Deb Twenhafel came to Burlington Central High School in 1980 for a one-year teaching position.
She's still there. And there's little question her contributions to the Rockets' athletic programs have been invaluable.
Twenhafel, among her other duties that also include teaching drivers education, physical education and health. is the Rockets' boys golf coach. This weekend, she will coach her team in the Class 3A state tournament at Illinois State University's Weibring Golf Course in Normal for just the second time since she started the program 26 years ago.
It's a "bucket list" moment for Twenhafel, who will retire at the end of the 2014-15 school year after 35 years in what was supposed to be a one-year gig for the Nashville High School, Kaskaskia Junior College and Southern Illinois University product.
"I only got up here by a fluke," laughed Twenhafel Wednesday while making final preparations to head downstate with her Rockets, who finished second in Monday's Freeport sectional. "That was a time when there were a lot of teachers coming out of college. I couldn't find a job so I went back and did one year of my Masters program and then the next year I had been up and down the state interviewing and nothing was happening. I got offered the one-year job at Central and figured what the heck, it was just one year.
"I came up here for one year and never left. I'm glad I came to this place. It's been good."
Fate intervenes in life sometimes and it did for Twenhafel when former and longtime BC teacher and coach Paul Way had to take a year off due to a family illness. That opened the door for Twenhafel to stay at Central and once then-principal Tom Fegley realized what he had, he made sure Twenhafel stayed.
What Central has been fortunate to get over the past 34 years is a teacher, coach, mentor and worker-bee, who has done everything at the school from coach softball (the sport she played at SIU), basketball and volleyball in addition to golf. She coached with some of the school's all-time greats, including Marsha Zierk in volleyball, Ralph Hix in basketball, and football hall of famer Gary Stran in softball.
When the school decided to add a golf program in the mid 1980s, they asked Twenhafel to be the head coach.
"I was no great golfer but they said if you're willing to start the program, go for it," she said. "Elwood Greens in Genoa was our first home course. And you know, back then you really coached. Kids didn't have swing coaches and putting coaches like they do now."
Twenhafel has become one of the most visible people around Central sports. For all of her 34 years at the school, she has run the clock for football games and been the official scorer for basketball. For the first eight of those years in football, she ran the clock and did the public address announcing, most of those eight years from a small booth perched above the bleachers that would have a little sway to it on an especially windy day on Rocket Hill. For the past 26 years she's worked side-by-side with 1986 BC grad Mark Einwich, who has handled the PA duties pretty much since his graduation. "We've gone through a lot of crow's nests," Twenhafel joked.
But on Friday night, when the Rockets host Rock Falls, Twenhafel will miss a football game, which is a rarity. She's hoping Einwich will be able to announce to the football crowd that the golfing Rockets are in the hunt for state hardware. If sectional scores are any indicator, the Rockets are in the middle of the pack of the 12 teams at state, but as golf courses and weather conditions change so, too, do scores.
Regardless of how BC does this weekend, the players on her team appreciate what Twenhafel has instilled in them.
"She has one of the biggest hearts you can find," said junior Andrew Sherman. "She's always very positive and she keeps things light."
Matt Weber, the only senior on the Rockets' team, made it clear after Monday's sectional that it was a priority for the team to make it downstate this year. Facts are facts and while BC has three of its top four coming back for Twenhafel's final season, the Indiana-bound Weber has been the key to this year's success. And he's happy to have had a part in rewarding his coach with a trip to state before she retires.
"It's nice with it being her last couple years," said Weber, who shot a 74 at sectionals and is considered one of the many favorites to contend for the individual state championship. "We knew we'd have a pretty good team this year and it's nice to make it. It was important to me to make it downstate with my team this year."
Twenhafel also knew this team could become one of her best. She hopes it can now better the ninth-place finish by the 2010 team, on which Weber was a freshman.
"They set some standards and I just said let's play them one tournament at a time," she said. "They wanted to win the conference tournament and the regional and they did that. They wanted to make history and be the first team to win a sectional, but we made it downstate and that's the ultimate goal.
"This group really clicks with each other."
Twenhafel admits getting to take a team downstate is gratifying for her as well as she prepares for retirement.
"I'm not gonna lie, it's cool for me," she said. "They're making my bucket list for golf come true. And I think these boys have the potential to do something downstate."
If the Rockets are on the awards stand in Bloomington Saturday afternoon, it will be just reward for a coach who so richly deserves to experience that moment.
Experience the best teacher: Two of Burlington Central's golfers, Weber and Andrew Sherman, have experience on the ISU Course. Weber, who has played the course multiple times, shot a 159 in the 2010 state tournament.
"I've played it half a dozen times," Weber said. "I have a lot of experience with it and I should be able to give the guys a game plan."
Sherman was a state qualifier for last year's rain-shortened tournament. He shot an 85 in the only round played.
Eye on girls, too: Twenhafel will have an ear to the Class A girls tournament, which is at Red Tail Run in Decatur, about 45 minutes south of Normal. Her cousin, Shawn Rennegarbe, is one of the top girls players in the state. Rennegarbe, a senior who has a golf scholarship to Alabama, won her sectional with a 71 as Nashville posted the best Class A girls sectional score (340) in the state. Last year when Saturday of the boys tournament was rained out, the girls played in Decatur and Twenhafel was able to see Rennegarbe shoot a 68 to finish as state runner-up with a 145.