May 20, 2012 - By Craig Blumenshine, Staff WriterRick Bergstedt is the only head soccer coach the Riverton Lady Wolverines have ever had and his wife, Peggy, has been his assistant since the second year of soccer at Riverton High School.
Back in 1986, after the Wyoming High School Activities Association had made the decision to make soccer a competitive high school sport, the Riverton school board had to hire a girls soccer coach.
After substitute teaching at RHS for a couple of days, Rick Bergstedt saw the job posting, met with then- activities director Bill Strannigan, applied for the job, and got it.
He held it for 26 years.
After coaching his Lady Wolverines at the Wyoming high school state soccer tournament Thursday and Friday for the final time, Bergstedt is retiring as the longest-serving head coach in Riverton High School history.
For 25 of those seasons, Rick's wife, Peggy, has been at his side as assistant coach for the Lady Wolverines.
"We kind of came here on a whim. We wanted to raise our children (daughters Lauren and Megan) in Wyoming rather in southern California, where we were," Rick Bergstedt said.
When they arrived in Wyoming, both Rick and Peggy initially did not have full-time teaching jobs and began their careers as substitute teachers in Dubois.
"We got by. Back in those days it was not hard to get by on substitute's pay. We have lived frugally our entire lives," Rick Bergstedt said.
Both Rick and Peggy landed full-time teaching jobs in Riverton eventually, and both also are retiring from the classroom after long teaching careers, Rick at the high school and Peggy at Riverton Middle School.
Both Rick and Peggy began their coaching careers while still in high school. Rick was the eighth-grade basketball coach while a senior at his parochial school, and Peggy started with the recreation department in Newport Beach, Calif., as a soccer coach when the sport was just starting to catch on.
"I did that during high school and college," Peggy Bergstedt said.
Rick, who grew up in Orange County and Peggy, who lived in Los Angeles County, knew each other while in high school.
"We had mutual friends and went to Chico State (University) together," Rick Bergstedt said.
First RHS year
When soccer started in Riverton, Chuck Rodgers was hired to lead the Riverton boys team.
"He had 25 boys, and we had 22 girls. We all traveled together. It was a nightmare," Rick Bergstedt said.
"It was not good. We did that for maybe three or four years," Peggy Bergstedt added.
Although Riverton had an organized youth soccer program that had started in around 1980, according to Rick Bergstedt, the Lady Wolverines had only a few players with competitive soccer experience in those early seasons.
Changes in soccer
Both Rick and Peggy Bergstedt have seen a lot of change in Wyoming high school soccer since 1986.
"For one thing, we have had some teams that have had experience now," Peggy Bergstedt said.
Rick agreed, noting that the success of his teams have depended on parents who have coached future Lady Wolverines on competitive teams in their pre-high school years.
"There are some teams from 1992 through 2000, I think, where the overall number of players who knew how to play and were good players was greater," Rick Bergstedt said.
But the quality of soccer overall in Wyoming has ebbed and flowed, according to the two coaches.
"For us, and I have talked to Jim Gardner (longtime Cheyenne East High School and Laramie County Community College coach) about this, from about 2003 to today, we have had some outstanding players, probably some of the best players ever to play the game in this state. But the overall quality of play for everybody has probably diminished a little bit.
"Kids are getting different kinds of coaching today. From the early 90s through about 2000, there was a fairly committed group of parents who took a group of girls and worked with the girls from when they were very little and continued to work, work and work, and that paid off for us because it made a lot of what we do a lot simpler.
"Kids had played a lot more, had traveled and had played a fair amount of competitive soccer by the time we got them. Over the last five, six or seven years, there are fewer of those kids in the program. You could look out and see the teams that had traveled and played together all the time. A lot of it has to do with parent commitment," Rick Bergstedt said.
As impressive as Rick Bergstedt's long career is, equally strong is Peggy's role as an assistant coach for 25 of those seasons.
"There is not as much pressure. My goal was to try to get some feeder for him to get some of those kids to step up for to the varsity level. And, whether he likes to admit it or not, I have some good ideas that we can bounce off each other. It has been a good relationship," Peggy Bergstedt said.
Coaching, for Peggy, is different from being a teacher in the classroom
"I just like it a whole lot more. Once we worked out our coaching relationship, I really helped him understand girls. You can't yell at them with that loud voice. Girls are coached differently from boys. They are more emotional," Peggy Bergstedt said.
