Archdeacon: ‘Village’ supports UD volleyball star

“It Takes a Village”: Jamie Peterson and her son are flanked by four of the people who have given her her most support. From left: sister Becka, mom Jenny, UD coach Tim Horsmon, Jamie and Carter and sister Kayla. CONTRIBUTED

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“It Takes a Village”: Jamie Peterson and her son are flanked by four of the people who have given her her most support. From left: sister Becka, mom Jenny, UD coach Tim Horsmon, Jamie and Carter and sister Kayla. CONTRIBUTED

WEST LIBERTY – She said the fear, the uncertainty, the feeling that she’d let everybody down were “eating away” at her.

She’d kept her secret for nearly six months – told no one – but suddenly she was having a meltdown.

“I was at my sister Becka’s apartment in Beavercreek and I was in tears telling her I wanted to quit volleyball,” Jamie Peterson said. “I was saying, ‘I don’t want to do it anymore, not volleyball. Not school. None of it!’

“She was like, ‘You’re kinda acting crazy!’

“No one had ever heard me saying stuff like that before. I loved volleyball. I loved going to UD.”

Coming out of West Liberty-Salem High School, she’d been the No. 73-rated recruit in the nation according to PrepVolleyball.com and had been named an Under Armour All American.

She had committed to the University of Dayton already as a 15-year-old high school sophomore and her freshman year at UD, she quickly had become a starter and by the end of that 2016 season, she’d made the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team.

Sidelined the following year by shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum, she had rehabbed vigorously to return to the court.

And now suddenly she wanted no part of volleyball?

“Behind my back, my sister had texted my mom and said I was acting suspicious,” Jamie said. “They were kind of catching on.”

On the way from the family’s Logan County home to Beavercreek, Jen Peterson, Jamie’s mom, picked up a pregnancy kit.

“Oh noooo, I hadn’t taken a test,” Jamie now recalls. “In the beginning I was in denial. It was an incredibly hard time. In my head I’d worked up everyone’s response and figured they’d be horrible if I was pregnant.”

Jen said her relationship with her youngest daughter had hit a rare rough patch around that time:

“I knew she was going through something and I was trying to find a way to talk to her and get her to open up.”

Jamie remembered her mom walking into Becka’s place: “She said, ‘I want you to take this and know, no matter what, I’m not going to kick you out. I love you. We all do. But we just need to know.’”

The test showed she was pregnant and Jamie remembers her mom’s response:

“The first words out of her mouth were, ‘That’s OK. We can do a baby!’”

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Jamie Peterson at her graduation last year with son Carter. She is now in grad school at Dayton. CONTRIBUTED

Jamie Peterson at her graduation last year with son Carter. She is now in grad school at Dayton. CONTRIBUTED

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Jamie Peterson at her graduation last year with son Carter. She is now in grad school at Dayton. CONTRIBUTED

There were many times since then that it’s been difficult said all involved, but thanks to the unwavering commitment of Jen – “she’s just an extraordinary woman,” said Flyers volleyball coach Tim Horsman – as well as he support of Jamie’s two older sisters, her dad, the rest of the family and so many people at UD, this has become one of the most unlikely stories of love, resilience and unequalled sports success to ever come out of the school.

Jamie’s son Carter – 9 pounds, 6 ounces, 22 inches long – was born in September 2018.

He came at a perfect time because the family was grieving the loss of its matriarch – 73-year-old Carol Poppe, Jen’s mom – who had lived in Jackson Center with her husband Jim and had died four months earlier.

Over the past three-plus years, Jen’s words have been prophetic.

Jamie has been able do a baby…and a whole lot more.

Although she gained 80 pounds during her pregnancy and was kept off the volleyball court for two years because of the surgery and the birth, she came back stronger than ever.

She was named the A-10 Player of the Year each of the past three seasons and also was the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Midwest Regional Player of the Year three years straight. In each season, she won All America honors, too.

“I hope she isn’t a once in a generation player for us, but you don’t often find a 6-foot-4 outside hitter like her who’s so athletic and moves like her,” Horsman said. “She’s a gifted athlete. She could play anywhere in the country. You could see that in a big way when she played against some of the best teams in the nation – Wisconsin, Kentucky, Purdue at the end of this year.”

