Town Honors Former Hampton Academy Coach

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By Nancy Rineman

Atlantic News, Thursday, "Independence Day", July 4, 2002

[The following article is courtesy of the Atlantic News]
Linda (Peterson) Theriault and her family.
[Atlantic News Photo by Nancy Rineman]

HAMPTON - A beautiful weather weekend was marked by an even more beautiful event Saturday, with the dedication of Peterson Field, named for John G. Peterson, teacher, coach and athletic director of Hampton Academy & High School from 1946 - 1970.

A crowd of about four dozen gathered together Saturday morning to honor the late educator and sports enthusiast, who passed away December 17, 1988 at the age of 80. Master of ceremonies for the event was Hampton historian John Holman, who explained that the initial naming of the field had taken place at a social hour and testimonial banquet acknowledging the joint retirement of John and Mildred Peterson in June, 1970. Mildred Peterson had been the school’s secretary for 15 years. And while the knowledge always existed that the naming had taken place, somehow, no formal ceremony followed.

All that changed this past Saturday, however, as Peterson’s daughter, Linda Theriault, of Barnstead, NH helped to unveil the memorial plaque paying tribute to her father. Ironically, Theriault had only learned about the planned ceremony three days before. Mail sent to her address by Holman had repeatedly been returned. The problem was being attributed to postal zip code changes in the Barnstead area.

"In my mind, I always knew it was Dad’s field," Theriault said just before the long awaited event got underway.

Hampton School Board Chairman Chris Singleton said honoring John Peterson was "absolutely warranted." He congratulated Peterson and his family on the "beautiful field" that bears his name.

Former athletes and students of John Peterson took turns sharing special memories of their mentor. Hampton resident Harold Fernald told the gathering that 53 years ago he entered Hampton Academy & High School a "below average" athlete. During Phys. Ed. class, he said, his teacher and coach, Mr. Peterson, introduced a new program - track and field, offering 15 events. Fernald said Peterson told students to come out - enjoy yourself. Fernald said Peterson described it as a team sport but an individual sport as well. Three years later, Fernald said he was "allowed to stay on the track team." He later entered Plymouth Teachers’ College, earned a degree in history, and later after two years in the service, became the Exeter Track Coach, with the major rival being the team of his former coach - Mr. Peterson.

"He won the first two (meets), I won the third," Fernald revealed Saturday.

Later, Fernald said, Peterson began Hampton Academy’s first cross country team, joining forces with Exeter.

Col. Paul Lessard of Hampton described Hampton Academy & High School as a "fantastic place to go to school." He played football and ran track under the tutelage of John Peterson.

"He was a gentleman and a person I looked up to a lot," Lessard said.

Lessard said the teacher coach advised against Lessard’s joining the Marine Corps. Lessard said he often thought of Peterson and his words during his years in the service.

"For 38 years I’ve thought of John Peterson. Today, John, we’re here," Lessard said Saturday.

Then it was Linda Theriault’s turn to speak of her father’s "no nonsense approach" and the direct guidance he offered that took people to a better way of life.

"He lived the golden rule, Theriault said. ("An) example of that are these gentlemen here today." Theriault cited the tenacity and persistence of her father’s former students in making the field dedication a reality. She also noted the need to mentor the young people of today, taking time to acknowledge the good. Theriault thanked all who had come to honor John Peterson.

In a voice faintly quivering with emotion, Theriault added, "I love you, Dad."

Attorney Al Casassa and Linda just after unveiling.
[Atlantic News Photo by Nancy Rineman]

Theriault was assisted with the unveiling of the bronze plaque by Attorney Casassa. Family members who then gathered with her around the plaque included her husband, Norman, their daughter and son and their spouses, and John Peterson’s three great-grandsons. Linda Theriault reflected on the event and the knowledge that she had only learned of it earlier that week.

"Here I am four days later enjoying the strongest day of my life," Theriault said.

Theriault was then presented a baseball signed by those who spoke at the ceremony as well as those who served on the committee organizing the field dedication. It will be the first ball to be thrown out when the first game is held on the John G. Peterson Field.

Holman, who was also one of John Peterson’s former students, spoke of the man all players referred to strictly as "Mr." Peterson. Peterson was born in Brockton, MA on June 12, 1908. He served in the U.S. Army January 1943 to April 1946 and was a second lieutenant at the infantry school in Fort Benning, GA. He was a graduate of Springfield College and also Boston University, where he received a master’s degree in education.

Peterson was a past president of the New Hampshire Coaches Association and a past president of the New Hampshire Physical Education Association. He was also an honorary member of the New Hampshire Education Association and an honorary member of the New Hampshire Athletic Association. In addition to his 43 years as a member of Hampton American Legion Post 35, Peterson was the manager of the New Hampshire State Park at Hampton Beach for 29 years. His sister, Jean (Peterson) Chambliss, was also employed at Hampton Academy & High School as a teacher of economics, family members noted.

[See also, Athletic Fields Dedicated to John Peterson 32 Years After His Retirement;
Petersons' Feted, Acclaimed During Double Testimonial; Peterson Field Photographs and Obituary of John G. Peterson.]
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