Jared Peterson was it. At least he was in my eyes.
From the moment he led my little league flag-football team to back-to-back undefeated seasons, Peterson was the athlete I most admired. For the bulk of my formative years, he represented the standard by whom I judged all others.
I never actually told him that, but my guess is he probably knew it — if only because Peterson would have been held in equally high esteem by dozens of other youngsters who grew up in southwest Topeka in the 1970s and ’80s.
During my teen and high school years, I played baseball against Peterson and basketball with him. But mostly, I was just awed by him. We may have been in the same Washburn Rural class and on some of the same teams, but he clearly was in a different league.
Whether he was quarterbacking Rural to its first state football championship in 1985 or helping shoot the Junior Blues to a state basketball title earlier that same year, Peterson excelled. He was one of the most gifted athletes in the city in both sports, and was recognized as such. He almost certainly would have received similar accolades in baseball, but that sport wasn’t offered at the high school level back then.
Quite simply, Peterson was special — special enough that I hoped to include him among The Capital-Journal’s list of Top 100 Athletes of Shawnee County when we started the project more than a year ago.
Well, by now you know that Peterson didn’t make it. He was very much on our radar and a part of the conversation, but he came up a bit short ... just like dozens of other worthy candidates.
And that’s the point of this column. We know each of you have your own Jared Petersons — standout athletes who easily could have (perhaps even should have) been included in our list. We’ve heard about some — OK, many — of them.
As I wrote at the outset of this series, our list isn’t right for everyone. Heck, I’ve already explained in this space here that it isn’t exactly right even for me.
Maybe we should have included track stars Winston Tidwell, Mark Pickens, R.D. Cogswell, Sarah Heeb and another member of the talented Hazim clan. Perhaps we missed the boat on basketball standouts Nikki Olberding, Scott Smith, Tony Barksdale and Jay Tunnell. Or football backs Antoine Dulan, Todd Scott and Karl Evans. Or rising stars such as Emily Dicus, T.J. McGreevy and Duane Zlatnik. Or boxer Damon Reed.
Who knows? As I’ve explained to a number of you, the worst part of this project has been disappointing so many athletes who are worthy of recognition. The Top 100 is very much subject to debate, and it should be.
What can’t be questioned, though, is this series forced all of us to think. It invited us to reminisce and reminded us how blessed we have been to witness so many great athletes and athletic achievements.
We took trips back to the Negro Leagues of the early 20th century and the major leagues of the late 19th century. We introduced stars you probably never knew — such as Ruth Fairbank and Jack L. Bybee — and reacquainted you with legends like Levi Lee.
We featured mainstream standouts who amaze us — like PGA Tour bomber Gary Woodland — and non-traditional stars who inspire us — like boccia expert Austin Hanson. We took our best shots with Margaret Thompson-Murdock and Tom Bunger, and we took a road less traveled with Steve Tilford.
Truth be told, we traveled down more roads than we thought we would. It was a rewarding journey in many ways, but mostly because it gave us a chance to tell a few new stories and retell a few old ones.
We hope you enjoyed the project as much as we enjoyed producing it ... even if your Jared Peterson didn’t make the list.
Tim Bisel can be reached