Jamie said when she finally got the courage to tell Horsman of her pregnancy, his biggest concern was “Whether I finished volleyball or not, he wanted me to get my degree. That showed he cared about me as a person, not just a volleyball player.”

Since her pregnancy, she made the Dean’s List, was honored by the A-10 for her academic efforts, earned an undergrad degree in sports management and now is just three courses shy of a master’s degree in educational leadership.

“I think about all that a lot,” she said. “If I was playing at a bigger school would they have backed me up? Would they have kept me? Or, would they have said: ‘We’re sorry’ and then recruited someone else to replace me?”

Jen added: “And she probably would not have had the same experience post birth.

“From day one, she and Carter have gotten the full support of Coach Horsman, his staff, her teammates, the athletic director and Dr. Spina (UD president Eric Spina). And they all reached out to me, too.”

As Horsman put it: “We love Jamie and Carter and wanted the best for them. With our program, we talk a lot about family, about legacy.

“This is part of what that means.”

‘I think I want to go here’

As a high school sophomore, Jamie got an invite to visit UD.

“To be truthful, I had no idea who Dayton was,” she admitted with a laugh.

“Here I was, growing up only an hour away and I’d never heard of it. Part of that may be that it’s a Catholic school and there aren’t many Catholics in West Liberty. There are a lot of Baptists and Mennonites.

“But I remember going through the facilities and looking at the campus and thinking ‘Holy crap, how can this be? A Division I school this nice, this close, and I don’t know it!’ I was shocked.”

Once she got back to the car with her parents, she said: “I think I want to go here.”

She ended up going back into the volleyball office and verbally committing on the spot.

Some people told her she should have waited and looked at other schools, but she said she paid no attention to other overtures after that:

“I was so excited about UD. I was absolutely pumped about it. I felt this was the place for me.”

That never proved more true than when she became pregnant. At first though she told no one at UD, but she’s since learned Mark Thobe, the strength coach, began to suspect something when she was trying to rehab her shoulder and he said something to Horsman.

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UD volleyball star Jamie Peterson and her son Carter celebrate last month with Flyers’ teammate Lexi Almodovar after Dayton won the Atlantic 10 Championship at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse at Duquesne University. CONTRIBUTED

UD volleyball star Jamie Peterson and her son Carter celebrate last month with Flyers’ teammate Lexi Almodovar after Dayton won the Atlantic 10 Championship at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse at Duquesne University. CONTRIBUTED

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UD volleyball star Jamie Peterson and her son Carter celebrate last month with Flyers’ teammate Lexi Almodovar after Dayton won the Atlantic 10 Championship at the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse at Duquesne University. CONTRIBUTED

“When I finally did meet with Coach, it took me about 20 minutes of beating around the bush until the words came out of mouth,” she said. “And he was like: ‘I know.’ “He’d already made some phone calls, asking what-if questions with the administration.”

Horsman praised athletics director Neil Sullivan’s response: “He showed real compassion. He was very caring, very supportive and said he and the administration were going to do their best for Jamie and figure out how to make it work.”

Jamie’s best guidance came from her mom.

“I asked her to do two things,” Jen said.

“Never treat Carter like he was not on purpose or any kind of error.

“And not to give up on what she wanted to finish.

“I knew there would be a period where she’d have to sit out, but this didn’t have to be a life’s sentence. I said, ‘We’re all going to help.’

“When I met with Coach Horsman, I remember saying ‘Welcome to our village’ because it was going to take a village in this case.”

Jamie got an apartment for her and her son not far from campus and she began to follow an exhaustive schedule that included baby sitters and day care, taking Carter to West Liberty for nights with her mom, getting help from her older sisters, Becka and Kayla, and paying Horsman’s wife Krista to babysit, which meant Carter got to spend time with the Horsman’s young daughter, Laini.

She also takes Carter for regular visits with his birth dad, who lives in Indianapolis and was a former Xavier basketball manager: “We meet in Richmond and Carter goes back with him for the weekend.”

