Legendary DCHS tennis coach will be back
By Eric Killelea
Ranger-Review Staff Writer
Rich Lindgren, the Montana Hall of Fame tennis coach whose personality can be as steady as the match play he prefers, announced his retirement from teaching at Dawson County High School earlier this year, but he plans to be back on the court with the high school tennis teams next spring.
In amassing 943 career victories, he won 38 Eastern A Divisional titles in his 47 seasons as head coach. He now holds the record for coaching the most championship teams in state history with 13 boys and 12 girls wins, according to the Montana High School Association. He will soon be presented with his third state coach of the year award from the Montana Coaches Association, which plans to honor his girls state co-championship this season.
Lindgren, 68, holds a belief that his job as coach is teaching athletes how to play tennis and to equip competitive players with the necessary skill set to become competitive. He demands discipline and insists on practicing two-handed backhands and live-ball drills rather than having coach-fed balls, so athletes can more easily acclimate to match-like conditions. He notes that the sport has evolved over time. His players now use better rackets and string and have transitioned to open stances to adapt to a faster paced game that requires more skill than ever before.
“For me, this is the kids’ team,” Lindgren said. “It’s all about three things: fitness, friends and fun. We guarantee each player that we will teach them how to play and it’s up to them if they want to be competitive.”
Lindgren grew on a dairy farm in northern Minnesota. He was the “chief bench-warmer” on the high school hockey team and was introduced to tennis by a friend while attending the University of Minnesota in Duluth. In 1970, he moved to Glendive where then-DCHS principal John Johnson asked if he wanted to make an extra $150 as the head tennis coach.
“Little did I know that Glendive had already established itself as a tennis playing community,” Lindgren said.
His wife, Bonnie, also of Minnesota, did not see much of him for three years as he began to learn the sport and “played tournament after tournament after tournament.” He emulated people he thought were good players and coaches and eventually gained a mentor in Roger Megerth, another Hall of Fame coach who led the boys from Billings West to 14 state championships in the 1970s and 1980s. Megerth and Lindgren ended up becoming good friends and the experienced coach educated the young man from the Iron Range. “It was trial by fire. I used to tell the kids, ‘Hit like you are supposed to not like I do.’”
This season, Lindgren guided the girls to another state championship victory, as the boys placed third.
On Tuesday, Mayor Jerry Jimison and Todd Opp presented “retirement awards” on behalf of the Booster Club to Lindren, Mike Dryden, Todd Naasz, Jim Person and Jim Temple.
It was said that Lindgren was retiring after being the tennis coach for nearly five decades. Temple had coached cross-country for 10, basketball for 15 and track for 25. Person put in 29 for football, 38 for track and 17 as the school athletic director.
Dryden, who announced his retirement from coaching and teaching at the end of this season, hung up his hat after 18 years coaching basketball, 28 years for football and 30 years for track. And Naasz, who decided he would stop coaching and teaching music this year, finished nine softball seasons.
“Tonight, we are losing 266 years of coaching at DCHS,” said Jimison, whose voice cracked as he became emotional at the Spring Sports Awards Banquet held in the high school cafeteria.
There was indeed some confusion on whether Lindgren was retiring from his long-held post as head tennis coach. It turns out he plans to stay on coaching even after retiring from his advanced chemistry, chemistry and biology teaching positions.
“You know I didn’t know I was retiring from coaching,” Lindgren quipped when asked about his plans after the banquet. On Thursday, he clarified his point and said he offered to stay on as head coach for the 2018 season.
“It’s my intention to keep coaching,” he added.
On Thursday, Jimison said the retiring coaches “always wanted the best for their athletes” and that Lindgren’s achievements “bring a light into the community.”
Lindgren’s children Shannon, Scott, Tami and Eric, are members of state championship teams. Tami Staiger is a two-time state champion in doubles. His granddaughter Zoe Lindgren won the Class A for Bozeman High School and another granddaughter Ceeara Staiger (Tami’s daughter) won the state championship in singles this year to become one of five girls named the top player under Lindgren’s tutelage.
After winning the championship, Ceeara Staiger said that Lindgren was her “best friend” – her coach who “calmed me down so I could play my best.”
The family has shared his inductions into both the state of Montana Coaches Hall of Fame in 1996 and the National Coaches Hall of Fame in 2000. He was named the National Coach of the Year in 1995 and 2002, and remains an active United State Tennis Association player at a 4.5 level playing in tournaments and leagues (the average player in the USTA is a 3.5 and a good college player is between 4.5 and 5.5.)
“Our family owes our legacy to the sport of tennis,” Lindgren said.
On Thursday, Lindgren spoke of the benefits of tennis and how the sport has impacted his life as well as the student-athletes he has coached along the way.
“I think learning how to play has been a huge benefit for me to get my own opportunity to get exercise and meet friends,” Lindgren said. “I believe that everyone who picks up the racket wins. They learn a new skill and make new friends. It’s a lifetime sport that gives them the opportunity for exercise and socialization. It develops communication skills with peers and adults. And being that there’s few or no referees you have to maintain integrity, honesty and sportsmanship.”
Considering his achievements, Lindgren remained humble and moved the conversation to focus on a three and a half year process that helped raise $350,000 to rebuild the local tennis courts in 2006.
“For a small town that is incredible,” Lindgren said. “Without the dedication from the community and the kids what would you do? What would I do?”
Reach Eric Killelea and firstname.lastname@example.org.