Tom Wittenhagen reached the finish line of his coaching career in March, after coaching and teaching for 47 years in the Watertown Public Schools.
The longtime boys track and field coach hung up his stopwatch after serving as head coach for the Raiders indoor and outdoor track, and cross country for the last 12 years
“I had 47 years teaching and coaching,” Wittenhagen said. “I was in and out of Watertown about 9,000 times over that time.”
Witt, as he is known, stayed in town his entire teaching career, arriving in 1972 and spending a total of 35 years in Watertown. He started as a middle school chemistry teacher, and in the late ’80s he moved over to Watertown High School.
At the same time, he coached track — a sport in which he excelled in high school and college.
“I grew up in Beverly and ran track,” Wittenhagen said. “I went to Northeastern and was three-time MVP and four-time All-New England.”
He had a goal of getting a track coaching job. He landed one in Watertown in the 1970s, where he stayed for seven years. Then he spent 11 years as the women’s fitness coach at Northeastern before heading to Billerica High School for 10 years so he could coach his daughters.
In 2000, he returned as coach of Watertown High School’s boys track and cross country teams. He had some great success over the last 19 years.
“I am most proud of being named Div. 5 coach of the year three times,” Wittenhagen said.
He got it for cross country in 2005, outdoor track in 2006, and for indoor track in 2017.
He has also had a number of outstanding athletes, including Nick Goodman — a 2003 grad who ran cross country and track and became an All-American in the mile at WHS before heading to Boston University to run cross country and track, and current WHS senior Mange Camara. The sprinter is also an All-American who has had many successes, including winning the 300 meters in the Indoor Div. 5 meet, the All-State Meet, and the New England Championships.
In the last few weeks of his final season, Wittenhagen worked with Camara, who went on to place fifth in the 400 meters at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in New York City. The fact that Camara had the same best event as Wittenhagen was a bonus.
“I really identified with him,” Wittenhagen said. “If it were a high jumper, I would not have as much attachment, and wouldn’t be able to really get into fine tuning.”
The workouts he put Camara through were time tested ones, Wittenhagen said.
“They were the same workouts my coaches at Northeastern used years ago,” Wittenhagen said.
Another athlete who enjoyed success in recent was Austin Lin, who graduated in 2016 and went on to run for Northeastern. He may be part of at team that breaks a longtime Huskies’ record — of which Wittenhagen was a part.
“I was on the 4 x 400 relay that sent the school record,” Wittenhagen said. “Austin is going to Florida with the team that is trying to break the record.”
While the current generation of young people often get the rap of being lazy or won’t listen to authority, but Wittenhagen said he has not seen that with his athletes.
And while he enjoyed working with elite runners, Wittenhagen said he got joy from working with all his athletes.
“It is a pleasure to see athletes reach the ceiling of their abilities, no matter what their ability is,” Wittenhagen said. “It makes it worth while.”
Wittenhagen retired from teaching a dozen years ago. Over the last few years, Wittenhagen gave up cross country and outdoor track coaching duties to focus on indoor track. Now, he said, he is ready to head into retirement. He wants to focus on his family.
“(My wife and I) are going to travel a bit,” Wittenhagen said. “We had a new grandson a few weeks ago — our second. We have two daughters and they have one each.”
“Now, I have time to spend with our children.”