Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald

Independent Student Newspaper Since 1969

The Badger Herald


Tegen’s warmth, pride defines track-and-field program

Legendary Wisconsin women’s track-and-field and cross-country coach Peter Tegen has a lot on his plate right now.

With the only home meet of the outdoor track and field season ? the Wisconsin Twilight ? coming up this weekend and the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in West Lafayette, Ind., lurking just around the corner, making last-minute adjustments to his squad and coaching his athletes to the point where they can wrap up the 2004 season on a successful note should be plenty to keep Tegen busy.

If that wasn’t task enough, Tegen also has what looks to be an unfortunately nasty court case pending against the University of Wisconsin’s athletic department for alleged discrimination in its failure to renew his contract for next year ? not to mention the question of just what he will be doing after the season ends ? to weigh down his mind.


But all of that didn’t stop the man from trekking up a hill to greet eagerly waiting reporters with a warm smile and to take a couple of minutes out of his day to look back at his career at Wisconsin with a sense of unassuming pride.

It’s that sense of pride that will stand as Tegen’s legacy at Wisconsin.

“I have learned a lot about myself while I’ve coached here,” Tegen said. “I’ve learned to become a lot more patient with things in my life, I think, and that helps me deal with things in a different perspective.”

When Tegen first arrived in Madison in 1973, track and field and cross-country at the UW were male-only endeavors. On a whim he decided to create programs for women at the school, planning initially on staying for only a couple years.

“I said, ‘Why don’t I just do it?’ and I put some signs up around campus,” Tegen explained. “I had no idea where [the program] was going to go, because I was going to just do this for a very short period of time.”

With barely a double-digit number of athletes signing on, the programs nevertheless started to go places very quickly.

“After the very first year, when we still had just 12 athletes, we went to a Wisconsin state collegiate competition,” Tegen fondly recalled. “Teams were there from just other Wisconsin schools ? LaCrosse and Stephen’s Point and River Falls and Parkside, I believe. These were teams that had been having success in these sports for quite a while, and they had a tremendous number of people involved ? and we won that state meet. That was sort of my first really big moment here.”

Early accolades for the programs didn’t necessarily guarantee them any long-term success. There were still countless obstacles standing in Tegen’s way in establishing the program.

“It had its difficulties in all of its facets,” said Tegen of the programs’ early years. “Starting a team: getting equipment together, finding facilities ? not being recognized by the men’s team, we had to battle, so to speak, for space ? funding and all of that kind of stuff. It was difficult; but more it was challenging.

Tegen took the challenge personally and set out to make a name for the teams and their athletes nationally.

“It was exciting, because it was not just another track team, or just another sport that everyone was used to,” he said. “It was women. It was women coming into the limelight a little bit more ? at that time, of course it was happening in all sports ? and it was very exciting to be a part of that. The progress we all saw ? it just snowballed.”

In the next 10 years both the cross-country team and the track-and-field team progressed into not only contenders on a local and regional scale ? within Wisconsin and within the Big Ten ? but also started to make names for themselves nationally. In 1984 and 1985 Tegen’s work culminated as the cross-country squad won back-to-back national championships.

“I was very proud of that,” Tegen said. “I still, today, am very proud of that whole development.”

Both years Tegen was named national coach of the year. But more than he took pride in any personal accolades, for Tegen the impact that he was making on the lives of those he coached gave him a sense of accomplishment.

“It’s hard to say what stands out for me,” said Tegen when he asked what particular moments in his career he remembers most fondly. “National championships are very meaningful and exciting ? but overall, it’s just the whole process and the whole end result of having seen this come about.”

“[Former athletes] still write me letters telling me what the experience meant to them,” he continued. “And that helps me see what it all should mean. Finding out that it doesn’t end here for them, but that there’s always a step more that we can go. Most of them learned I think ? and I hope that this is the essence of my message here ? that there are no limits. You can’t set limits for yourself. It is extremely important to break through those artificial barriers that we sometimes set up for ourselves, because once we’ve done it once, we can do it again and again and again.”

As he continued to go over all of the reasons he loves to coach an eagerness appeared within the corner of Tegen’s eye that strayed to the remaining athletes on the track below. For Tegen, that is what track and field is about: the lives of those who he has the opportunity to coach ? how he can make a difference to each and every one of them.

“I think that over the years I have changed in a way that it became more and more important to me that these ladies, when they left the program, took with them a great memory of their personal accomplishments,” Tegen explained. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that they were champions or had set records ? that’s not what it’s all about. It’s become clear to me through the years that the experience ? the positive experience in college athletics ? was going to be more meaningful and important to them in their professional endeavors and in their futures.”

And with that, he walked back onto the field to impart upon another athlete his sense of pride. Whatever his future holds, Tegen’s time at Wisconsin has given countless athletes that to take with them into the rest of their lives.

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