Chesterton Tribune



Chesterton High School swim coach Kinel retires his stopwatch after 40 plus years

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“It’s just time.”

After 40+ years of looking ahead to the next meet, team or season, Kevin Kinel can finally sit back and relax.

The boys and girls head swim coach at Chesterton High School officially retired from coaching and teaching when the 2018-2019 school year ended last week.

“It’s been awesome for me,” Kinel said. “I’ve met so many great people and there have been so many opportunities that have come my way. There just isn’t a lot more I can do.

“It’s been a great ride.”

Kinel’s program is the most dominant program in Northwest Indiana in any sport.

On the girls’ side, the Trojans have won 20 straight DAC and Sectional titles and have 24 top 10 finishes at the State Finals. Chesterton was the 2017 IHSAA runner-up.

“Nobody gets into it for those things,” Kinel said. “They get into it because they love the sport and they get to work with kids. All that other stuff came and that made it a fun ride.”

For the boys, the Trojans have won 23 straight DAC titles, 21 straight Sectional titles, four State Championships and one National Championship.

“It’s clearly the premier program in Northwest Indiana,” Chesterton Athletic Director Garry Nallenweg said. “People know about the Chesterton swim program from across the state and the nation because of its success through the years.”

Kinel has coached 51 individual and relay IHSAA state champions, along with 18 IHSAA state records and six National High School public school records. Everything is proudly displayed on the boards on the wall in the pool area.

“When Jenni (Anderson) won her first title, I decided I was going to put up a board up for our state champs,” Kinel said. “We had a couple before that and then Jenni did her thing. I remember it leaning against the wall with three names on it and I was so proud of it. Now we have had to move things around to get them all up there.

“No way I could have envisioned that ever happening.”

Humble beginnings

The 2007 inductee into the Indiana Swimming and Diving Hall of Fame started at CHS as an instructional aide in 1976.

“I helped out with the Duneland Swim Club and that’s when I realized that this was what I was supposed to do,” Kinel said.

Kinel also spent time with the Bloomington Swim Club and became head coach at CHS in 1980, while also running the Duneland Swim Club.

“I was doing everything myself and thought I was going to die,” Kinel laughed. “I saw Jim (Voss) working with a team from Michigan City and saw how the kids reacted to him and I just knew he had it. I hired him to run things without really knowing what he knew about swimming just because I loved his energy.

“It’s been an incredible relationship ever since.”

The pipeline continues to get fed.

“There is a built-in system for us from club to high school to college,” Kinel continued. “We’ve had 100’s of kids that have gone on to swim in college at 100’s of different schools. It’s been a lot of fun, but a lot of work.”

Game changers

Kinel has more than his share of stories and memories but pointed to three names that helped define the program.

“Jenni Anderson (now Kellstrom) being the first multiple state champion, made me believe that we could make this place special,” Kinel said.

“The one thing I remember is how much he cared about the swimmers and the team,” Kellstrom said. “It didn’t stop at the pool. He cared about us academically and he was invested in us.”

Kellstrom was a six-time state champion, winning both the 50 free and 100 back three straight years before moving on to Auburn University.

“He was at my wedding and always has been a part of my life,” Kellstrom said. “He cared about the results in swimming but cared more about us with the other aspects of our lives. He could read the times, but in college it was always about how my classes were going.

“Now, it’s about parenting and my kids. Just a great man.”

The next jump came as Kyle Whitaker helped lead the Trojans to the 2008 and 2009 team state titles before going to the University of Michigan.

“Kyle took us to the national level when he started breaking records,” Kinel said. “And the team title was built around him, even though we had some other great kids on those teams.”

“Coach was always able to give me another goal or direction to go in,” Whitaker said. “Day to day, season to season or year to year. It was little things and big things that he constantly gave me. We always seemed to be on the same page.

“He constantly made me want to get better.”

Whitaker earned eight individual state titles and won four relay titles. Upon graduation, he held four state high school records and the national record in the 200 IM.

“He didn’t treat anybody differently,” Whitaker said. “He pays attention to every single swim at big meets and dual meets. He remembers, and coaches, everybody. Not just the top kids. I saw firsthand, kids that may have not swam before that were making the Sectional finals or State team as a senior.

“He believed everybody had a chance to get there and he treated them that way.”