Her husband concurs.
"Peggy can use the same loud voice, and it sounds less threatening. You can hear her coach. She is competitive and demanding. She is just as loud, but her tone is different," Rick Bergstedt said.
And, Peggy says, even today she has to remind Rick when "it sounds like he is yelling."
"She's right. Yeah, I struggle, but as kids get used to me, my juniors and seniors understand that I am not angry at them. It is pretty hard to change my tone of voice," Rick said.
Another one of Peggy's jobs has been to advocate for players that she has noticed could help the varsity program.
"There have been instances where I have seen things in kids, and he thinks he doesn't see it, and I will push that. He'll give them a go and it will turn out that, yeah, maybe it was right to ask me to look at that person. There are times I see kids in a different light, and we are pretty good at discussing that -- their strengths, weaknesses and mental capabilities," Peggy Bergstedt said.
Over the years Riverton has had many great soccer players according to the Bergstedts, including two four-time all-state selections, Lee Ann Inberg and Enedina Vasco.
"Lee Ann Inberg. Gosh, she would still rip it up today. And she wasn't hugely athletic. She was a good athlete, had great vision, great touch and understood the game. She used to come over to my house to watch soccer because they didn't have TV at their house.
"She was a student of the game. You could see it. She could do some things that hardly anybody could do. She could score, she could pass, and she could use both feet. She had a lot of tools that few kids have today. She was a freshman in our first year," Rick Bergstedt said.
"She kept us in a lot of games in those early years," Peggy added.
Vasco had brothers who had played, and Rick said she could do just about anything with the ball.
"She was an offensive player. Left, right foot, she could beat people on the dribble. Before her ACL surgery, she was as fast as anybody and you could not knock her off the ball.
"She had a number of different things she could do with both feet that a lot of kids can't do. She could hit a little clip ball in the air to the back post. She was so clever," Rick Bergstedt said.
He said that he remembered when Robin Steen (Johnson) came up to him at Rein Park as a sixth grader and told him that he hoped she could play for him someday.
"She was out there as a sixth grader, by herself, touching the ball, moving it around. She worked on it by herself. She was a goal scorer, strong and clever on the ball. She had Holly Johnson to get her the ball, and she could put it on frame. She could hit it a ton with both feet," Rick Bergstedt said.
Carmen Vasco and Melissa Fabrizius (Gold) were "unbelievable" defenders according to Rick Bergstedt.
"Melissa was physical player for somebody that was not big. She read the game so well and became a junior college all-American. Carmen was smart. She could defend, and people could not get around her."
One of the best goalkeepers Bergstedt had was Angel Nickelson (Rhoads), perhaps better known for her success on the basketball and volleyball courts.
"Angel Nickelson was there for two years. You could not put a ball past her. She held that team, that wasn't good defensively, together. She was a stone wall and could catch anything," Rick Bergstedt said.
One of the great goal scorers in the history of Wyoming soccer, Marcia Ashdown, played as a senior this year for the Bergstedts.
"She obviously is the best goal scorer we have had. She scored 85 goals for us. That is a lot of goals. UW (the University of Wyoming) has recognized that," Bergstedt said.
Both Rick and Peggy Bergstedt agreed that being able to coach their daughters at RHS was a wonderful family experience.
"That was awesome. That was fun. They weren't real fast, though," Peggy Bergstedt said.
"I told them when we started that they were going to get yelled at and would need to buck up. Our kids are not great athletes. But they understood the game. Both of them were as good attacking central midfielders as we have had in terms of reading the game, being able to find that last pass, and make it happen," Rick Bergstedt said.
This summer, the Bergstedts plan to move to Bozeman, Mont., where daughter Megan lives, and begin their retirement.
Both hope to continue playing in adult recreational league soccer games.
"We have had some really good teams. I had great friendships with a lot of coaches. We get to go up to Bozeman and will get to play soccer," Rick said.
Peggy noted that, although there will be some sorting out to do, the couple will look forward to the opportunities that retirement will present.
"All this retirement stuff is so new. We'll have to see how much idle time we can bear. I've been trying to reconcile all of this in my brain. You get to all these milestones. You get to college. You get your first job. You have your kids, then you raise your kids. Then you have the empty nest and we have had the empty nest for about 10 years and now it is about time to go on to the next step, whatever that is. And we miss our family."
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