July 2, 1981, by Earl Yost
"Mr. Wigren is a graduate of Wesleyan and is known to be an excellent track man"
So read the October 1921 issue of the Manchester High School Somanhis Notes in introducing the tall, slender young man who joined the faculty as a math instructor, Charles L. Wigren.
The reference to Wigren, better known to one and all as Pete, as an excellent track coach hit the nail on the head.
Wigren coached track and cross country teams from Manchester and won 54 championships in league, state, and New England competition during better than a three-decade career.
For his efforts and contributions as a coach, Wigren was today named the second of three sports figures to be voted into the Manchester Sports Hall of Fame for 1981.
The 87-year-old native of Lowell, Mass., thus joins one of his former fellow coaches and teachers at Manchester High as recipients of the prestigious awards, Thomas F. Kelly.
A third sports figure will round out the number of inductees for the Friday night, September 18, dinner along with the Unsung Hero winner at the Army & Navy Club. Wigren coached track squads at Manchester High from 1922 to 1954 and handled cross country teams from 1931 thru 1953. Nineteen teams went undefeated.
During the 18-year period Wigren coached cross country in the CCIL, Manchester won 15 times and was second the other three years.
Wigren failed to win a letter in track while in college but passed out thousands to his youngsters during a glittering career unmatched in New England. He helped produce four runners who won national fame: Joe McCluskey and Pete Close, who wore the colors of the United States in Olympic competition, Charlie Robbins and Lockhart Rogers. Seven track teams compiled undefeated records and a dozen Wigren–led cross country teams had unbeaten campaigns. He won 21 CCIL track titles, with eight second-best league showings in 29 years.
Wigren helped organize the popular Five Mile Road Race in Manchester and drew up the first course in 1927. For more than 30 years he served as race director of the popular Thanksgiving morning run.
The mild-mannered son of a Methodist minister, Wigren coached two years at Suffield Academy before coming to Manchester. Suffield's loss was Manchester's gain.
Long active in the local American Legion, he served 21 months overseas in World War I.
He received the Gold Key from the Connecticut Sports Writers' Alliance in 1956.
Previous inductees in the first annual Manchester Sports Hall of Fame dinner a year ago were McCluskey, Jerry Fay, Ty Holland, Tony Lupien, Moe Morhardt, Cathy Dyak, and Matt Moriarty.
Webmaster's Note: The following message was sent to us by Dick Jenkins, who graduated in the Manchester High School class of 1955 and formerly hosted the website MHS1955.com, now a part of the Historical Society's website.
• Dick Jenkins writes: Of all the high school teacher/coaches we had I knew Pete Wigren the best. He was my geometry teacher and my track and cross-country coach. He ran a tight ship in the classroom and knew how to motivate his runners. My favorite story of "Coach Wigren" was from my sophomore year, my first year running cross-country. I was the typical runner, hoping to win a spot on the varsity, but barely putting out enough effort to qualify. It was perhaps the third race of the year and we ran against Bulkeley High School in Goodwin Park. I guess it was his way of seeing what I truly had as a cross-country runner when he approached me on the bus ride to Goodwin Park and said, "Jenkins, you are going to run with the JV team today."
The last thing I wanted was to become a member of the JV team and I convinced myself I'd better give this race my all. Perhaps his decision to move me down came from my performance in the last two races. I would run along in the middle of the pack up Charter Oak to Gardner and west along Spring Street to the entrance gate to Mt. Nebo opposite Globe Hollow. There we looped back northeast along the woods and down a wide path that took us to a football field at the eastern extreme of Charter Oak Fields. The last 100 yards took us under a pair of goalposts finishing up at the western end of the field. Knowing Pete was there at mid-field watching the finishing runners I always sprinted the final 100 yards of the football field into the end zone.
Coach was a man of few words and said to me after the race, "Jenkins, you have far too much energy left in you at the finish that could have been used to improve your position." He was absolutely right, I was not pushing myself.
Well, I ran the best race of my entire cross-country career that day at Goodwin Park as a member of the junior varsity. When I crossed the finish line there was no other runner in sight. My time to complete the course was 12 minutes, 36 seconds. Pete moved me back to the varsity team and I never looked back.
Reproduced 2011 from www.mhs1955.com with permission of its webmaster Dick Jenkins.
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