When Michael Peterson started playing basketball in high school, he was not a starter, but an injury to one of the other players opened a door for him.
“During a game one of the players injured their ankle and was out,” said Peterson, who came off of the bench that night and scored 31 points for the St. James Saints High School boys basketball team. “I didn’t know I had it in me.”
That success was one step in what was a very successful high-school athletic career for Peterson. By the time he graduated from high school in 1965, Peterson had earned varsity letters in five different sports, including cross country, golf, tennis, baseball and basketball.
His success in athletics in high school, as well as at the college level, led to his selection as a member of the 2018 St. James Athletic Hall of Fame.
Peterson called the fact that he was inducted a surreal experience, adding he can’t express enough gratitude to the St. James community for its support during his time growing up as a student athlete.
As a sophomore, Peterson qualified for the state tennis tournament.
“It was fun to compete,” said Peterson, adding he ran into some pretty tough competition at the state level.
In 1965, Peterson was part of the conference championship basketball team.
During his basketball career, Peterson was a prolific scorer, and ended up averaging more than 18 points per game throughout his time on the court.
During his time in cross country, the Saints placed second at the region tournament one season and qualified for state. While Peterson actually began playing football as an eighth grader, an incident involving a leather helmet and a tackle led to a concussion and his decision that the full-contact sport was not for him.
So, he started running.
For him, in addition to seeing success as a runner, he used the sport as a way to keep in shape for his true passions – basketball and baseball.
To this day, Peterson said he enjoys running whenever he can,
“Back then a cross country race was 1.8 miles,” said Peterson, adding he is very impressed that today’s cross country participants run a 5K.
Baseball was the sport Peterson really enjoyed, adding he was very appreciative of the fact that his coaches were so supportive in his desire to play both tennis and baseball in the same season.
Peterson started playing baseball at a very young age. “When I started we didn’t have all of the equipment kids have today,” he said. “We just found a field and played.”
After high school, Peterson attended Augsburg College where he lettered in both baseball and basketball. He considers his time in college a positive part of his life, adding both the high-school and college athletics environment helped him to develop character traits and values he has always carried with him, and has shared with others when he coached.
“I loved coaching,” said Peterson, adding he had the privilege of coaching his own children along the way.
For Peterson the message he shared with the athletes he coached did not place the emphasis on winning. Rather, it was about developing as athletes and people.
“When I was a coach, everybody played,” he said. “When everybody plays, then everybody learns.”
Peterson, who lives with his wife, Judy, in Hudson, Wis. retired after a 31-year career working for the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry as a program director for computer systems. He has two children, Joel and Kari, and four grandchildren.
Peterson also served for three years in the U.S. Navy stationed in Stockton, Calif. Along the way, Peterson started playing fastpitch softball, and today still enjoys being on the diamond. Another sport, pickleball, has also become an interest, and Peterson was involved in developing courts for that in Hudson.
As a student, Peterson was not just an athlete, he served as senior class president and was a member of the National Honor Society. He firmly believes that his well-rounded experience in high school helped lead to any successes he has had over the years.
When he was in high school Peterson said his parents never came to any of his events, but when his mother died they found an old grocery bag and a photo album filled with old yellowed newspaper articles telling the story of his athletic successes.
“My mother was my biggest fan,” Peterson said.
Peterson recalls his time in St. James with fondness, adding he is very humbled to know he is now a member of the hall of fame.
“For me it was never about the accomplishments,” he said. “It was about the relationships.”
For him athletics was about being healthy and having fun, and any success he had was merely the outcome of that.