Rockford alumnus Dan Schemmel has been to plenty of wonderful places since he graduated as a Ram. But, now perhaps, he has found perfection. Dan is happily situated at the University of Hawaii, in Honolulu, and is making a mark as a well-respected coach of the swim teams.
It’s been an interesting journey that pays testament to his drive, dedication and interest in helping athletes become the best they can be.
He graduated from Michigan State University in 2008, with a bachelors degree in Psychology. He then graduated with a master's degree in Educational Psychology from the University of Arizona in 2010.
When asked why he selected MSU he listed a couple of reasons - his family is steeped in Spartan tradition.
“I grew up a Michigan State Spartan,” he explains. “My grandpa Schwab was cremated in his favorite MSU sweats. I also had a former high school teammate (Nick Harley) who swam at MSU that I really looked up to and helped connect me with the coaching staff.”
He was a sprinter in the pool as a Ram, primarily swimming in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events, and also competed in the relays. He also was a member of the water polo team.
Dan has plenty of great memories from the pool at Rockford High School – as a freshman both the water polo and swim teams claimed State Championships, and the water polo team earned the MHSAA State Title again when he was a senior.
He learned a lot in his early years from a number of Ram coaches. He rattled off their names and the dates with ease.
“Dave McWatters was my coach all four years of water polo,” he shares. “Don Seifert was the swim coach my freshman and sophomore years, Tom Parks my junior year, and Sarah Harley senior year. I had quite a few different coaches to learn from!”
He points to a caring philosophy, a drive to do your best, and Ram Pride as values the coaches taught him before he walked away from Rockford.
“All of them cared deeply about each of us as people,” he says. “They kept the sports fun, but also taught us how to work hard. Each one of them were very competitive and that trickled down to us, making us want to be our best. Each one of them were very team-oriented, which taught us to not concentrate on our individual successes but rather how we can best serve our teammates and help the team. I've carried that with me everywhere I've been and tried to instill that kind of mindset with who I've worked with. Swimming is very individual but embracing the team side of the sport can really help people reach their potential. They had very high expectations and held us all to a very high standard. With that, they preached a very elite mindset and lifestyle. These are all things necessary to be a successful athlete at the DI level. It made my transition pretty easy.”
Dan walked on at MSU and actually served as team manager, training with the team that first year. Utilizing his lessons from RHS, he worked hard and made the swim team both as a sophomore and as a junior. In his senior year, Dan felt the call to coach and opted to answer that call. For good reason, too, as he excels at it, and has proven that through the years.
His journey has taken him to plenty of states and colleges – including MSU, Arizona, Wisconsin and he finally landed as head coach of both the boys and girls swim team at University of Hawaii.
“I coached at Michigan State after I graduated from Arizona (2010-2011). One of the assistants from Arizona got the head coaching job at Wisconsin in the spring of 2011 and brought me on as an assistant. Wisconsin has been going to Hawaii for their winter training trip since the 1970s and I had never been there prior to my trips with Wisconsin. During my last Hawaii trip with Wisconsin, the head coach at Hawaii told us he would be stepping down that spring. When the position opened I applied, never thinking I'd get it but I got lucky!”
But, it’s more than luck - along the way Dan has learned plenty of lessons on how to be a good coach from plenty of talented mentors across the nation.
“My time at Arizona was incredibly special and integral in my development as a coach,” Dan says. “I was privileged to learn from some of the best coaches in the sport. The head coach at the time later went on to be the USA Swimming National Team coach. All of the assistants went on to be head coaches of big Division I programs. The teams won several National titles, broke many NCAA and American records, and produced quite a few Olympians while I was there.”
That coaching experience has helped Dan build a team that has blossomed under his guidance at the University of Hawaii.
The team has broken 36 school records in the 2.5 seasons he has been at Hawaii - more than any other DI program in the country. To add to that, one of their female swimmers currently owns the top time in the country in the mile.
Dan shares an affection for Rockford that has stayed with him no matter what state he lives in.
“I enjoy working with, and helping, people,” he shares. “Swimming isn't just a sport, it's a lifestyle. It's year round of 20-plus hours a week of grueling training to drop hundredths of a second. It takes a special person to be a Division I swimmer and I enjoy being there to help guide, mentor, and support them on their journey. I feel very fortunate and blessed to have grown up in Rockford and been a part of two great sports programs. I wouldn't be where I am without the experiences I had on those teams or the relationships I formed with my coaches and teammates.”