Longtime cross country, track and field coach Pat Ponder retires

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STEPHENVILLE – Tarleton cross country and track and field head coach Pat Ponder has announced his retirement.

Ponder served as a head coach at the collegiate level for 36 years, including the last 15 at Tarleton.

“We’re thankful to Pat (Ponder) for his 15 years of service to the Tarleton Athletics department, as well as his career to promoting the sports of cross country and track and field,” said Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Lonn Reisman. “We wish him nothing but the best in this next phase of his life.”

Immediately upon his arrival in Stephenville in 2007, the veteran coach transformed Tarleton into a powerhouse Division II program in the NCAA South Central Region.

Over the course of his 15-year run at Tarleton, Ponder coached three NCAA Division II national champions, saw 54 athletes garner All-America credentials and had a combined 59 indoor and outdoor track and field school records broken.

Ponder produced Tarleton’s first long-distance track and field national champion in 2014 when Chase Rathke won the 1,500m at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. The Texans then captured two national championships during the 2015 outdoor season, as Euphemia Edem became the first female student-athlete in Tarleton history to win a national championship by taking the women’s long jump title. Then, Tarleton’s men’s 4x400m relay team of Terrance Gross, Cameron Krc, Claerencio Guererro and Gilson Umunnakwe claimed the crown in 3:08.25. The triumphs were the highlight of the greatest track and field season in school history, as Ponder sent a school record 14 athletes to the NCAA Championships.

He elevated Tarleton’s cross country program to unprecedented heights. Ponder is responsible for coaching Tarleton’s first ever men’s All-American in cross country and the first teams to qualify for the NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships. Tarleton’s women’s cross country team competed at the national championships for the first time in 2013. Ponder then led the women’s cross country team to the first Lone Star Conference Cross Country Championship in school history and a return trip to the national meet in 2015.

Under Ponder’s leadership, the conclusion to Tarleton’s tenure in the Lone Star Conference and NCAA Division II was nothing short of spectacular. The Texans sent both cross country teams to three consecutive NCAA South Central Regional Championship appearances from 2017-2019. Tarleton then saw a program-best five athletes qualify for the 2020 NCAA Indoor Track and Field National Championships in what proved to be its final season as a D2 program. Ponder also coached his daughter, Kylee, to a school record-setting run in the 400m.

Ponder earned Lone Star Conference Coach of the Year recognition on seven occasions.

He concluded his tenure at Tarleton by guiding the program through its first two seasons at NCAA Division I and as a member of the Western Athletic Conference.

With Ponder at the helm, Tarleton put together a memorable showing during the 2021 outdoor track and field season. Tarleton crowned four individual conference champions and won the men’s 4x400m relay at the WAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships. In the process, Tarleton cross country and track and field became the first program to produce a D1 conference champion.

Tarleton’s spring 2021 cross country season featured a significant milestone as well. Ponder coached Kevin Baez to a 10th-place finish at the WAC Championships and All-Conference second team accolades. Baez was the first athlete in Tarleton sports history to receive All-WAC recognition.

Originally from Linden, Texas, Ponder transitioned to the coaching ranks following a decorated career as a distance runner at Ouachita Baptist University. He qualified for the NAIA National Championships in cross country and track and field on multiple occasions. Ponder began his coaching career at Henderson State in 1988 and made stops at Northwood University, Wayland Baptist and Texas A&M-Commerce before finishing his career at Tarleton.

Tarleton is expected to name a permanent head coach in the coming days.

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