Jack Peters, who coached Hartland softball champs, dies at 73

Jack Peters (center, arms raised) celebrates in a team picture after Hartland won the Class A softball championship in 1996. He died Saturday at age 73.

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Jack Peters could be, at times, a little intimidating.

“He was loud, and gruff, and very demanding as a coach,” said Laura (Jagusch) Conley. the catcher on his state championship team in 1996. “But once you got to know him, you saw how deeply he cared. He cared about the team above all else, and expected you to do the same. He went about it quietly, but you knew when he was proud of you.”

Peters, who coached the Eagles from 1990-2001, died Saturday at age 73 following a short battle with cancer.

He could be intimidating, but he also possessed the ability to admit mistakes and laugh at himself. He also was proud of his players and what they did after softball ended, once telling a reporter that he was as proud of their achievements and successes after school as for what they did as his players.

“He had high expectations for his players,” said his longtime assistant, Shelley Gordinear, and he didn’t settle for less than 100 percent effort. It was the same for everyone, whether you were a star on the team or a role player. He had high expectations and never stopped until you delivered and expected that of yourself.”

Peters was associated with the program for more than two decades, first as an assistant under Tom Barberi. Former Hartland athletic director Kirk Evenson said Peters was always available whenever the athletic program needed a hand.

“I could rely on him to be available to work security at large events, like football games or big basketball games or wrestling events,” Evenson said. “You name it, he was in the gym or at the game.”

He also was a sounding board and mentor to former Brighton softball coach Pam Lee-Campbell. They became friends early on and stayed that way, even when they were competing in the old Kensington Valley Conference when it sent three different teams to the finals from 1995-97.

“We had some heated battles,” Lee-Campbell said Sunday. “Some went his way, some mine, but he was always gracious. I always expected we would face a great team, good pitching aggressive hitting, base-running, they brought the whole package, so you had to be totally prepared when you played them.”

Gordinear said Peters, who was the father of daughters, used his experience as a dad when it came to working with his players.

“He was familiar with young girls and the up and downs they go through,” she said.

Conley, a sophomore on the 1996 champions, talked in a Facebook message about Peters’ influence on her.

“I think his biggest influence was giving me a sense of confidence,” she wrote. “To know that I belonged there. … (Peters) also made me feel a sense of responsibility to my teammates. If I didn’t play up to the level of the team, I would be letting them down. He taught me that when you’re on a team, you’re playing for your teammates and that you can’t do it alone.”

As good as that state championship team was, Gordinear said, it might not have been his best team.

“If you were to ask him, the best team was the 1995 team,” she said. “We had given up 19 earned runs the entire season, and we lost in districts 10-1. It always kind of bothered him, because there was a lot of talent on that team.”

Regrets aside, Peters took pride in his players and who they became as people.

“One of the reasons why he coached the way he coached was because he was producing citizens for the future,” Gordinear said. “We just happened to be doing it by coaching softball.”

And, in the end, his expectations were met.

“It took a level of maturity to play for him, because he expected dedication, hard work, and commitment,” Conley wrote. “He expected to win. And win we did.”

“I just know he’s going to be missed by a lot of people,” Gordinear said. “A lot of people reached out in the last couple of days. it’s amazing the number of lives he’s touched.”

 

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