By Tony Adams
There is a coach out there supervising the Belton Tiger Athletics girls’ summer workout program, directing the female athletes on their workouts and offering advice. At the end of her early morning session, she heads back down to her office and takes care of the athletic business at hand.
It is just another day of business in the life of longtime coach and athletic business manager Denise Petter.
But with the time and effort she has put forth in the Belton Independent School District as a student-athlete, in college at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor, her many years in the classroom and in the athletic realm has been amazing.
Ever the competitor, Denise graduated from Belton in 1977. As a member of the track and field program, she lettered for three years before heading to UMHB to pursue her Bachelor of Science degree in Education. After her commencement in 1980, she went to work at Belton ISD in 1981 at Belton Junior High School as a teacher. She worked at BJHS from 1981 to 1991 and was elevated to the high school level to become a health sciences teacher and physical education teacher. While in the classroom, she took the reins as both the Belton girl’s cross country head coach and track and field head coach in 1992.
One of the biggest changes in the years she has been in Belton is the change in facilities. Far gone is the old track on 6th Street and old Tiger Field. The need for Belton to catch up to modern-day facilities was extensive, given the rapid growth of BISD.
“When I started coaching middle school, I was coaching all three sports and my stipend for all three sports was $200,” Denise said. “We didn’t have real good facilities, and honestly, we didn’t know any better at that time. As you go to the other school districts and realize that our programs kept getting better and better, you see better competition and you see the facilities that they had. We had to think out of the box. They had incredible facilities.”
Belton stepped up with the help of its past and present athletic director to rectify these issues.
“I have to say that having the athletic directors that we have had here that have stepped up and pushed to be the best of the best to make the kids proud and the community proud has been amazing, Denise said. “I have always felt that if my girls look good, they are going to perform well. When pride is involved, you are going to get more out of a kid when they have the pride themselves and have the desire. It is one thing that I have learned that there is huge support in the community and that there is a huge support from the teaching staff here as well. They support the kids, they come to their events, they talk to them about their game in the classroom and I have been here since we were 3A. It is amazing. It is one of the reasons that I went into coaching.
Denise had the foresight during her school days that there was not a track program that her classmates could take part in. So she was instrumental in starting the girl’s program.
“Me, Darlina Lingo and Ida Scofield…we didn’t have a track program,” Denise said. “They told us that we needed a petition of 25 names that they would start a track program. We got our signatures, but we didn’t have a coach. They wrote us out a practice schedule, so we went out and did it on our own. The first year, we went to regionals in four or five different events. The next year, Frank Pajestka was a student-teacher and he stepped up to help coach. At that time on the girl’s side, it was not a developed program. I was bound and determined to develop it. So I went to school at UMHB, came back to Belton and got the girls program where it needed to be. I accomplished a lot of that, but I feel that you constantly have to build. You can’t allow someone to come in and have setbacks. Because if you do have setbacks, that sets the entire program back. You have to continue to build forward and have the foresight to continue to build. To not be okay with being good, to strive to get better to be the best. I stress that to kids at a younger age as well.”
Many people know Denise in the community and in athletic departments in the area. One of those that knew Denise before making a move to Belton was current head Cross Country coach Holly Lamberte.
“I have known Denise Petter for 22 years. Denise and I had been friendly Cross Country competitors when I coached at Temple. Then I moved positions to Belton High School,” Lamberte said. “Denise has been a mentor, great role model for coaches, student athletes, and a great friend. I am very lucky to know Denise, and to be able to coach with her. She has taught me many great things.”
Her career in the classroom took a needed turn in the mid-2000’s when she went to become the teacher in the long-term in-school suspension area.
“I had the opportunity to move to long-term ISS with Janiece Douglas,” Denise said. “They took me out of the classroom because I was a strong disciplinarian in the classroom. I was there for two years and loved it. With those kids, once they knew that somebody cared, everything was organized and disciplined, accountability was big and it changed many of the kids. Then in 2007, Kathy Cook came in and they had a shortage on the biology side. So she put me back in the classroom for that one year.”
Rodney Southern came in the same year Cook did in 2007 and there was an opening as athletic business manager. Southern offered the position to me. I knew at that point that I had to start planning ahead for retirement and things like that. I actually jumped at the chance. I did that while coaching Cross Country and track and doing all of the scheduling as well. That first year was stressful. I worked until 9 or 9:30 every night. After a year of that, I told Coach Southern that I couldn’t do it all. So I gave up Cross Country and just stuck with track. I was taken out of the classroom and it has been wonderful ever since.”
She impacted many of the coaches over the years. One of those was recently retired BHS volleyball coach Stacy Meyers.
“Although I have only known Denise a little over four years, she quickly became one of my favorite coaches to ever work with,” Meyers said. “Being a new coach to Belton myself, she went above and beyond to not only make me feel welcome, but also to show me the ins and outs of Belton Athletics. I had questions and she either had the answer or guided me to the right people. That didn’t change even after I had been here for awhile. She is always willing to help out other coaches and sports, sacrificing her personal time to do it.”
One thing that the two coaches had in common was their straightforward methodology in coaching.
