Joel McKown isn’t just Hartnell’s new head coach for swimming and diving.
He’s also the Panthers’ first new aquatics coach since 2003, working to build men’s and women’s rosters for spring 2020 from among current freshmen and sophomores.
“I’m looking for anyone who can positively contribute to the team, whether that be talent, work ethic or personality,” McKown said. “If you have something to bring to our team please reach out to me or someone you know on the team.”
He said also knows how valuable swim can be as cross training for other sports and hopes to see some Hartnell student-athletes become two-sport athletes.
Looking ahead to the 2021 season and beyond, he’s also reaching out to aquatics coaches at nearby high schools with competitive swimming programs, as well as throughout California.
McKown will begin training with team members this fall, following his belief that as a coach, “my job is to keep this fun.”
“Swimming and diving is hard work, and it’s important to be creative and keep that hard work enjoyable,” he said.
McKown’s leadership of Hartnell’s revived swim and dive program culminates a journey he began when he was still competing himself. He competed in swimming and water polo for the University of California, Santa Cruz, and had a successful professional water polo career in Australia and New Zealand from 2008-10.
Hired in June for a full-time position that includes teaching a variety of physical education courses, he comes to Hartnell from Cabrillo College in Aptos, where he was assistant men’s swim and water polo coach and an adjunct instructor in kinesiology.
McKown’s coaching experience began in 2010 as head boy’s water polo and swim coach at Harbor High School in Santa Cruz, where he served until 2015. During that time, he also taught in the kinesiology department at San Jose State University from 2013-15, while completing his Master of Arts in Kinesiology there. He earned his bachelor’s degree in philosophy from UC-Santa Cruz.
In 2015, McKown entered the community college coaching ranks as head women’s swim and water polo coach at West Valley College in Saratoga, where he also taught kinesiology for two years. While at West Valley, he twice was named Coast Conference Coach of the Year within the California Community College Athletic Association.
Then it was on to Ceiba College Preparatory in Watsonville, where he taught PE and health and was both athletic director and PE department chair.
Cabrillo hired him in 2018, and while he enjoyed that work, McKown said he could not pass up the opportunity for a full-time teaching and coaching role at Hartnell.
“Since getting my master’s degree, my mission was to get a program of my own,” he said. “I have been able to be a head coach for each gender independently but am really looking forward to coaching both and having everyone work together.”
He has an ideal venue at Hartnell, whose Olympic-sized swimming pool is well utilized by Salinas-area school and club teams and students in its physical education and fitness classes.
The college district’s boundaries encompass seven high schools with interscholastic swim teams that involve nearly 400 male and female athletes every year.
McKown said he has discovered a special affinity for community college athletics, first sparked by a college coach he got to know while still swimming and playing water polo for De La Salle in Concord.
“I think you get a unique opportunity where coaches are a lot more personally invested in individuals and their success rather than prioritizing overall program success,” he said. “And I really believe the California Community Colleges are the most efficient level of education that we offer in our country, where you get the most bang for your buck and a very high quality level of instruction.”
He also sees a big part of his coaching role as helping individual swimmers and divers reach for the opportunity to continue competing at a four-year university.
“I think the biggest part of it is providing an experience that benefits these students time at Hartnell,” McKown said. “Simply put, my job is to help people accomplish their goals. That’s while they are here at Hartnell but more importantly in what they choose to do after.”