Carter’s godparents are Aaron Hollar, Jamie’s high school basketball coach, and his wife Kim, who works at the local school with Jen, who is a fifth grade teacher.

“I’ve been absolutely amazed by how good of a mom Jaime is,” said Jen. “She never used an ‘Oh poor me’ excuse.’

“From the start, she’s made Carter her priority. I don’t know how many young mothers know the importance of reading books and sharing stories with their young children. And she’s more patient as a young mother than I was.”

When the Flyers had home matches, Jen often would bring him along and he and Jamie would wave to each other.

Jen laughed: “He calls her teammates his ‘girls.’”

After full days of classes and volleyball and weight training, Jamie would devote early evenings to her son. There’d be dinner and his bath and sometimes they’d watch a movie.

“He loves The Greatest Showman,” she laughed. “It’s because of the music. Any movie that has songs, he’s all for it. He loves to dance and sing and jam out. He’s a little showman.”

Because he’s mostly been around adults his whole life, he learned to speak at an early age, Jamie said.

He can recite the Pledge of Allegiance, spell his name and she said he likes to throw out some of the “catch phrases” he’s learned from her boyfriend, who lives in Springfield and is a part-time firefighter and EMT and is an electrician:

“He’ll say, ‘Turn that frown upside down, Charlie Brown.’ Or, he’ll open the door and say ‘Ladies first!’”

As she thought about some of those moments, she made an admission:

“Anybody who knows me before Carter, knows I continuously said I didn’t want anything to do with kids. I always saw myself going overseas and playing volleyball and not being responsible for another human being.

“But I will say it again and again and again.

“The day Carter was born was the best day of my life.”

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Jamie Peterson’s son Carter with Rudy Flyer at a volleyball match. CONTRIBUTED

Jamie Peterson’s son Carter with Rudy Flyer at a volleyball match. CONTRIBUTED

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Jamie Peterson’s son Carter with Rudy Flyer at a volleyball match. CONTRIBUTED

‘He changed our worlds’

When the 26-6 Flyers lost to Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Dec. 3, Jamie’s volleyball career at UD ended.

Technically she could come back a seventh year because the NCAA didn’t count last year’s COVID-hampered seasons against players’ eligibilities, but she’s already 23, has a child and has been playing with a torn labrum in her hip.

She just moved back to West Liberty and is preparing to start substitute teaching and is coaching a club team in Urbana. She’s also exploring the possibility of playing professionally overseas.

But when we spoke the other day, the more immediate issue was Christmas.

“Carter loves Christmas,” she said. “He’s pumped. His favorite thing is the decorations and the lights we drive by. And he likes Legos and puzzles and because he just got his own room, he’s interested in night lights.”

“He’s grateful for every little thing he gets,” Jen said. “Give him socks and he’s like ‘I love them!’”

That side of him reminds her of her own mother who passed away in May of 2018.

“When Carter came to us, it was perfect timing,” she said. “He was the blessing we all needed. He changed all our worlds.”

Jamie agreed: “Our whole family was grieving the death of my grandma. We had had a lot of hard days, but then there he was with that smile on his face.”

Jen said he has a lot of the same traits her mother had: “Even being a little guy, he’s probably the most empathetic soul I know. He just has such a tender heart. He doesn’t want to see anybody sad.”

With that, she recounted a story that soon had her tearing up:

“My mom loved Elvis Pressley songs and now that she’s gone, those songs bring memories of her to my dad.

“And we were over there one day and Dad played an Elvis record for Carter, who was walking, but couldn’t have been much more than one.

“The song was Love Me Tender and Carter just starts dancing and trying to croon along even though he couldn’t say the words.

“And all of a sudden, he just walks over to Dad and hugged him ever so gently. He knew my dad needed a hug.

“I’m telling you this little boy has changed all our lives.”

Jamie agreed:

“Grandma sent us a good one.”

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From a couple of years ago, Jamie Peterson gives her son Carter a piggy back ride. CONTRIBUTED

From a couple of years ago, Jamie Peterson gives her son Carter a piggy back ride. CONTRIBUTED

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From a couple of years ago, Jamie Peterson gives her son Carter a piggy back ride. CONTRIBUTED

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