Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sports Center Saturday - Ken Petersen

It seems appropriate that my first post on the Sports Center Saturday theme be about my Dad, Kenneth Petersen.

In his day, Dad was an all-around athlete and played baseball and football at Lincoln High School (Lincoln, Nebraska) from 1941-1944. He was quite an athlete and had hoped to play professional baseball. Not only did he play for Lincoln High, but also for the Lincoln Blues, the American Legion baseball team. I enjoy listening to him tell about the time when he tried out for the St. Louis Cardinals. But it was 1944, in the midst of World War II and rather than play baseball, he chose to serve his country and joined the U.S. Navy. To this day, he keeps up on all of the professional first basemen.

Kenny Petersen
Lincoln High Links - First Base

Lincoln High School
Freshman Football - 1942 Links Yearbook
Ken is in the 2nd row from the back, third from left
As usual, his last name is misspelled.
Dad received his letter in football at Lincoln High and still has his letter sweater. He also lettered in baseball, but didn't receive the actual letter because he had gone to the Navy. He received the letter about five decades later after my stepmother made a request to the school when she was planning her class' 40th reunion.



After the war, Dad returned to the States with impaired vision, dreams of a professional baseball career behind him. He married my Mom and I came along a few years later. I can't remember a time when baseball was not a part of my life. A bit of a tomboy, I enjoyed playing catch with my Dad and he pushed me as hard as he would push a son to play softball the best that I could. Oh, how I remember him yelling at me, "you're running like a girl!" He would hit pop flies to me in our back yard and I would catch them. He'd work with me on fielding ground balls. And I was just as cocky as he was, mastering the ability to catch pop flies behind my back. Oh, how I wanted to do that during a game sometime but knew that I'd get benched the minute I tried.

When we lived in Greenwood, Nebraska during the 1950s Dad got an American Legion baseball team started and became the manager. There were just enough teenage boys in town to put together a team. Our summers were spent at the ball field and traveling to out of town games. Families would caravan to the out of town games and we thought that our mere presence put fear in the eyes of our opponents. We always were thrilled to beat Ashland, our arch rivals. Eventually, the town raised enough funds to buy the team uniforms.

In the early 1960s, we had moved to Lincoln and Dad got a summer job with city Parks & Recreation to coach girls' softball. Of course, I was on the team, playing third base. Trust me, I did NOT get any special treatment as the coach's daughter! If I was playing poorly, Dad didn't hesitate to pull me out of the game. More parent-coaches today could learn from that! Even after Dad quit coaching, I continued to play softball in the summer City Rec league.

In his sixties and seventies, Dad took up golf and played nearly every day that the weather would permit. He even got me hooked on the game and we usually played together on Saturday and Sunday mornings and at least one evening every week. He played as long as his body would let him, until the pain was so severe he could no longer swing a club. I don't think there's anything worse for an athlete than to not be able to participate in sports any longer.

In 2004, Dad and his fellow football teammates were inducted into the Lincoln High School Athletic Hall of Fame as the 1943 Boys State Football Champions. I accompanied him to the awards banquet that evening and enjoyed meeting so many of his high school buddies, some 60 years after they played together.

As Dad has become more hearing impaired over the years, the one thing he still has to watch on television is sports. He doesn't need to be able to hear the TV to be able to follow the game. He's still ranting about that stunt Derek Jeter pulled about a week ago, pretending to be hit by a pitched ball. He also shared with me an article he read in this week's Time magazine about the titanium necklaces that a lot of the athletes wear that allegedly boost their energy level. We joked that maybe Congress needs to have hearings on the use of such performance enhancing jewelry!

When I think of my Dad, he's synonymous with Sports in our family. I'm happy to have been raised on sports, to really learn about teamwork and the joy of winning - that always beats the alternative.

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