Teague the Fighter
Published: Thursday, April 28, 2011
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 20:11
When the softball team lost 6-2 against Canisius last Tuesday, Bulls fans probably thought it was another missed opportunity for the team.
For some, however, the game holds a much deeper meaning.
Tuesday's contest was part of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association's Strike Out Cancer event, a nationwide initiative created to raise funds and awareness for the fight against cancer.
It is a struggle that head coach Jennifer Teague knows all too well. In late 2006, Teague was diagnosed with thyroid cancer.
"I was right around 30, so you don't expect to hear the cancer word come from your doctor's mouth," Teague said. "It was a difficult time in my life."
The diagnosis came right after one of the most significant moments of her coaching career. Teague was a volunteer assistant coach at the University of Michigan the previous year. That season, the Wolverines won their first and only NCAA Women's College World Series Championship.
Teague then went to Eastern Michigan for three years and was a top assistant and pitching coach. She described this as one of the busiest times in her life because of her perfectionist attitude.
"I was always looking for ways to improve," Teague said. "I was constantly trying to fix things…and I'd work myself into late hours of the night, partially because I love what I do."
Teague's work ethic proved to be beneficial for Eastern Michigan. In 2007, the Eagles finished in first place in the Mid-American Conference West and won their first conference title.
The celebration was cut short, as Teague was going through cancer treatment during and after the championship run. The Eagles players and coaches were deeply saddened by the news, but Teague's strong character lessened their fears.
"She had such a vivacious personality that she didn't want anybody to feel sorry for her," said Eastern Michigan head coach Karen Baird. "We stayed up [emotionally] because of her strength as a person."
Teague lost her stepfather to cancer the year before her diagnosis, which added to family concerns. She remained strong throughout the treatment process and cited the support from her inner circle as the force behind her determination.
"My friends and the administration at Eastern Michigan were phenomenal," Teague said. "I had a lot of support around me, and I think it helped me through the process."
Teague had to go through radiation treatment until the cancer went into remission in 2008. It has now been in remission for over three years.
Teague applies the lessons she learned from the experience to coaching.
"I stress the balance of life a little more with my athletes," Teague said. "Instead of [constant work], I want them to be able to enjoy the college experience…and to enjoy the people and the diversity that are around them."
After her stint with the Eagles, Teague joined the coaching staff of the Philadelphia Force, a former National Pro Fastpitch League team. The team's disappointing 7-9 start forced a change in the coaching staff. Teague was promoted to head coach, and the team went 17-11 to finish the season.
Teague wasn't fully satisfied, even after her success in the pros. She left the Force after a year to take the head coaching position at UB – a move she didn't second guess.
"I've done a lot, but what I haven't done was be a Division I head coach," Teague said. "Warde [Manuel] has a second-to-none vision for this department and it felt right. I was offered a job at Temple around the same time [UB offered a position] and it was a very easy decision to come to Buffalo."
Teague immediately made an impact on the softball program when she began coaching the Bulls in 2009. Buffalo tied a team record for most wins in a season since it joined Division I with 25 victories, which was one win shy of a playoff berth. This was a 22-game improvement over the previous season.
Teague's success didn't surprise her former colleagues at Eastern Michigan.
"She was, and still is, an outstanding coach," Baird said. "When she got the job at Buffalo, I knew she was going to lead a competitive team, so I was very excited for her."
Teague has also developed a rapport with her players. Her strict coaching philosophy resonates with her athletes on and off the field.
"My relationship with Teague over the past years has been really strong," said junior utility player Kristin Waldron. "She's always trying to make you a better person in general."
Teague's experience with cancer affects every one of her players. They were astounded and proud when they learned about her ordeal.
"She fought through it," Waldron said. "Being the person that she is, it changed her life. It made all of us look at her and think: wow, she survived."