Athletics has always played a central role in Bob Teel’s life. His career has included serving 28 years as a Missouri track coach, 17 of them as head coach at the University of Missouri, where he coached an impressive number of All Americans: 42 to be exact. Teel’s remarkable record earned him a spot on the US Olympic Elite Athlete Committee and as a NCAA referee.
But what many don’t know about Teel is that this extraordinary man began his career playing basketball in the 1930s for the “YMCA Runts,” a team made up of 9 and 10 year olds whose home turf was none other than the Downtown Joplin YMCA.
Teel’s story begins when, as a young boy growing up in Webb City, his teachers let him leave school 15 minutes early 3 days a week so he could catch a streetcar to the Joplin YMCA. The cost of a streetcar from Webb City to Joplin was 5 cents.
At the Y, he enjoyed basketball, volleyball and tumbling, as well as working out on the rings and parallel bars. He was part of the junior and senior leaders clubs.
Teel’s very first association with the Y came about while visiting some friends at Camp Tilden on Big Sugar Creek on parents’ day. “I saw that camp and knew I had to go.” said Teel. “I found out that in order to go the camp, I needed to be a member of the Y, so I joined at 9 years of age.”
At Y summer camp, Teel enjoyed three meals a day, horseback riding, canoeing, basketball, rifle instruction, nature hikes, and arrowhead hikes– all for $1 per day.
“The physical director at the Y was a man named Walter Wheeler, and he played a large part in shaping my life,” said Teel.
“One of the unusual things about Mr. Wheeler was that he gave us a lot of freedom to fish and hike while at camp, but he was a good disciplinarian. We had a lot of respect for him, and he was a wonderful role model for young people. As a result of the positive experience I received from him as a young man, my wife and I sent all our children to camp.”
Teel’s association with Wheeler grew into a lifelong friendship. “Mr. Wheeler had a son my age named Bobby, and he invited me to go to Des Moines with them for the Drake Relays.”
Established in 1910, the Drake Relays are outdoor track and field events featuring the top athletes in the country. There, Teel saw Jesse Owens, and was intrigued by the hurdlers. “I saw the hurdlers and knew I wanted to be one.”
After World War II, Teel competed in the Drake Relays himself. And later as a coach at the University of Missouri, Teel took his team to compete at the Drake Relays and later he was inducted into the Drake Relays Hall of Fame as a coach.
Teel continued the legacy of Walter Wheeler by coaching and serving as a positive role model for countless young men through years of coaching.
“The Y had a great impact on me,” said Teel. “I made lifelong friends and have so many fond memories because of my association with it.”
Teel is a 1941 graduate of Webb City High School, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. His accomplishments include being named an outstanding athlete at Webb City High School and the University of Missouri.
Teel was named the NCAA Track Coach of the Year in 1983. He was inducted into the University of Missouri Sports Hall of Fame and the Missouri Track Coaches Hall of Fame. He also served as President of the NCAA Track and Field Coaches’ Association from 1987-1989.
Bob Teel was recently selected to the first class of the Webb City High School Athletes Hall of Fame, and stopped by the Joplin Family Y to share his memories with us.
He currently resides in Flat Rock, NC, and Fort Myers Florida.