Rick Peterson Honored for 35 Years of Coaching

Rick Peterson Honored for 35 Years of Coaching

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Orginally published in The Arnold Sentinel
By Leta Connell

As a new college graduate, you begin down the normal job hunting path knowing in the back of your mind there will most likely be several bumps along the way. Bumps that take you from here to there before you find that perfect position, located in the greatest place, where you would love to raise a family and retire. Well, for one graduate the normal path was not meant to be, and 35 years later, Arnold, Nebraska is still home.

Mr. Rick Peterson, or “Coach Pete,” as he is known to many, just finished his 35th year as a teacher and coach at Arnold Public Schools. Rick did not grow up in Arnold, or even in the surrounding area.  He was born in Omaha and attended Catholic school at St. Richard’s through the second grade. He then moved with his parents to an acreage in Kennard, Nebraska, where he was the only boy in a class of seven girls. At the beginning of seventh grade, the family moved again to Missouri Valley, Iowa, just across the river from Blair.  After graduating from Missouri Valley High School, he attended Midland University in Fremont from 1977 to 1982. Rick participated in cross country and track at Midland for all four years of his college eligibility.  So how did Mr. Peterson find his way to rural Arnold?

“We were looking for a place in the Sandhills.  I had fallen in love with the area as a very young child when my maternal grandfather brought me from Omaha to duck hunt near Burwell in the 1960s,” states Peterson. “We really liked the beauty of Arnold. The city park and the houses looked so well kept compared to many of the other small towns I interviewed at.  We have stayed because of the people. Barb and I were treated very well by the kids and the community, which is not always the case for many. I would say Arnold is where I grew up, even though I was 22 years old when I first moved here. If I ever leave, it will be very difficult.”

Barb has been an employee of the local bank for over 30 years, and together they have raised two children.  Their son, Justin, a 2000 Arnold graduate, is employed with Stantec as a geophysicist and is usually working somewhere in the Western Hemisphere. Justin, and daughter-in-law Tania, reside in Denver, Colorado.  Samantha, their daughter, and a 2003 Arnold graduate, along with her husband Charles, also call Denver home but are currently traveling the world for a year.  (She posts a blog on their travels at www.parsons.world if you would like to follow along on their journey). Currently, they are in Switzerland.  Samantha is also a published author of two books, Dynam and Luce. 

Not only has Mr. Peterson had the chance to impact the lives of his own children in the last 35 years, but his chairs are now filled with children of former students. Whether it was on the field, in the classroom, on the court or around the track, he has pretty much done it all at one point or another. He currently instructs junior high and high school students in all history classes, plus teaches elementary physical education where square dancing and gymnastics units are a few of the favorites.

As “Coach Pete,” he has been an assistant football coach two years, girls junior high basketball coach for 16 years, high school girls basketball coach for 12 years, plus track and field for 35 years, bringing home the gold this year as the 2017 Class D-1 Boys State Track Champions.

This is quite an impressive feat in anyone’s book, so it comes as no surprise that Mr. Peterson was honored for his achievements last Sunday, July 23, at the 50th Annual NCA Awards Banquet in the Great Hall of the Old Train Station in the Haymarket district of downtown Lincoln. The first award was the 35 Year Coaching Service Award.

Coach Peterson reflects, “That just can’t be. I was only a kid beginning to teach and coach a couple of years ago. This is highly related to the fact that the community has placed such an emphasis on track and our facilities throughout the years.” 

The second award he will receive is the State Track Championship. “We had a group of boys that were focused and did not give up no matter what.  They were a very mentally tough, hard working group,” he commented. 

Last, but certainly not least, Coach Peterson will receive the Jerry Stine Family Milestone Level IV Coaches Award.  For those of you who are not familiar with the Jerry Stine award, it is given to coaches for reaching 800 points in a coaching career.  Points are earned as follows: four points each invitational title, two points for runner up in an invitational, five points for district runner up, ten points for a district title, 20 points for state runner up, 50 points for a state championship and ten points for each year you coached.

