Running for a Reason: 25 Years of Badger Support and Success
Sept. 4, 2006
When we think of the evolution of sport one might think of the use of titanium drivers in golf, shorter ballparks and the importance placed on the long ball, or the initiation of the three-point line. But a sport that is often overlooked, maybe because it's been around longer than them all is running. Or can we say running has changed at all? Can we call running a timeless sport? With all the advancements made in sport (i.e. rules, playing fields and equipment), running stands on its own, perhaps because of its simplicity. The only equipment required is a trusty stop watch and a pair of shoes (the latter only an option as Zola Budd-Pieterse showed at the 1984 Olympics). Anyone can step outside and run, however, only a few can do so with such finesse and ease we can all agree we envy at some point. You know those people; those people who finished their Presidential physical fitness mile while you were stuck with two more laps to go.
Said Wisconsin's six-time All-American Stephanie Herbst, "I was just naturally good at running from the time when I was a little kid. When I was really little I thought that nobody else tried and I was the only one that tried, but when you are older you realize that everyone else is trying it's just you are going a little bit faster."
Or the people you see outside your window running in the hot sun because they were bored in the air conditioned apartment you are still sitting in watching yesterdays SportsCenter twice already.
Shortly after the passing of Title IX in 1979 and the dissolving of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), Wisconsin won its first of six consecutive Big Ten Championships in the 1980s. It was a time in which one could actually see and feel women's sports evolving; the docile AIAW giving way to NCAA competition and athletic departments embracing their women's athletics. People finally opened their minds and saw that women could run, throw, hit and hustle just as fast and hard as anybody else. With new found acceptance women could finally stop trying to fit in and find their own identity.
Herbst explains her experience during that time, "When I went to school I felt you had to fit this particular generic mold. I love the fact that when I look at the girls on the team now, everyone is who they want to be and it's accepted. That's beautiful and that's how it should be"
During her career, Herbst (1984-88) led the Badgers to back-to-back NCAA titles and four Big Ten Championships. She is a six-time All-American and earned All-Big Ten in each of her four years. Herbst holds seven Big Ten titles, two conference track records (3,000 and 10,000 meter indoor) and three individual NCAA titles.
Wisconsin's reign cannot be discussed without mentioning the name of Peter Tegen. The former Badger head coach enjoyed great success in his 30 years of coaching in Madison, mentored more conference champions, national champions and All-Americans than any other coach and was recognized for his efforts evident by capturing nine Big Ten Coach of the Year honors.
The Badgers matched their six-year streak from 1983-1988 when they began another string of conference titles in 1995. With their second six-year sweep, the Badgers took Big Ten cross country competition to an unprecedented level. It is hard to imagine having to face Wisconsin during those prominent years. In 1986, Wisconsin won its fourth conference crown with an 85-point differential between it and the second place finisher and in 1997, UW recorded the second-lowest winning score in championship history (25), which it then repeated in 1999.
"It's tough to be the other team because you want to break those strings they have. At the same time it is something to shoot for because when you see the best you want to emulate the best," recalls current Badger head coach, Jim Stintzi.
Coach Stinzti speaks from experience because before landing the job at Wisconsin, he was the head cross country coach at Michigan State for 24 years, coaching the MSU men for 20 and the women for four.
An All-American and All-Big Ten Badger himself, Stintzi initially turned down the Wisconsin job, but soon changed his mind after he heard how Wisconsin handled its athletics program, specifically the Olympic sports like the track and field and cross country teams.
"They want to win and they treat their student-athletes very well. It really made me think twice about going after this job," states Stintzi.
From his own observations running in college and talking to people from that era, Stintzi understands how far women's athletics have come in the past quarter century.
"There is a light years difference in terms of what women had to deal with to go to a meet and compete at any level and earn respect of the athletic department. I would say now all of our (Wisconsin's) student-athletes feel they are treated at a very high level and they are given the things they need to achieve their goals which wouldn't have been the case 25 years ago." Stinzi says.
Herbst resonates, "You had a tremendous amount of support not only from your coaching staff, but the whole administrative staff was kind of like a family to you. They looked after you and helped you. You felt like this warm hug of people looking out for you. It made the university which was otherwise fairly large, very small and very personal."
It may be too subtle to simply say Wisconsin made claim to the cross country world, during the years of 1983-1988 and 1995-2000 because the Badgers not only won, they won in emphatic fashion.
So in the end, when examining whether the landscape of women's sports and specifically cross country has changed, we are wrong to measure the evolution by looking solely at the sport. The question is not whether the sport has evolved, it's a question of whether man has.
Or in this case, the woman.