The best college coaches occupy a special place in the lives of athletes. As the adults with whom student-athletes spend the most time — whether it’s during practice or trips to away games — they offer not just on-the-field instruction, but also guidance, friendship, and a shoulder to cry on. They are parents without the psychic baggage.
Many Princeton coaches form lasting bonds with their athletes, but not many have grown as close as Alyson Goodner ’00 and swimming coach Susan Teeter, who officiated at Goodner’s wedding in May.
Their bond began when Teeter — that’s what Goodner calls her — made a recruiting visit to Goodner’s home in Philadelphia in 1995. Goodner remembers being struck by how Teeter “immediately felt like family.”
A few weeks into her freshman year, Goodner, who swam the 200-yard butterfly, experienced a jolt of panic about academics. Sitting on the couch in Teeter’s office, Goodner spilled out her anxieties, and a few tears.
“I really cherish those opportunities to help kids learn about themselves and how to navigate life,” says Teeter, who is 53 and has been coaching at Princeton since 1984.
After Goodner graduated, the two kept in touch as Goodner moved to California to work for Gap and then participate in Teach for America. By then, Teeter had grown close to Goodner’s parents too, often meeting them for dinner. When Goodner’s father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2005 — and she was living in England — a group of 30 teammates and friends took turns looking in on her parents, with Teeter serving as the group’s unofficial captain. There were times when Teeter was the only person Goodner’s mother would allow in the door.
Goodner moved back to Princeton this year, and the pair now see each other often. Goodner’s mother died in 2008, her father earlier this year, so Teeter has become a surrogate parent.
“Teeter’s always been a balance of the strengths of my mother and father,” says Goodner. “She’s a total straight shooter.”
A few years ago, Goodner met Paul Daniels, a world-champion rower who had moved to Princeton to train with the national team. When Goodner’s friends heard she was taking him to meet Teeter, they knew the relationship was serious.
On the day the couple got engaged, they readily agreed on whom they would ask to officiate at the wedding. With “19 bucks and a Visa card,” Teeter became a Universal Life minister over the Internet. She counseled the couple on the challenges of marriage, wrote the wedding ceremony, and presided over it. Teeter had Goodner’s niece and nephew carry lilies of the valley and birds of paradise during the ceremony, the flowers Goodner’s father had brought her mother every Wednesday.
The friendship that began between coach and player 16 years ago had turned into an unbreakable bond.
Merrell Noden ’78 is a former staff writer at Sports Illustrated and a frequent PAW contributor.