“One of the things I respect most about Denise is her ‘old school’ coaching,” Meyers said. “She sets very high standards for her athletes, holding them accountable for their actions. She expects a good work ethic from all of her athletes, and promotes an attitude in her sport of respect of others and of self. And yet, while doing all that, she loves them all and they know it. She goes above and beyond to help out her student-athletes in any and every situation. Athletes go to her for advice, and sometimes, just to be a shoulder to cry on. I have so much respect for Coach Petter and am grateful that I was able to work with her.”
The straightforward, honest and old school ways of coaching, in a way, cuts against the grain with today’s society. She comes from a generation where only the best were honored, which isn’t always palatable with today’s youth.
“Wanting to be the absolute best at all times is something that we instill in kids,” Denise said. “Everybody’s not going to win and everybody’s not going to get a medal. That’s the problem in today’s society now. We don’t teach kids to lose respectfully, fight back to get better and win. It’s too easy to give up, move on and accept where they finish. I don’t see that in our school district, but I see that in society. Everybody wants the easy fix and that’s not how life is.”
In a day and age where there are so many opportunities and options for children, Denise feels that children can be more involved with different things today.
“I think it is so important for kids to be part of something, not necessarily athletics,” Denise said. “But they need to be part of something so that they can learn different steps, like self-control, respect, to gut things out when things get hard. Kids just aren’t necessarily that way anymore. Some parents are okay with that and I understand that. But our jobs are based on winning at the high school level. That’s where coming from sixth grade, seventh grade and eighth grade, it becomes a different story. The coaches have to be completely dedicated to this program and other programs as well. The kids can’t be dedicated if the coaches are not dedicated.”
Being from the middle school/junior high coaching ranks prior to her movement to high school level, Denise understands the needs of coaching players that start on the middle school level and getting their aptitude elevated to a higher level prior to the student-athlete moving to the high school teams. She believes that middle school coaches are underrated in the process.
“I believe our middle school coaches do a great job,” Denise said. “They are super understaffed with the number of kids they are responsible for. I can see that at track meets. We have three coaches and 60 or 70 kids running different events at different times. Our coaches do a very good job to get them to the level that they need to be. It helps when your high school coaches are involved, so the athletes know what is expected on the high school level and they don’t have to stop and teach what is expected in their freshman year. I encourage all of our athletes to do summer workouts and summer track.”
She not only impacted those in the classroom and on the track, but she was a mentor to those she worked alongside her as well.
Harmony Bramlett, who was the athletic secretary and district chair for five years, credited Denise for the lessons she taught her.
“Thank you for helping me identify my skills and strengths during the last five years I have worked with her,” Bramlett said. “I thank her for all she taught me. The knowledge and wisdom she had imparted upon me had been a great help and support throughout my career. I believe my success is at least in part due to her sincere support and mentorship. I want to express my deepest gratitude for her believing in me. She has been an excellent friend, teacher, mentor and a great inspiration for me. She has inspired me to pursue my goals with hard work and dedication. I truly appreciate and value everything I have learned from her. I really look forward to the day I can do the same for someone else.”
As a mother, Denise means the world to her children.
Jordan Petter, the junior varsity volleyball coach and assistant track and field coach at Belton, is Denise’s daughter and has learned many lessons from her mom. She is much like her mom in the way of coaching, holding her players accountable and is competitive in her coaching style. The lessons than Jordan learned in her life transcended the track and the classroom.
“Being a mom has no boundaries: She is there to teach, learn, to allow and encourage growth and in turn grow herself, and overall, to show love and commitment through all acts,” Jordan said. “Throughout my career, Mom has taught me patience, that not everyone thinks like I do, and that a rainbow comes after every storm. Through turbulence and strife, she has been my rock and the person I know will reserve judgment and allow me to prosper through my own decisions. Even though she provides tough love, that sense of guidance has allowed me to strengthen my confidence and work ethic. Our lives wouldn’t be the same without one another and I am truly honored to be her daughter.”
Current Belton athletic director Bob Shipley knows the lineage than Denise brings to the job.
“She’s the backbone of the athletic department,” Belton athletic director Bob Shipley said. “There’s no former Belton Tiger that she doesn’t know. She is incredibly dedicated to this district. She is very organized and takes care of her business like no one I’ve ever worked with. I think a lot of that comes from her upbringing, but also the pride she has in being a Belton Tiger. She continues to carry on the life lessons she learned from her teachers and coaches when she was a student athlete in Belton.”
Dr. Susan Kincannon, Superintendent of Belton ISD, has known Denise for many years and has marveled at the longevity during her tenure at Belton.
“Denise has worked for Belton ISD for 34 years,” Kincannon said. “In that time, she has been a teacher, a coach and the business manager for our athletic department. In each of those roles, she has made a very real difference for our students. She challenges our kids to develop their talents to the best of their abilities both on the track and in the classroom. It’s no wonder that her colleagues and students have nominated her for multiple recognitions as an outstanding teacher.”
Kincannon believes that the leadership Denise exudes is the foundation for the athletics program and is a go-to source for the district.
“Denise’s leadership has also been an important contribution to our athletics program,” Kincannon said. “As the department’s business manager, she has been a mentor to other coaches and implemented the department’s processes with integrity. In any project, I can count on Denise to be organized and prepared.”
Track & Field head coach, athletic business manager continues to mentor, inspire coaches, athletes into 35th year
By Tony Adams