Life on the Run
By Eric Balkman and Andrew Munger
Student News Reporters
With happy smiles, a few long pauses and plenty of introspection, two of the pillars of the UW Oshkosh athletic department donned their running shoes and jogged off together into the proverbial sunset.
After three decades each of service to UW Oshkosh that included leading various Titans teams to 24 out of the school’s 42 NCAA Division III national championships, the married coaching couple Deb Vercauteren and John Zupanc has called it a career. In January 2011, they left their coaching, teaching and administrative positions.
Zupanc said that despite all of the athletic success the program has enjoyed under his and Vercauteren’s leadership, he will always remember how much he enjoyed seeing kids enter the program and then come back to visit him years later with established adult lives.
“You can see them as guys coming in out of high school and watching them evolve into college graduates,” he said. “And now they get that first job and have a family and come back. Those kinds of things—you remember a lot of those.”
Vercauteren said she will miss going to practice and the thrill of the competition, but she will most miss seeing her student-athletes achieve lofty goals.
“What I remember most is someone setting a goal that’s way, way out there and maybe persevering towards that goal for two, three—sometimes four—years and they finally accomplish that,” she said. “That’s the part of coaching that I really like.”
Vercauteren coaching career began rather inauspiciously in 1980 when she was hired as the university’s women’s badminton coach. But when that sport was dropped a year later, she became the school’s head women’s cross-country coach. She then took over as UW Oshkosh’s head women’s track and field coach in 1982.
For more than a quarter century Vercauteren held both positions. In 2009 she switched to be the assistant women’s track and field coach with Pat Ebel taking over the head coaching position.
In 1981, Zupanc was a volunteer assistant for the men’s track and field team. He became the head men’s cross-country coach in 1982. Zupanc was named the head men’s outdoor track and field coach in 2005, while taking the same position for the indoor team the following year.