By: Dan Popoloski – Managing Editor
Not many think of William Paterson University as a hotbed for athletic talent.
As a Division-III school, sports are not the focal point of the university and are often looked at as more of an afterthought comparing to more notable athletic schools.
However, WPU has had their fair share of world class athletes file through the halls. Horace Jenkins and Clinton Wheeler each had brief NBA careers. One William Paterson alumnus proved himself to be the best in the world at his respective sport earning a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992.
Herb Perez debuted with the U.S. National taekwondo team in 1985 after enrolling at William Paterson in 1971, working his way near the top of the nation in the early 80s.
He attended WPU throughout much of his athletic career, giving him an extra balancing act with time management that most students can’t compare with. Juggling work and school is difficult enough, but throwing in an Olympic journey? It was a path that not many could handle.
In 1988, Perez was a favorite to make the United States Olympic Team. His prowess was so well known that he was even selected to the Taekwondo Hall of Fame that year. However, an unfortunate lapse in judgement during the U.S. Olympic Trials caused Perez to miss out on the chance to make it big and grab Olympic glory a year early. Upset that his close friend had lost earlier in the tournament, Perez lost his final match missing a chance to go to Seoul.
He recommitted himself to the sport afterwards at age 28, making a push to Barcelona in 1992, not losing a single senior level match over the course of four years. The tournament in ‘92 culminated in three straight wins decided by just a single point as Perez edged his way to a gold medal.
Perez has found himself to be something of a Renaissance man. After graduating from William Paterson in 1991 with a philosophy degree, he attended Rutgers Law School, and then stayed in California after retiring from his athletic career. From there, he bought three different martial arts schools, and served as the head of the parks and recreation department in Foster City.
Perez also ran for and won a seat on the town council. In 2011, he was elected the mayor of Foster City and emerged victorious again in 2014 during his reelection bid, securing his position until 2019.
As if those achievements were not enough for the accomplished athlete and scholar, he served as a member of the Board of Directors for the United States Olympic Committee, as well as being honored with the George Steinbrenner Award for his humanitarian efforts in Afghanistan.
While William Paterson is not known as a powerhouse in athletics, you can always look back at Herb Perez, the Pioneers’ own gold medalist.
Next time a fellow classmate or student tells you about their canoeing club, rowing competition, or even their hobby of taekwondo, maybe you should just write down their name and learn a little more. You never know who might be William Paterson’s next athletic claim to fame.