Emma Cerny and Carleigh Williams have appreciated all the time Maddie Peterson has spent cheering them on from the bench as a team manager throughout the years.
And the St. Johns sophomores both felt it was appropriate to find a way for Peterson, who has a cognitive learning impairment, to get a chance in the spotlight.
“We thought why not put her out on the court too,” Williams said.
St. Johns junior varsity girls basketball coach Charlie Howes was all for the idea of Peterson suiting up and getting to play when approached by Cerny and Williams a few weeks ago. Athletic director Chris Ervin was also on board and put the plan in motion.
That idea came to light Tuesday against Charlotte as Peterson started for the Redwings and made a basket to open the game with her teammates by her side cheering her on.
“It was awesome,” Peterson said. “It made me feel good.”
Peterson, who was born with a heart defect, has been involved with basketball through Special Olympics. But last week, she felt like she really belonged with a group of girls she cheers for on the bench in games each week.
“I never in a million years would have ever thought it would go to this extent,” said Kari Pickell, Peterson’s mother. “It was just these girls being so kindhearted and just trying to figure out how to make somebody else feel special and feel like they deserve to be on a team.
“This has been her dream to be able to be one of the girls. Sometimes it’s a longer road for children and she just said, ‘Mom, I’ve been waiting for this my whole life.’ She was like I’ve been waiting to have this opportunity just to have your name announced as a player and to have a number and to just feel everybody cheering for you and cheering you on. That child is just beyond happy.”
Howes appreciated the support from Charlotte and others involved to give Peterson a moment she deserved.
“Everyone was so supportive across the board,” he said. “It was just a great unselfish act by everyone involved.”