Peninsula College’s habit of winning in sports has inspiration from its president

PORT ANGELES — Tom Keegan knows as well as anyone what an NWAACC championship team looks like.

He’d been a part of two during a six-year span with the Skagit Community College men’s soccer program — first as its star forward in 1977, then as its head coach in 1983.

Now, all of these years later, Peninsula College’s president has seen two of his sports programs — men’s soccer and men’s basketball — win titles four months apart.

After 10 years on the Port Angeles campus, it appears Keegan’s dream for Pirates athletics has become a reality.

The way Pirates athletic director Rick Ross tells it, Keegan raised the bar for Peninsula when he arrived on campus in 2001.

“Our athletic mission statement was to be competitive in athletics, to be competitive in the classroom and to be good citizens,” Ross said.

“And Tom [said] our mission isn’t to be competitive, it’s to win championships. So we changed our mission.

“Those other things are not less important . . . but we also want to win.”

Obviously, the Pirates have been doing an awful lot of that lately.

Three of the college’s four sports programs reached the postseason this year, including girls soccer in its inaugural season.

Two won NWAACC championships, beginning with men’s soccer in November and ending with men’s basketball earlier this month.

And throughout much of that success, Peninsula’s president has been there on the sidelines — watching.

When the Pirates made their run through the men’s basketball tournament, that meant making two 300-plus mile trips between Port Angeles and Kennewick during a 24-hour period so he could witness their semifinal and championship games.

A meeting at the college the morning of the title game forced Keegan to pull an all-night drive back to Port Angeles after the semis.

Once that meeting concluded, he flew back to Kennewick so he could be at the Toyota Center in time for the 7 p.m. tipoff.

“The team kept winning, so they kept messing with my personal schedule,” Keegan said.

“But it was an absolute blast on a personal level.”

“I was just so very happy for the coaches of both teams [soccer and basketball].

“They invest so much time, thought and emotion into their kids and each season.

“But I’m most happy for the kids.

“Unless you’ve won a championship you don’t really know the experience. It’s kind of an unexplainable joy.

“Sitting there as a former coach and fan, and from a professional level as the president, as happy as I am for the coaches, I’m equally proud of the players.”

As a former player as well, Keegan is keenly aware of all the energy required for such an accomplishment.

The 52-year-old Olympia native was Skagit’s leading scorer and captain when the Cardinals won the NWAACC title back in ’77

He eventually earned an athletic scholarship to play for nationally ranked UC-Santa Barbara.

After dabbling in semipro baseball, he got into coaching soccer at Tacoma Community College.

Keegan coached the men for 10 years between Tacoma and Skagit, stressing positivity, intensity and class.

The formula paid off with an NWAACC title for Skagit in ’83.

Those experiences shaped his view of the importance of sports at academic institutions.

That’s part of the reason he has played in active role in athletics as president at Peninsula College, Ross said.

“He’ll meet the recruits [during campus visits] and tell them about the college and tell them about his experiences in the NWAACC,” said Ross, who was also the athletic director under Keegan’s predecessor, Wally Sigmar.

“I think it leaves a good impression on the families and the students that the president cares about sports and supports the sports program.

“I don’t think you see that everywhere.”

Pirate men’s soccer coach Andrew Chapman said in his experiences at Olympic College and Eastern Washington the presidents weren’t nearly as hands on.

“He’s very supportive of athletics,” said Chapman, in his eighth year at the college.

“He wants us to do well and win and he tries to give us every opportunity we need to make that happen.

“He’s always good about coming in and giving advice to the team.

“He comes in and talks about what it takes [to win at the NWAACCs].

“It’s great to be able to get advice from somebody who played at that level and coached at that level and won at that level.”

Keegan played a major role in the selection of both championship coaches, including men’s basketball coach Lance Von Vogt.

As president, he has the final say in all hiring decisions on campus.

A hiring committee pares the list of candidates down to three, Keegan conducts interviews with each and then collaborates with the committee before making a final decision.

His influence on athletics doesn’t stop there, however.

Keegan was also the driving force behind finding funding for the college’s new state-of-the-art artificial turf field on campus at Wally Sigmar Athletic Complex.

Tapping into various state and local dollars, Keegan raised the $1.4 million necessary for its construction.

Last week, the Port Angeles and Port Townsend high school boys soccer teams became the first to play an official game on the field.

“For me, it’s a great investment in creating a high-quality athletic facility,” Keegan said of the field, the first of its kind on the North Olympic Peninsula.

“I also look at it as a teaching and learning facility for our athletic programs and our physical education courses, as well as a place for the community to use and experience a high-quality environment.”

While the field is a drop in the bucket in relation to the $120 million in facilities improvements completed or in the queue at the college during Keegan’s tenure, it is a significant one for Pirates athletics.

“I believe strongly that the physical environment sets the tone for the learning environment,” Keegan said.

“When you walk on campus and experience the beautiful physical environment, I believe that sets expectations with the students and the faculty and staff, [it’s] the same for our athletic facilities.”

There are some at the college who expressed concern that Keegan might have been a little too pro soccer because of his athletic background.

When the softball program was scrapped last spring after its tenth season, there were complaints that perhaps it was the victim of the college’s plans for the artificial turf field.

Ross and Keegan insist that wasn’t the case.

Instead, issues with finances, enrollment and competition were the driving forces in that decision, Keegan said.

It should also be noted that infrastructure was put in place that allows the new facility to transform into a baseball or softball field as well.

“I just don’t think [softball] fit here like we thought it might,” Ross said.

“Sometimes when something is just not working right you go in a different direction.

“It was not an easy discussion for sure because there were a lot of great people involved, but ultimately I think it’s going to work out.”

Indeed, the women’s soccer program, which replaced softball, finished second in the NWAACC West Division in its first season under head coach Kanyon Anderson.

Now the women, along with the men, will move onto their brand new pitch next fall with a handful of new recruits thrown into the mix.

It seems only a matter of time before they add another banner to the Peninsula College gymnasium like their men’s soccer and basketball counterparts.

“All along we’ve been trying to build a program overall with those four sports so that consistent year after year you can come watch those teams and you can come see some consistent culture,” said Keegan.

Keegan credits Ross, the coaches and players for Peninsula’s transformation into an NWAACC powerhouse.

“I can’t say I had an expectation that we would win two NWAACC championships in the same year,” he said.

“It’s a dream just to win one, so I’m just very, very excited.”


Sportswriter Matt Schubert can be reached at 360-417-3526 or at

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