Judy Weiss was fresh out of college when as a young physical education teacher at New Richmond High School in 1974, she was asked to help get girls’ sports off the ground.
“It was slow,” she said about the early years. “The kids that came really wanted to come, but I think for the first season of volleyball and basketball we might have had seven kids out.”
Weiss helped start the Tiger volleyball, girls’ basketball and girls’ track and field programs and has coached the girls’ track team since its inception in 1974. Now, after taking early retirement from teaching in 2001, she has decided to retire as track coach as well. But she doesn’t plan on slowing down.
“It’s time, “she said. “I have a grandson and another on the way, so my grandkids are important. And I have a health coaching business, so I’ll keep busy with helping others stay healthy. And I love to be outside, so hiking and biking and all of those things, family and friends.”
After the passage of Title IX in the early 1970s there were still plenty of growing pains related to getting girls’ sports on equal ground as the boys. Weiss recalled mothers having to sew numbers on the backs of the girls’ shirts to provide uniforms and girls struggling to find equal practice time in the gym.
“When we started basketball we had to practice in one of the elementary school gyms where the basket was nine feet,” she recalled. “But we were so excited because we could play in the high school gym for games, but the basket was 10 feet. So you know, when you lost or won a game 7-5, you could understand why.”
Weiss said growing up in Verona, her only opportunity to compete in sports was at the intramural level. But she soon realized developing interscholastic programs required a much different approach.
“I just thought, oh we'll get together and have some fun and get to participate,” she said. “But along the way I learned it was much more competitive. And that the kids really wanted to compete against others schools and set their goals and develop their potential.”
Soon Weiss was joined by Polly Simpson as head girls’ basketball coach and Betty Komula as volleyball coach. Weiss said the enthusiasm for girls sports in New Richmond took a huge step forward when the Tigers qualified for the very first WIAA state girls’ basketball tournament in 1976.
“That really began to spark interest in the community with the parents and the kids,” she said. “So that helped develop the program a lot-- that group of girls that really loved athletics.”
She said it wasn’t long before numbers started to grow.
“I think as more dads saw their daughters become successful and gain something from sports, it was a little easier for them to see that there was really a value for everyone,” she said.
But it was on the track where Weiss has made the biggest impact over the years. As a kid in Verona she said she grew up with the mindset that girls weren’t supposed to be competitive, and looked at track as an avenue for goal-setting and overcoming obstacles. But it was still OK to win.
“There was always a lot of failure and setbacks, but how do you overcome those types of things?” she said. “How did you treat your teammates, your opponents, all those things? I really thought that was the backbone of the program. And then along the way, teaching them that it's okay to be your best. You can beat somebody else and still be their friend and it's all okay. That's the way it should be.”
Weiss said she’ll always remember the conference champions and school records and seven state champions she coached, but has a special place in her heart for the kids who may not have had as much talent as some, but still managed to achieve their goals.
“I can remember a girl, as a senior her goal was to run under a 10 minute mile,” she recalled. “You know that's a terrible time, but the kids lined the track to help her achieve that goal.
“Those are the things that stand out,” she added. “Kids that set their goals and made a path and maybe had no business making them happen, but they made them happen. Whether they were a state champion or just a 10 minute mile for the first time in their life. That's the stuff I remember.”
Above all, Weiss said she tried to teach kids lessons that would serve them well the rest of their lives.
“Sometimes we lose perspective on what sports is really all about,” she said. “There’s just so many valuable lessons that come out of it. And just think that's why we should continue to promote it. With all the new stadiums and everything it's become some kind of fancy, but the real part of sports is the life lessons that you learn.”
And Weiss said she cherishes the relationships she’s built at New Richmond.
“New Richmond is a quality school with quality academics and quality sports,” she said. “And you get to know the parents who were your athletes at one time, and now they're the parents of kids you’re coaching.”
She said it makes her feel like part of the family.
“Like being a grandparent,” she noted.