On the track, it doesn’t take long for Junior Peters to get from start to finish. The senior sprinter from Minnesota State Academy for the Deaf is quick out of the blocks – even though he cannot fully hear the starter’s pistol – and blazes his way to the end of the race. It’s always a quick, simple journey.
How he got to the Faribault school is a longer story.
Peters, a three-sport star who is one of the most accomplished athletes in MSAD history, has made history of his own. Last fall he set football school records for rushing yards in a game, in a season and in a career. He was a starter on the Trojans basketball team and now he hopes to finish his high school career with a flourish.
In April, Peters became the first MSAD athlete to compete at the prestigious Hamline Elite Meet, running in the 100 meters. And if all goes well he will qualify for the Class 1A state track meet next month. The first phase of that quest was completed Tuesday at a subsection meet in Medford. Peters advanced in the 100, 200 and 400 to next week’s section championships in Dodge Center. (Junior is pictured with his father Dan and Dan's girlfriend, Molly Sullivan.)
Running at state has been a major goal for more than a year. That’s because Peters missed the 2015 track season with a fractured knee patella.
“It was a freak accident during dorm's kickball activity and I got a serious knee injury a day before the first meet last year,” Junior said via email. “It really cost me the entire track season. I was devastated and determined to come back this year. And I did!”
In April, Peters was named a national athlete of the month by SportsMX and the National Deaf Interscholastic Athletic Association. The award recognizes athletes who have made a significant impact on their teams not just on the field but in academics, leadership and character.
MSAD boys track coach Steven Fuerst said (with the assistance of MSAD athlete and American Sign Language translator Josh Strom), “His heart was broken. But he’s back and Junior just wants to get there. Junior is a very determined person.”
Determination is apparently part of Junior’s DNA. His journey began with his birth at a refugee camp in Ivory Coast in western Africa. His father, Dan Peters, is a native of Liberia. They came to the United States when Junior was 7 years old.
“I remember running through the jungles every day with my brother and friends,” Junior said. “There were no televisions, no phones, no electrical power, no computers, and no family car before we moved to America.”
Junior attended public schools in Minneapolis until moving to MSAD, where students live in dormitories during the week and go home on weekends, as a seventh-grader.
MSAD athletic director Davey Olson says Junior “is probably the most sociable kid on our campus.”
“He not only excels on the basketball court or on the field, he also excels well in school,” Olson said via email. “Everybody looks up to him because of his leadership, positive attitude and hard work.”
Watching a deaf sprinter get out of the blocks so quickly is a marvel. Junior watches the starter until both arms are raised (the gun goes up when the starter says “take your marks” and the other arm does the same at the “set” command.)
Once he sees both arms raised, Junior drops his head. When the pistol is fired, “I can feel and slightly hear the gunfire's sound.”
Peters’ best time in the 100 this spring is 11.38 seconds. The fastest reported time among Class 1A boys is 10.78 by LeSueur-Henderson’s Rhett Streeter.
“Junior is a very determined person, he’s very dedicated and he’s fully committed to the track program,” Fuerst said. “He works hard. And what he does in track helps him in other sports, too. He is a natural-born athlete.
“Hopefully Junior gets to state. He needs to take it one day at a time. We’re very excited.”
Junior’s track career will continue after high school as part of the USA Deaf Track and Field team. He also has been selected to compete at the 2017 Deaflympics in Turkey.
Junior is a proud MSAD student-athlete, one who knows he is a role model on campus and beyond.
“It means a lot to me. MSAD is the only school in the state of Minnesota that offers great opportunities and a barrier-free communication environment for me as a deaf person,” he said.
“I have been seeing a lot of elementary students every morning walking to school and at the cafeteria. They look up to me as a great athlete and at the same time I give them words of encouragement. Maybe they can be like me in the future.”
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 698
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 11,250