Not many high school athletes can say that they were able to play on the varsity teams of four different sports and excel in them all, but Skippers Hall of Fame inductee Gary Peterson is remembered for doing just that.
Gary kept busy during his four years at Minnetonka High School. He played football in the fall, basketball in the winter, tennis in the spring and ran track on spring days when there weren't any tennis matches. Balancing a full schedule of sports with Minnetonka's rigorous academics was challenging, but Gary managed to make it work for him, saying "You do what you have to do."
Along with earning a varsity letter in four sports, Gary's high school career is marked with several other impressive achievements. Gary was voted Most Valuable Player and Most Valuable Back of the Skippers football team by his teammates. He was named to the All-Conference and All-State teams, along with being showcased by the Star Tribune as the "Back of the Week." On the basketball court, Gary captained the Skippers to the conference championship where they took home first place. Gary was one of the leading scorers in the Lake Conference and was named to the All-Conference and All-Tournament teams.
In tennis, Gary was the top singles player in Minnetonka. He captained the team and was the Lake Conference champion. Gary also competed individually in the Jaycee Tennis Tournament where he placed first in the state and went on to compete at the national tournament in 1958 and again in 1959. At these tournaments, Gary had the opportunity to play alongside the best high school tennis players in the country including the great Arthur Ashe. "I got to see the best," remarks Gary.
Gary credits much of his success to the teachers and coaches he had at Minnetonka High School. "They all led me in the right direction," he says. His tennis coach, Ernie DeSantis, had a special influence on Gary's life. Having lost his father at a young age, Gary soon found not only a role model but a mentor and friend in Coach DeSantis. The two remained close friends for the rest of Coach DeSantis' life.
After graduating from high school, Gary was recruited to play football for the University of Iowa, which was known as one of the best NCAA football teams at the time. Gary took a break from his studies to serve his country in the U.S. Army. His athletic skill was quickly noticed at a tryout for the U.S. Army Basketball Team. Gary competed on the team stationed in Stuttgart and played against other army teams stationed all across Europe. When he returned to the U.S., Gary enrolled at what was then St. Cloud Teachers College where he earned a degree in health physical education. Continuing his record of multi-sport excellence, Gary led the St. Cloud Huskies to championship seasons in both basketball and tennis before graduating, placing first in singles at the Northern Intercollegiate Conference Championship.
Earning his degree meant that a new journey was starting for Gary. He returned to Minnetonka High School, this time as a coach and teacher. It was a unique and humbling experience for Gary to have many of his former coaches welcome him as a colleague. "I admired those coaches, and now I was one of them," he says. Gary continued to strive for excellence as a coach, leading the 1974 boys' tennis team to a state championship. He also had the privilege of mentoring a young tennis player named David Wheaton in 1984 who would go on to win the NCAA title with Stanford and compete at the U.S. Open and the Australian Open.
Looking back on his time at Minnetonka, Gary stills remember the excitement of games and the challenges that he faced during his athletic career. As a player and coach, he encourages today's student-athletes to never give up. "Strive to be the best that you can be," Gary says, "but don't get discouraged. There will be ups and downs."