Rockford alum creating ripple effect at major college swim program

Dan Schemmel

A former Rockford resident is making waves half a world away, turning heads and transforming the culture of the swimming & diving programs at the University of Hawaii.

Dan Schemmel, 31, a 2004 graduate of Rockford High School, just finished up his first year at the helm of the men’s and women’s swimming and diving program in Honolulu, home of the University of Hawaii “Rainbow Warriors.”

Not only did he lead both the men’s and women’s teams to improved seasons, but he was crowned as the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation’s (MPSF) “Coach of the Year” for the Women’s Swimming and Diving programs.

Schemmel got his start right here in Rockford, where his father Dave taught Dan how to swim by tossing him into the Rogue River on a frigid day in February when he was but 3 years old. When Dan sputtered to the surface on his own and started doing the butterfly stroke, proud papa Dave knew that Dan was likely going to embark on a career in aquatics.

He did, too, putting in four years on the Rams swim team under the direction of Coaches Don Seifert, Tom Parks and Sarah Hartley. He then went on to stand out at Michigan State University, where he specialized in the sprint
freestyle events.

After graduating from MSU in 2008 with a degree in psychology, Dan spent three seasons volunteering as an assistant coach at the University of Arizona, where he helped tutor 28 All-Americans and 12 Olympians. Dan also earned a master’s degree at UA, in 2010.

From there, he traveled back east to work with MSU’s program, then joined the staff at the University of Wisconsin, where he worked five years as assistant coach. At Wisconsin, Schemmel helped guide both the men’s and women’s teams to success at the conference and national levels. The Wisconsin men’s team finished 18th at the NCAA Championships in 2016, led by Big Ten Swimmer of the Year Matt Hutchins. It was the second top-20 national finish for the program during Schemmel’s tenure in Madison.

Both Wisconsin’s men’s and women’s programs spent the entire 2014-15 season ranked in the top 25 nationally. The women’s team took home a total of seven Big Ten titles, and eight swimmers earned NCAA All-America or Honorable Mention All-America honors. Meanwhile, the men’s team claimed six NCAA All-America or Honorable Mention All-America nods, and rewrote nine school records.

Schemmel was named the head coach of the University of Hawaii swimming and diving program by athletic director David Matlin on July 18, 2016. He’s the seventh head coach of the UH program since the men’s and women’s teams combined in 1987.

Schemmel had immediate success in his first year at Hawaii, leading the Rainbow Wahine (“wahine” is Hawaiian for “women”) to their first conference championship in since 2015 by winning the 2017 MPSF Championship. Schemmel also coached the men to a third place finish at the 2017 MPSF Championships.

Under his guidance, Hawaii swimmers broke a total of eight school records and recorded 41 top-10 times in program history in 2016-17. Three swimmers qualified for the NCAA Championships, where Metin Aydin earned honorable mention All-America status with a 15th-place finish in the 200 IM. The UH men finished 39th at the 2017 NCAA Championships.

In addition to their success in the pool, UH swimmers and divers also achieved high marks in the classroom, where 17 student-athletes were rewarded with MPSF all-academic honors.

Dan’s family – parents Dave and Jayne (nee Schwab, RHS ’74) and sister Jackie (RHS ’06) and brother Jake (RHS ’11) – are all proud of Dan’s accomplishments, not to mention they now have a place to stay when they travel to Hawaii, since Dan lives in a condo near Waikiki Beach.

“I didn’t pay anything for accommodations when I went to visit,” recalled brother Jake, “which just left me more to spend on meat and cheese and entertainment.”

Coach Schemmel’s team includes student-athletes who hail from as far away as Iceland, Germany, Turkey, Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand and Australia. “It’s a whole lot more diverse than what I had at Wisconsin,” he observes.

The biggest challenge Schemmel had in taking over the program was to change the culture. “Some of the kids weren’t really there to swim. They weren’t coming to practice because they wanted to head out surfing. They didn’t understand why I’d be reprimanding them.”

In time, Schemmel was able to get his point across, and in doing so, earned the attention and respect of fellow coaches, ergo the award for Coach of the Year, and after just one season on the job.

When Schemmel isn’t coaching or on some far-flung recruiting trip, he’s likely enjoying the outdoors – either snorkeling with dolphins, or rock-climbing not far from where he lives.

Though he misses his mom’s homemade cooking, he’s become addicted to an island concoction fashioned from Spam, an omelet, rice, teriyaki and then wrapped in seaweed. “We call it the Hawaiian Power Bar,” says Schemmel.