JACKSON TWP. Two years ago, Jackson High School athletic director Terry Peterson saw his good friend and longtime athletic department secretary Connie Prazer retire after more than two decades on the job.
At the end of this month, Peterson will follow suit, calling it quits after 17 years in his current role and more than 33 years working in education. It’s a decision that took some time to reach and one that he’s slowly getting used to.
“I’ve been contemplating it all year … it was a situation where I had an opportunity to retire, but what made it very, very difficult was one, I still love what I do and two, I love the people I work with,” Peterson said. “I got out because the number of hours is pretty demanding. When I was a little younger, I could do all those hours, go home at 9 p.m. and still have some down time because I was a person that was always ok going to bed late and getting up early and getting five hours of sleep, then getting up the next day saying, ‘Let’s roll.’ The older I am, getting home at 9, I just want to crash.”
Peterson admitted he “didn’t want to get to a point where I resented my position because I like it,” so he elected to “go out when I’m happy with what I’m doing rather than going out when I’m resenting it.”
He took over at Jackson in 2002 after serving as an assistant principal for two years, but has been linked to athletics throughout his career. After graduating from the University of Akron in 1985, he was hired as a math teacher for Streetsboro City Schools and spent 14 years with the district, the last four as an assistant principal.
During that time, he spent nine years as the varsity baseball coach, eight years as the varsity boys basketball coach and six years as an assistant football coach, although he notes that there were “only” three years in which he coached all three sports. Those three busy years may have served as good training for what he would encounter when he came to Jackson and two years into his time in the district, took over one of the largest high school athletics programs in the area at the start of the 2002-03 school year.
“This is not a hard labor job - I’m not outside doing cement work or anything like that - but it’s a stressful job because you’ve got to be on your game all the time,” Peterson said. “We’ve got about 1,000 athletes and if you think about 1,000 athletes you’ve got 2,000 parents and 27 sports and over 100 coaches … you need to make sure as much as you can that everything is done the right way, that the buses are scheduled at the right time, you have officials at each of the contests, that the fields are ready to play and you don’t double dip two different groups in the gym at the same time … it’s constant things that could go wrong.”
That level of responsibility is one Peterson admitted was a lot to take on for a first-time athletic director. When he began his new job, Prazer was several years into her time as the school’s athletic department secretary and during the 17 years they worked together, the duo came to be good friends both at work and outside the office. They recently attended a musical at Lake High School, as Peterson’s wife Nannette is both a district librarian and a director of musicals in the Lake Local system. When Peterson had an extra ticket for one of the performances, he brought Prazer as his guest.
Asked which people and memories will stand out most from a tenure that included the first four state championships in school history, Peterson said it would be hard to single out just one, but if he had to narrow down the list, Prazer would likely be the person who’d come to mind first.
“Connie would be that one person that stands out mainly because I worked side by side with her for so many years and she was good at what she did. She lives in Jackson, she’s still a Jackson fan and she still goes to the games,” Peterson said “Working with her for 17 years … when I started working as an AD back in 2002-03, it was all brand new because I didn’t have any experience to take over a position with that many sports and coaches, I really relied on her to help me get through those first couple of years. A lot of the positives that have come from this job, I owe to Connie.”
Prazer said that she and her longtime boss discussed retirement when she was making her decision and knew that he “probably wouldn’t be there too much longer.” Still, she points to the way he treated people and interacted with coaches, athletes and coworkers as the biggest thing she’ll remember about his tenure.
“Terry is one of the kindest men that was in that school and he really, really cared about those kids,” Prazer said. “If an athlete got in trouble, he would call them in, sit down and talk with them and try to help them as best he could.”
It’s the relationships Peterson says he’ll miss most after he retires, with his last day coming at the end of this month. From coaches to athletes to secretaries to members of the booster clubs that support the school’s many teams, he’s seen some of those faces on a daily basis and others more sporadically, but has enjoyed working with them to build a system that has held onto the Federal League All-Sports Trophy for nearly a decade and counting. Along with the four state titles - two each in boys basketball and baseball - the other accomplishments the district’s athletic department has amassed during Peterson’s tenure include new playing surfaces for the football stadium (and a new video scoreboard), a new playing surface for the soccer and track and field stadium and a new infield playing surface for the baseball team, along with a new indoor practice facility set to be completed soon.
Those developments have taken time, effort and financial contributions from a litany of people and Peterson admitted that many of them brought opportunities for Jackson athletes that the school itself couldn’t have made possible on its own, but was able to provide thanks to the booster clubs.
It’s all part of a career that saw Peterson spend almost two decades in a much different type of school district before coming to Jackson, a change that ultimately brought he and his family to Stark County.
“Streetsboro is a smaller school, a different clientele and to come down here it was a little bit of shock for me, not only the size of the school and community, but the lifestyles of the people. Understanding that every school has a different atmosphere and it took me time to adjust to Jackson, but it didn’t take long for me to recognize what a great community this was and what a great school district it was,” Peterson said. “It only took me a year to realize that this is where I’d want my family to be raised.”
Driving to and from Kent, where he lived at the time, was too much to do and one year into his time in Jackson, Peterson and his family moved to the same house where they now live, just south of Akron-Canton Airport. His daughter Mackenzie is set to graduate from Ohio State and his son Kent is a senior at Jackson, with his wife still a few years away from being able to retire.
As for what’s next for him, Peterson isn’t quite sure yet. He’s gotten that question a lot, including from his wife, and plans to find ways to put his knowledge and experience to use, be it in education or elsewhere. He doesn’t want to be an athletic director with another district and is aiming for something more part-time, but says sitting at home isn’t on the agenda. School is all he’s known for most of his life, as he’s been either a student, teacher or administrator for about 51 of his 56 years alive, so not being inside a school building once August rolls around will be a big change.
“I’m a Type-A personality and I’m certainly too young to do that,” he said with a smile.
As of what’s next for Jackson, the district has already named Peterson’s successor. Dan Michel, who spent the past eight years as the athletic director and property manager at Jackson Middle School, was officially announced at last month’s board of education meeting. Michael fits several of the qualities Peterson cited when asked what his successor would need to have in order to excel in the job, including a familiarity with the community and its people and a knowledge of what expectations are for Jackson sports.
“We always try to find someone that’s going to make us better, whether that’s an administrative position, whether it’s a coach, whether it’s a teacher, whether it’s a custodian, we want to find that next person to push us forward even further than where we’re at,” Peterson said.
After 17 years leading that charge for the high school’s athletic department, Peterson is ready to pass the baton to Michel and start the next chapter of his life, wherever that may lead and whatever new endeavors come with it.
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