Blake Pieroni elevated the program even more as he helped the Trojans win the 2013 and 2014 team state title, along with the 2014 national championship, before going on to IU.

Still going strong, Pieroni won a gold medal in the 2016 Olympics as a member of the 4x100 free relay team.

“Blake’s era had such a great group of swimmers and then winning a national title,” Kinel said. “Blake was so driven. He was always trying to out do Kyle’s times growing up. Then, Blake makes an Olympic team and brings home a gold medal. That’s a whole different level.”

“It’s hard to put into words,” Pieroni said. “He kickstarted everything for me. He made me good enough to swim in college and beyond. He taught me everything I know.”

At the 2018 Short Course World Championships, Pieroni won his first international gold medal by winning the 200 free and then was part of the world record breaking 4x100 free relay.

“I still keep in touch,” Pieroni said. “We have a lot of conversations about the sport in general. We both love it.”


After winning 53 DAC titles and 51 Sectional titles, Kinel had to find a way to celebrate.

“Somewhere in the early 2000’s probably,” Kinel said of the first time he ‘flipped’ after a win. “That started because the kids started dumping the Gatorade ice bucket on me. When you are just in a polo at the pool, it feels like it’ll stop your heart.

“I decided I better start something else.”

Kinel has made more than his fair share of flips over the years, without many 10’s, but the reaction is always the same.

“I got on the diving board to jump in and everybody got all fired up, so I did a flip,” Kinel said. “That just kind of became the thing. It was a way to celebrate and not get hurt.”

Kinel had trouble reflecting on his career but knows that will come in time.

“When you look at the championship teams and all the stories behind them,” Kinel said. “The blood, sweat and tears that those kids poured into that. I can sit back now and laugh at the thing’s kids did that I didn’t think were funny at the time.

‘Now all the pictures and things I’ve kept and never really looked at will be a lot more meaningful than they were.”

The teacher

Kinel was quick to point out some of his fondest memories, and most gratifying moments, didn’t come as the head coach of the Trojans.

“The teaching end of things has been so rewarding,” Kinel said. “Teaching lifeguards to keep the pools and beaches safe in the area. There were so many kids in class that feared the water and swimming and then seeing their sense of accomplishment when they did it.

“The whole package has been rewarding. Almost like a dream.”

And not all the teaching went to his classes.

“I feel really proud of all the accomplishments, but I feel like I’ve helped kids be better people,” Kinel said. “We’ve tried to help them with discipline, self-image and goal setting. We’ve had to go to places where kids have had to speak in front of people. I think it’s important for kids to learn those lessons.

“One of the reasons we’ve always gone to the big invitationals is that kids have to know that there are obstacles out there and things aren’t always going to be smooth.”

“Kevin is the consummate professional both in the classroom and as a coach,” Nallenweg said. “He puts his heart and soul into everything. He’s run the program his way, the right way. You can’t take shortcuts and Kevin never did.

“Personally, I’ve known Kevin forever. We went to CHS together and grew up in the same neighborhood. We bummed around together and created a lot of great memories. I’ll miss having him in the building.”

Thank yous

The pool at CHS may not officially be named for Kinel, but you can understand why he feels so attached.

“I was at the, now middle school pool, for about 20 years and then this one was built,” Kinel said. “So, I started everything here at this school. That’s hard for me. When I started in 1980, there were people there before me and I was trying to build and add to that.

“This pool has some definite sentimental value.”

Kinel’s name may be at the top of the food chain, but he’s sure to point out that he didn’t do it alone.

“I’ve been so blessed to be a part of this,” Kinel said. “The community and administration have always been so supportive. The Duneland Swim Club has been great and the parents have been awesome. I feel like we’ve moved it in the right direction and now it’s someone else’s turn.

“Garry Nallenweg, Jim Voss, Christy Kallay and especially special thanks to all the assistants I’ve had over the years like the current group of Pat Ward, Holly Williams and Mike Diaz.”

But, at the end of it all, Kinel knows where his biggest loyalties lie.

“I feel like I owe it to (my wife) Barb and my family,” Kinel said. “I’ve gone 24/7 365 for 40+ years. I have grandkids in California and I don’t want to miss out on them growing up. I’ve put my life on hold, and I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to be freed up to do those things.

“It’ll be nice to sit back and enjoy what’s happened over the last 40 years of teaching and coaching. And making new memories.”


Posted 5/30/2019




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