With his years of experience and continued success, you know I just had to ask what his favorite things are about being a teacher and a coach? He responded, “As a teacher I like the rhythm of the school year and the school day a lot.  As a teacher and coach, I love to see kids succeed and build confidence as they mature.  The relationships that you build as a teacher and coach also make this much more than a job.  I had a really successful college coach tell me “Don’t measure success with the number of wins, use life changing events that students want you to attend to gauge your success, such as weddings, funerals, graduations, baptisms, etc..”  I still enjoy being involved in important moments in students and athletes lives.  Barb and I seldom miss a life event because we think it is an honor to be included in these, it might be more important than winning a district or state championship.  I really love the positive connection between the school and community, we take it for granted because it does not happen in as many places as we think it does.”

I don’t believe it is any secret which sport Coach Peterson has a true passion for, he agreed and explains why, “I really always enjoyed track the most.  I feel it is the easiest to measure success, growth and improvement in.  I really like that at this level almost any athlete that wants to be a positive part of success at the team level can be.  I had an athlete who is now 45 years old remind me how we won two conference championships because of him.  He wasn’t real talented, but his six points at the conference meet allowed Arnold to win CPC championships they wouldn’t have without his points.  I like that track is hard, which is what makes it good.  In America we don’t do hard sports as well as we used to, I think doing hard things such as track prepares us to do hard things in life.  I enjoy coaching a sport that I believe gives athletes an advantage since it requires discipline, which will only help them in the future.” 

In 35 years Mr. Peterson has seen a lot of changes, in the classroom and on the track.  What he believes to be the biggest change since he began is, “Technology, athletes know so much more than before the internet.  In skill events in track the athletes watch drills, coaching tips, and training videos on their own time all available at their fingertips on the internet.  Today if a coach doesn’t have a good plan, kids will figure it out in a few days just by looking it up online.  Kids today really aren’t that much different in spite of what most people think. They want the same things they have wanted forever:  the opportunity to compete, the opportunity for success, to be social with their peers, and to be treated with respect.  This is pretty much the same thing we all want from cradle to grave.”

To teachers and coaches beginning the same journey he started 35 years ago, his words of wisdom are quite clear, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.  We all want to be surrounded with positive people that have our best interests at heart, students and athletes are no different.  If students know you care and have their best interests at heart, they will work much harder and achieve much more.  They also forgive my mistakes which I make every day because I forgive their honest mistakes.” 

With this many years already under his belt, one can’t help but wonder how many more years Coach Pete will grace the halls at Arnold Public Schools.  He readily admits, “Retirement honestly scares me, I think I’ll have a hard time filling up my days. I will go at least two more years and possibly more, although Barb does want to travel.  Arnold and the school are such a huge part of our lives, I can’t imagine not having them in our lives but I guess that time is coming.  When the time does come I hope to be remembered as someone who worked hard, was honest with them and cared about their well-being.  The winning was great, but sometimes you get lucky and probably can’t help but win.  I would rather be remembered as someone who got the athlete or student that maybe wasn’t as talented to work hard and achieve their best.  Throughout the rest of his teaching and coaching career Mr. Peterson believes his goals will remain much the same as in the past.  “Whether it is to develop an understanding of history or to run fast, the goal is to give ourselves the best opportunity to succeed by having a focus on what is success and working hard to achieve success.  I read one time that if you can get students to just show up every day they are in the top 50% in America, because so many choose not to go to work or accept responsibility.  For each student or athlete it is different.  I think in the next couple years the boys and girls track teams should be the best in the area, I want to make sure I enjoy their success.  Sometimes I take the success for granted, which is a shame.”

When the moment arrives for Barb’s travel wishes to come true and Mr. Peterson locks his classroom for the last time, we will know without a doubt that Arnold Public School history is in the making.  Thank you Mr. Peterson for your 35 years of dedication to Arnold Public Schools and the Arnold community.