Coach Bob Tengstrand to leave TF South after another year of dominance
By Josh Bootsma
LANSING, Ill. (June 3, 2022) – This year’s TF South Badminton season was special for a few reasons. First, the team’s performance — the Red Wolves won conference for the 11th straight year, took home the sectional championship title yet again, and performed well at state, placing ninth overall.
But this year has been special for another reason, too: longtime coach Bob Tengstrand was inducted into the Illinois Association of Badminton Coaches Hall of Fame as part of its inaugural class. This year is also Coach Tengstrand’s last as TF South’s Badminton coach.
Success from start to sectionals, again
The Red Wolves were dominant throughout the badminton season. In the team’s first tournament of the year on March 16, the squad beat Bolingbrook 8-0, beat Geneva 8-0, and lost to Nequa Valley 6-2. Nequa Valley went on to take fourth place in the state.
On March 19, the team didn’t lose a single match in a six-team tournament. In another six-team tournament on March 26, the team won 27 of its 30 matches, again earning first place. The team won all of its 30 matches on March 29 against Oak Forest and TF North, and was again perfect vs. Lemont and Argo on April 5 and 7, respectively.
On April 20, after a weeks-long winning streak, TFS lost to Fremd High School in Palatine, a team that eventually won second in the state.
At the South Suburban Conference meet, the varsity squad did not lose a match, punching their ticket to sectionals for the 11th straight time. At sectionals, the final match in both the singles and doubles division were between Red Wolves; junior Christina Aguilar battled against senior Diana Cardenas in the singles division, and seniors Paige Drewno and Carla Martinez faced off against seniors Azul Rodriguez and Val Sandoval in the doubles division.
On Thursday, May 12, TF South followed tradition and sent off Aguilar, Cardenas, Drewno, Martinez, Rodriguez, and Sandoval with fanfare. The six competed at the state competition at Hinsdale South High School in Darien.
Tengstrand said the team did about as well as they expected to at the state tournament, with the six girls finishing ninth overall and doubles team Drewno and Martinez winning sixth place in the doubles division, earning a medal.
Bob Tengstrand — Hall of Famer
Though he’s happy with this year’s state tournament result, winning is not new to Coach Bob Tengstrand, whose badminton team has not failed to win a conference title since he starting coaching at TF South in 2011.
“We’re the best school on the south side, there’s no one close to us,” he said.
Earning a nod to the Hall of Fame, however, is new to “Coach T.”
The Illinois Association of Badminton Coaches (IABC) opened nominations for its first-ever Hall of Fame class this year, and five coaches and former players were selected for the honor, including Tengstrand.
“Big schools put him up for the award,” assistant coach Sean Coultas said, emphasizing that it wasn’t TF South’s self-promotion that got Tengstrand the nod, but his reputation among the largest, most successful programs in the state.
Coultas has been working with Tengstrand for over 20 years, since they coached together at TF North.
A self-described “young punk” high schooler, Tengstrand played basketball and baseball at TF North before leaving for college. He accepted a job to teach at his alma mater at age 21, and was asked to coach a sport he’d never been involved in — girls badminton.
“I talked with my buddies, and they laughed and said, ‘Oh my god, they’re going to drive you nuts.’ And I said, ‘You know what? Let’s try it,'” he said.
He partnered with the late Bob Schwingendorf to bring the badminton program to life at TF North, through attending clinics and watching the pros.
“We put a lot of effort in, and we became successful really quick,” Tengstrand said, who taught business classes and coached at TF North from 1983–2010.
Coach T goes South
In 2011, Tengstrand came to TF South to teach, with no coaching aspirations.
“Two moms came to me and said, ‘Would you please train our daughters, because they’re not really learning anything at South,'” remembered Tengstrand, who said the badminton program at TFS was lackluster when he arrived. “I said, yeah, you know what? I’ll take a look at them. … We start training them and before you know it, everybody’s going, ‘You gotta coach the team!'”
“I said I would coach for four years and that was it. And now, we’re on year 12, so that should tell you something. It’s been a great time,” Tengstrand said, now 70 years old.
Tengstrand announced after the season’s end that he and Coultas would be moving on from coaching at TF South, a move that calls the future of the school’s badminton program into question.
Jessica Gomez graduated from TF South in 2014 after a hugely successful badminton career. After starting the sport in her sophomore year, she did not lose a conference or sectional match in three straight years, and took third place in the state in both her junior and senior seasons.
Gomez says her success and passion for the game of badminton came largely from the mentorship of Tengstrand: “90% of it was because of his coaching and his attitude. 90% is his coaching and his personality, even outside of it, just him as a person and who he is. If it wasn’t for him coaching, I wouldn’t have been as good as I was back then,” she said.
A testament to Tengstrand’s motivation, Gomez returns as often as she can to help train and motivate the next batch of TF South badminton players.
“If the kids aren’t motivated, you have nothing,” Tengstrand said. “If they are motivated, they’ll come to open gyms, they’ll come to summer camps, they’ll work hard, they’ll stay after practice and listen to you. Motivation is the key, and every kid is motivated in a different way. …And once they’re motivated, the key is you’ve gotta play badminton all year.”
Summer camps, offseason hitting sessions on Saturday night, and year-round tournaments kept Tengstrand’s athletes bashing birdies all year round.
Despite all his time spent inside the gym, Tengstrand is just as beloved for his actions outside of it. During the heart of the pandemic, for example, when athletes couldn’t come to TF South and practice, Tengstrand brought care baskets to their homes on a monthly basis.
Gomez said, “He’s a very giving person. He’s just always giving. I never paid for a racquet, he’s always giving snacks, and [he’s] just fun to be around. … I always just saw him as a second father.”
“Mainly, I view it as paying back, for what the sport has given me,” Tengstrand said. “I always say it’s my way to give back to badminton.”
Accepting the award
When presented with the Hall of Fame honor, Tengstrand considered not accepting the award.
“I [told the IABC], to please make it clear that it’s not a one-man show, I couldn’t have done it without my parents, I couldn’t have done it without the Athletic Director, I couldn’t have done it without my fabulous assistant coaches, I couldn’t have done it without players, I couldn’t have done it without booster club, and maintenance. It’s a conglomeration of a lot of people. … I told them I’ll accept the award on behalf of all the people who made it possible,” he said.
Despite Tengstrand’s humility, Gomez believes he fully deserves the award.
“I was really proud of him, but I wasn’t that surprised,” Gomez said, remembering when she heard the news. “He’s probably the best coach I’ve ever had, and one of the best people you’ll ever meet.”