Kent McDonald leaves lasting legacy

Long time boys swim and dive coach Kent McDonald steps down

By Tessa Collar, Reporter


Kent McDonald wasn’t originally a swimmer. He was a runner. But as head coach of the Lawrence High swim and dive team for 15 years, he’s come to have a strong impact on countless swimmers. 

“We just really enjoy the environment and racing for each other, racing as hard as we can,” senior Maximillian Whittaker said, “and Kent is a big part of that. He’s a big reason why we want to come back and why we want to race our hearts out any given meet.” 

Although McDonald hasn’t officially announced his retirement from the boys swim and dive teams, it’s expected that the 2022-23 boys season was his last coaching at Lawrence High. McDonald has a long history of connection to LHS, as he graduated in 1971 and previously taught science and coached cross country at Lawrence High. 

Assistant coach Elle Weber is taking over as head coach for the girls swim and dive team this season. Although the position of head coach for the boys swim and dive team hasn’t been made available yet, it is expected that Weber will assume this role as well. 

Weber swam on McDonald’s team when she attended Lawrence High, and said she has enjoyed working with him in a different capacity. 

“It’s been fun spending time together for the past couple of years,” Weber said. “He’s got a dry, sarcastic sense of humor, but he’s pretty fun to be around, so I’m going to miss him.”

When McDonald attended Lawrence High, he set the record for the 2-mile in 9 minutes and 8 seconds. McDonald reflected fondly on his time at LHS, especially his involvement in athletics. 

“I was on the track and cross country teams, and those are my best memories,”  McDonald said. “I set the school record in the two-mile, so I was pretty good.”

McDonald also still holds the record for the 3,000-meter Steeplechase event at the University of Kansas. He set this record in 1975 while studying for his bachelor’s degree in geology. 

Although McDonald learned to swim when he was young, he didn’t start swimming seriously until the 1980s when he began competing in triathlons.

 McDonald’s wife, Free State swim and dive head coach Annette McDonald, also helped him learn about the sport. The pair still enjoy learning from each other, despite coaching for rival teams.  

 “She’s a really good coach,” McDonald said, speaking of his wife. “And I’ve learned a lot from her. How to run meets, how the equipment works, the timing equipment. And it’s kind of nice because it’s something we share and talk about. Tonight, she’ll come home and I’ll be talking about practice and she’ll talk about her practice, and I’ll get ideas, and I’ll give her ideas.” 

McDonald discussed his favorite part of coaching the teams at Lawrence High.

“Probably the best thing is getting to work with the kids, the swimmers and divers are a really good group of kids,” McDonald said. “They’re a lot of fun to be around, and that kind of keeps me feeling young.”  

As well as the two records he holds, McDonald has completed the Hawaii Ironman, a 140.6 ultra-triathlon, three times. Senior Chris Oral noted the significance of having a coach with this type of experience.

“People like Coach Kent… they have a degree of experience and a degree of competency that just makes them much more inspiring and much more effective as coaches and leaders,” Oral said. 

McDonald started working as the assistant coach for the Free State swim and dive teams in 2004 before making the switch to his alma mater in 2005. 

McDonald took on the role of head coach for the boys and girls Lawrence High swim and dive teams beginning in the 2005-2006 seasons. McDonald emphasized his goal of making swimming more fun for his athletes. 

“I want them to have fun doing it,” McDonald said. “Can you think of anything more boring than going back and forth in a pool just looking at the bottom? I mean at least with running you can go outside and see things and you can talk while you’re running. So I try to make it a little more fun if I can for them.” 

Sophomore Ike Adams discussed the ways McDonald balances difficult workouts and having fun during practices. 

“Coach Kent has taught me to be a really hard worker but also not to lose the fun in swimming,” Adams said. “His coaching methods are really fun, they’re very difficult… but you don’t lose the fun of the sport in the hard practices.” 

Senior Abi Jones echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that McDonald has not only helped her improve but has increased her love for swimming, too. 

“He’s made me better, and made me have more passion for swimming,” Jones said. “He just makes you fall in love with the sport, no matter what.” 

McDonald described his favorite memory in recent years as when the girls’ swim and dive team won the state competition in 2019. 

“That was really exciting,” McDonald said. “We didn’t win a single event, but they won the meet. And we went the whole season undefeated.”

Emily Guo, a 2019 Lawrence High grad and four-year member of the swim and dive team, just finished her collegiate swimming career for Washington University in St. Louis. Guo reflected on how McDonald’s coaching helped the team achieve victory in 2019. 

“Kent’s coaching helped us focus on our end goal and not get too caught up in the little things,” Guo said. “His belief in our capability was extremely helpful in having a good mindset going into the meet.” 

After retiring, McDonald hopes to start competing again. 

“I’m hoping to do racing,” McDonald said. “I could be one of the better ones in my age group in the country in running and in triathlon.”

McDonald also looks forward to spending more time with his grandchildren. 

 “I want to travel and I’ve got a couple of kids in California and a grandson there,” McDonald said. “I want to go visit more, and then I have two granddaughters and a son in Kansas City. Be able to visit them, do things with them.”

Both swim and dive teams are sad to see McDonald go, considering the passion he has put into coaching. Whittaker said McDonald’s personality has influenced the team’s drive. 

“Ultimately, everybody wants to perform as best as they can for themselves but also for their coaches,” Whittaker said. “And he’s just a lovable dude. Everybody likes Kent, everybody wants to swim for him, and he’s pretty awesome.”