on the biggest show in town. No one gave us rules.”

In addition to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, their plans became the blueprint for future Olympic Games including 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000 and 2004. In 1996 in Atlanta, Martin was manager of on-deck media for swimming and she worked directly with NBC. In 2004, she contracted to design and direct the overall competition aspect of the USA Olympic Swimming Trials in Long Beach, CA. She also wrote operations for Korea and Barcelona.

“My role in Atlanta was in charge of deck media (NBC-TV, World feed and other exotic media). I was also the backup French Announcer … was 1st choice until they found out what I had done at the 1984 Games in Los Angeles (Co-Chair Competition Committee; FINA Liaison; Assistant to Chief Referee; Manager of FINA Complex and a member of the venue management team).”

Martin said she stayed on deck officiating for 20 years and trained many of the officials we have today. Other highlights of her years in Southern California include serving as General Chair of SoCal Swimming and the Review Committee. She spent years organizing meets, including in 1983, when she was meet director for Junior Nationals and Nationals.

She recalls 2004 in Long Beach as her swan song as the Competition Director, principal designer and Member of the Executive Board. According to Martin, there was a staff of 400 volunteers and that event is recognized as one of the most successful in USA Swimming history, with more than 106,000 in attendance and millions watching on NBC TV.

She left California in 2005 for North Carolina and continued officiating with NCAA for Raleigh College, Duke, University of North Carolina, North Carolina State and Davidson. She retired from the role of official in 2008. She said most of her time she was a starter more than referee and she and Mary Jo were two of the first women starters on deck for NCAA.

Her grandkids are continuing the swim tradition with SCS at Rose Bowl. She’s very impressed with Jeff Julian as a coach and how his program is flourishing. She believes that a lot of the success in Southern California can be attributed to strong coaches.

While in Southern California, she taught courses for California Lutheran University’s MBA program and undergraduate classes in ethics for Pepperdine University and California State University in Channel Islands. From 2005 to 2009, she taught virtual classes in executive coaching for the University of Texas at Dallas School of Management.

In 2011, she immigrated to Ontario Canada, where she works as a mentor coach and consultant for businesses, entrepreneurs, executives and other professionals.