Head coach John Peterson means so much to the Tyler Junior College tennis program that back in March, athletic director Dr. Tim Drain refused to accept Peterson’s resignation letter.
Drain put the letter in a folder and told Peterson they would revisit the topic after the season. Peterson never wavered, and on Tuesday TJC made the announcement official.Peterson, whose TJC tennis teams won a combined 25 national championships in his 24 years, is retiring effective Aug. 31.
Dash Connell, a former player for Peterson at TJC and current assistant coach, has been named as the interim head coach for the 2011-2012 academic year, Drain said.
“I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’m not as good at it as I used to be,” Peterson, 66, told the Tyler Paper on Tuesday. “I don’t like to be just so-so in anything. You get older, it’s different. It takes a lot of energy to do it well. This fall I’m going to see a lot of my grandson’s junior high football games. I’m going to ride my bike a lot and play a little tennis myself. I put a lot of time into tennis. I think it’s a great sport and I want to stay involved.”
Peterson began his tenure in Tyler in 1987. His men’s tennis teams won 12 national championships, and his women’s teams captured 13, including winning the title the last two years. Peterson’s overall men’s tennis record was 394-101 and his women’s record was 434-88.
Peterson graduated from Buena Vista College in 1967 — in his native state of Iowa — earning four college football letters, two basketball letters and one track letter. He was inducted into the Buena Vista Sports Hall of Fame in 1991, and is still their fourth leading all-time rusher with 2,463 yards from 1964-1966.
He still holds the school record for most points in a season (96 in 1966) and most points in a career (252 from 1963-1966). He was named to the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference All-Conference Football Team in 1965 and 1966. After coaching and teaching at Fort Dodge High School in Iowa, Peterson joined the U.S. Air Force in 1971.
In 1975, he left the Air Force and went to Nimitz Middle School in San Antonio. He was head of the athletic department and taught middle school physical education and coached football, basketball, track and tennis. In 1979, Peterson was named head tennis coach at San Antonio Churchill High School. His Churchill teams won state team tennis championships in five of eight years, and were state runners-up twice. Peterson also coached state individual champions, and 27 players from his Churchill programs were awarded scholarships to play college tennis.
Peterson was named the Texas High School Tennis Coach of the Year in 1979 and 1983. He is a member of both the men’s and women’s NJCAA Tennis Halls of Fame and is a 2007 inductee of the Texas Tennis Coaches Hall of Fame. In December 2000, the Intercollegiate Tennis Association named Peterson the Juco National Coach of the Decade — the only coach named coach of the decade in both the men’s and women’s division.
“John Peterson is a legend in the tennis community and has played a tremendous role in the Tyler Junior College Athletic Department as an Athletic Director and tennis coach,” Drain said in the news release. “He and his wife Dorothy have played an important role in my family’s life that I will never forget, and I will miss seeing him on a daily basis.”
Peterson thanked former TJC athletic director Billy Jack Doggett and former president Ray Van Cleef for being “persistent in getting me to TJC. I knew during my interview that it could be a special place. I honestly intended to stay a year or two, and here I am nearly 25 years later. “I worked under three presidents and enjoyed them all. I want to thank all the many players that made it possible for us to prosper here,” stated Peterson, who is married to the former Dorothy Driver and has two children and four grandchildren. “I think the school has done well to award Dash the position. I wish him well and will help him and TJC in any way I can.”
John-Paul “Dash” Connell first joined the TJC staff in 2009. He played at TJC from 2001-2003 — and was a team captain — and then continued his collegiate career at Texas A&M from 2003-05. After Texas A&M, Connell was a tennis pro at Willow Fork Country Club in Houston from 2006-09.
“Dash comes from a tennis family,” Peterson said. “I thought when he was playing here (that) this guy is going to be a good coach. I wasn’t surprised when Dash called and said (he wanted to coach).” Drain told the Tyler Paper that Connell would be re-evaluated one year from now.
“I’d be really surprised if he doesn’t do really well,” said Peterson, who groomed Connell for the position. “I hope TJC can hang on to him for a while. The last couple of years working for us, working for me, he did a good job. He’s a really good person. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s level-headed and a good family man. I think his players are going to like playing for him, he’ll be fair with them.”
Connell said Peterson’s many attributes included his organizational skills — the way he ran his practices — and “keeping everybody in line. It’s easy for a No.1 recruit to come in and think they are the best and to act like it. It can break up a team if not handled correctly. No one is bigger than the whole team,” Connell said of Peterson’s philosophy.
Connell said the biggest thing he learned from Peterson was coaching at TJC isn’t about winning championships — although he won many — but having TJC be a stepping stone for players to get to the next level. Most of the time that meant scholarships at NCAA Division I programs.