While the creation of a boys beach volleyball team is a landmark moment in Santa Monica High School sports, it’s also a new beginning for the coach who made it happen.
Kurt Schwengel, whose ousting as the Samohi baseball coach followed a now-infamous playoff controversy, is looking forward to leading the Vikings in the sport that he said was his first love.
Schwengel lamented that his tenure as baseball coach at Samohi was punctuated by complaints from parents of players who were not seeing regular field time, and he said he doesn’t think the trend will continue in the sand.
“For me, it’s a great fresh start in a sport that’s the polar opposite of baseball,” he said. “You can’t pit a second baseman against a second baseman, so you’re going to leave some parents upset when their kid is on the bench. It’s nice to coach a sport that’s a lot less subjective.”
In beach volleyball, Schwengel said, roster issues are easily resolved through head-to-head matches.
Currently, the top Samohi pair features senior Tyler Logan and sophomore John Schwengel, the coach’s son. But the coach said his leading tandem, who won an AAU national title in Hermosa Beach last month, will lose their No. 1 court status if their teammates can beat them in practice.
Schwengel, who teaches kindergarten at Franklin Elementary School, was inspired to establish a boys beach volleyball team after watching his son play on the Vikings indoor team.
He said it didn’t seem right that Santa Monica was not represented in the Interscholastic Beach Volleyball League, a program of the Southern Pacific Volleyball Committee under the AAU umbrella. The season will begin later this month and continue into November.
A Samohi alumnus, Schwengel was a star pitcher in high school and went on to play baseball at UCLA in the early 1990s. But he grew up playing volleyball on the beach in Santa Monica.
“I’ve spent thousands of days at the pier playing volleyball,” he said. “It’s always been my favorite sport. For my son to pick it up, and for me to be able to coach the Samohi team, is a dream come true.”
Baseball duties kept Schwengel from playing volleyball in high school, but he recalled that the top indoor volleyball players at the time developed their skills by playing on the beach in the offseason. The custom eroded over time, he said, as more and more players began focusing on club volleyball.
“We’re bringing back that Santa Monica tradition,” he said. “If we can keep the momentum that it’s a year-round sport, and not all indoor, it’ll really help.”
Schwengel noted that women’s beach volleyball is now a sanctioned Division I sport in the collegiate ranks. He envisions a day when the same is true on the men’s side.
In the meantime, Schwengel will put behind him a two-season tenure as Samohi baseball coach that came to an end after he protested a playoff opponent’s use of Wiffle balls for batting practice.
The Vikings lost the game but advanced because Schwengel reported the rule violation, which led then-ESPN commentator Keith Olbermann to call him out during his recurring “World’s Worst Person in Sports” segment.
The Santa Monica-Malibu school district was heavily criticized by baseball alumni and community members when Schwengel was canned. He was replaced at the helm by Loren Drake, who led the Vikings to the CIF section quarterfinals this past season.