By Tim Petermann, UWEC Sports Information
EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (blugolds.com) - John Peterson, who is entering his fourth season as an assistant coach for the UW-Eau Claire wrestling program, is the 2018 recipient of the Joe Merten Coaching Award.
The award will be presented at the UW-Eau Claire Blugold Hall of Fame banquet Friday, October 5. The banquet is open to the public and tickets, which are $25, can be obtained by contacting the UWEC Alumni Office at 715 836-3266 or firstname.lastname@example.org. The awards program will begin at 6:30 p.m. preceded by a social at 4:30 p.m. and dinner at 5:30 p.m.
The Joe Merten Coaching Award is a $500 cash stipend available to any part-time assistant coach, graduate assistant or community coach in any of the 22 sports in the Blugold sports module. The award was named to honor Blugold basketball Hall of Famer Joe Merten who died in 2008. According to the family's criteria for the award, the recipient "shall demonstrate a deep commitment to the student athletes and embody a passion for lifelong learning and the 'love of the game.'"
Peterson, who competed collegiately for UW-Stout, became associated with the Blugold wrestling program when Tim Fader took over as head coach in 2015. Peterson won three Wisconsin State University Conference championships in wrestling at Stout before going on to become an Olympic medal winner in 1972 and 1976. He won a silver medal in his first Olympic try and a gold medal four years later. Honors gained on the way to the Olympics were numerous. He was a member of the U.S. World Team in 1971 and '73; traveled to Russia and Poland on exchange teams in 1972, '73 and '75; and was a four-time AAU national champion. He has been inducted into the UW-Stout, National Wrestling, NAIA District 14 and WIAC Halls of Fame. The award for the top wrestler at the WIAC championship is named in his honor.
According to Fader, Peterson "has been instrumental in working with Blugold wrestlers, focusing primarily on spiritual wellness and mental preparedness." He called his impact "significant" and said his Monday schedule is "completely full of wrestlers and staff!" Fader pointed out that "one of the things we had planned to establish in our wrestlers' lives is consistency. I feel that John Peterson has brought that to the UWEC wrestling program."
In a 2012 news story, Peterson pointed out that his focus in life has been his religious faith. He began working for Athletes in Action, a Christian-based international organization, in 1973. His faith in God helped him keep his life in perspective after his Olympic career ended, he said. His wrestling success opened many doors both in the United States and internationally for his ministry. Peterson commutes from Cumberland to work with the Blugold athletes. He and his wife Nancy have five children and seven grandchildren. Peterson's oldest daughter Rebekah Johnston is a 2002 graduate of UWEC. Daughter-in-law Megan Peterson, married to Peterson's youngest son Justin, is a 2013 graduate of UWEC. Mat Rieckhoff, a 2015 graduate of UWEC and a former Blugold wrestler, is married to Peterson's youngest daughter Laura.
The previous Merten award winners were Kimamo Wahome, Amanda Zenner, Amanda Schultz, Liz Germonprez, Paul Conlin, Erik Strand, Jeremy Deterville, Seth Hoyer, Marcie Schwamberger and Elroy Perkin.