By Nora Preston, Writer
To the side of the New Paltz High School gymnasium, in a backroom office cluttered with sports equipment and the noticeable rumbling of an AC unit, Tom Tegeler sits perplexed as to why a student he doesn’t know well would want to sit down to interview him. Adorned in a cream-colored quarter zip hoodie, light gray basketball shorts, and white sneakers, standing at 6 foot 3 with the voice that has been reverberating throughout the gym for the past 25 years, Coach Tegeler is the person who can seize the attention of 50+ rowdy teenagers and dominate the room. Over the years in his position as a gym, baseball, basketball, and football coach, Tegeler believes he’s acquired a bit of an intimidating demeanor. For 25 years of Friday night football games, people watched him bring the necessary structured, organized, and physical mindset to coaching.
“I’m really not like that, but I think people view me as a football coach and are a little wary of me or scared of me… I don’t want them to [be], but that’s being honest,” Tegeler explains, and also later hypothesizes a potential cause of this being that he intentionally keeps people at a distance.
There are many things people outside of Tegeler’s innermost circle probably don’t know about him. Everything from basic facts like his favorite song or color, to his upbringing, how much thought and effort he and the other coaches put into lesson plans, and the softer side of his personality.
Growing up in Kingston and Stone Ridge, New York, near the Ashokan reservoir, Tegeler developed an affinity for the outdoors while hunting venison with his dad. Although he doesn’t hunt as much anymore, his current hobbies include fishing and golfing. He still appreciates and enjoys the solitude provided by nature and explains that he doesn’t need a lot of social interaction and is okay with being alone. In his free time, he tries to partake in those hobbies, do yard work, or play video games. Almost calling baseball the love of his life, he reminisces on how the sport bonded him and his father, specifically The New York Yankees.
“I had a demanding father who taught me mostly everything I know, and I love it,” he remarks.
Tegeler’s father had a moral code to ‘always think about the next person,’ seeded in him from a young age. His family never really had a lot of money when he was growing up, but as he looks back with kinder and wiser eyes, he can recognize the love he shared with his mother, father, and brother. Without a sliver of doubt or hesitation, his family is the most important thing to him.
“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of some life lesson, ” he notes fondly.
This gentler side has supported many students in ways outside the realm of responsibilities for a high school gym teacher, but not outside of being the compassionate and upstanding person he is. This disposition is coincidentally comparable to the raison d’etre of his favorite bread company, Dave’s Killer Bread. They make an organic, non-GMO, whole grain bread that’s perfect for him because he hates white bread.
The company’s website declares that they are “a proud Second Chance Employer,” and that they “have witnessed first-hand that someone’s past does not define their future, and that sometimes giving someone a chance is all they need to become a Good Seed,” which falls in line with self-proclaimed Bread-Snob’s sympathetic nature.
Caring for everybody and figuring out how to earn respect instead of expecting it are two things that motivate Tegeler. He tries to find an “in” with students so that high regard can develop.
He let this deep caring for others shine through when he said, “I think people make a mistake in treating everybody like they’re the same. You don’t know. I don’t know if you had breakfast this morning. I don’t know if someone’s loved one died. I don’t know what I’m teaching in a class of 50. There’s 50 different personalities.”
Whether it’s buying $50 worth of candy for a modified Survivor game or getting kids motivated to exercise at 8am, the coaches work tirelessly to spice up their classes. On an average day, Tegeler gets to the high school around 7am, he’ll get organized with Coach Vance, and sometimes they work out before school starts. They sit down to run through their classes at about 7:30am, then teach for the next 6 hours until school gets out, and Tegeler’s practice for whatever sport he’s actively coaching starts at 2:30pm, which means he probably won’t be leaving the school until 5pm.
“People probably don’t realize, we always look for different things. We don’t want Phys. Ed to look like the 1980s, you know? [We’re always] Finding different things we can do,” Tegeler adds.
Tegeler is also motivated by the desire to win. This urge is fueled by something his baseball coach, while attending St. Bonaventure University, Larry Sudbrook said on the first day of practice. Sudbrook walked in and said, ‘You know what? Everybody’s lied to you. I do play favorites. And my favorites are kids who come early, leave late, and play hard.’ Coming from his role model at a time when he really needed it, this quote has stuck with him and is how Tegeler lives his life. It’s also why he stays at work for about 10 hours a day.
Despite the everyday dedication to the job, Tegeler has a few notable accomplishments. One is the Wellness Center, sparked from a simple conversation, held in the same office we sit in now about how to help kids battling with things like anxiety and how to make physical education the solution rather than the problem. The second one is starting the Girls’ Golf Team at NPHS.
“15 years ago, I started the first girls golf program because girls didn’t have an option to play. And I just got a really nice email from a kid that played on my first team. And, um, it was really kind of cool that, you know, the thank you for getting her into the sport. It was awesome.”
Staying in a small town like New Paltz allows us to see each other grow up and become adults, which Tegeler got to experience when he saw one of his former players become a cop and another that he happened to run into at Rino’s pizza one day. Those two made up a small part of the team Tegeler had put together in 2002 that managed to break the 22-year losing streak and win the state championship. However, his time coaching hasn’t always been full of sunshine, rainbows, and glowing accomplishments, like pulling the NPHS football team out of our most depressing losing streak in only his second year. A year before winning the championship was September 11, 2001, one of the worst days of his life. He was at NPHS, teaching when the twin towers were hit.
Recalling it being “pretty bizarre. It was really, really, really weird. I can’t even explain it to you… ‘cause we’re so close to the city, there were enough kids that had people down there. Uh, the adults didn’t know how to act. We were sitting kids down; it was wild.”
Tom Tegeler knows how to command a room, sympathize, persevere, care, and most importantly, evolve and develop as a person. These traits greatly benefit people as members of society, so he hopes to pass them along to his students somehow, but he emphasized that it’s imperative to grow as a teacher. Tegeler hopes that other teachers can follow a similar trajectory of character development.
Describing his own evolution, he explains, “I’ve morphed. I’ve changed multiple times. I went from a real hard-ass 22-year-old teacher,” and concludes that “In my older career, I really care about making a difference in people’s lives and making them feel comfortable, and leaving a legacy.”