Indeed, the whole town habitually mobilizes as if it were going to war when a sports project is under way, and there are countless stories about the Jaycees building baseball bleachers and the Jaycees, the Lions and the American Legion playing benefit games to buy a new P. A. system and whole platoons of town fathers pitching in to carve a sleek new baseball diamond out of a rocky pasture. Just this spring the football coach, Marvin Dodd, let it be known that the team could use a new Gladiator weight-lifting machine—price: $2,575. No sooner said than the town turned out en masse to pick up metal beer cans that could be sold for reprocessing. In a short time there were 76,100 beer cans on the courthouse square, plus another 2,500 returnable beer and pop bottles and hundreds of aluminum TV dinner trays. "I know of no other community in Kansas," says Marvin Dodd, "that would show that kind of spirit in supporting its football team."
So it is no small thing to be a star like Mike Peterson in a town like Yates Center. Even now there are unofficial keepers of his legends all over town, each polishing some unforgettable tale of his prowess for retelling to the wondering children of some future generation. Some will tell of the 1970 football game against Neodesha when Mike, defensive halfback, stole a pass from an enemy's very fingertips and raced 85 yards for a touchdown. And then, in that same tense game, with only seconds remaining and Neodesha having just scored to slip into the lead 22-21, the enemy kicked off to Chuck Mossman, a fleet and sturdy Yates Center halfback who is ranked close to Mike for all-round heroics. Mossman tucked the ball to his chest, looked upheld and saw Mike calmly waving him to his side of the field. Mossman veered toward Mike and Mike set out ahead of him to throw one fierce block that felled the only man who could have put a finger on Chuck Mossman. Mike lay stunned on the ground, but Chuck streaked across for the touchdown that gave Yates Center a splendid 27-22 victory.
Some will tell of the night last winter in nearby Burlington when Mike turned into a blond tornado with a basketball and shattered Yates Center's alltime individual scoring record with 43 points, while the team, inspired, raced on to score 100, yet another record. Some will tell of last year's Legion baseball championship in Ransom when Mike batted 3 for 5 and pitched a seven-hit game to win the title.
Some will recall moments which simply reflect a small but brilliant facet of Mike's skill. Jack Steiner, the barber who wrote the letter about Mike, remembers: "He was a lefty, but the sonuvagun could play second base like a dream. And he was even a catcher! And we didn't have no left-handed mitt for him, so he'd catch wearing a right-handed mitt. He'd have to whip off the mitt to make a throw, but they never stole a base on him, not once."
Editor Dick Clasen recalls: "In a game against Sedan, Mike was the deep man on a punt, and the ball was short. It rolled and rolled. A bunch of their boys gathered around it, but the referee hadn't blown it dead. Suddenly Mike jumped in and—oh, his hands were so quick—he snatched up the ball, burst right out of that crowd and went for a touchdown. A little later the same thing happened with a punt and their boys gathered around it again. This time Mike just made a fast little fake toward the ball. My gosh, there must have been six or seven kids from Sedan all floundering around on the ball."
And Jack Gibbs tells in hushed tones of a certain baseball game he remembers: "Mike was playing center field and a guy hit a terrific smash out toward center and Mike started running. We didn't have no fence then and Mike run and run and run. He jumped a little ditch, run across a road, jumped another ditch and, by God, he caught that ball for an out. There was a light mist falling, too, as I remember. And, yes, I believe that game turned out to be a no-hitter for our pitcher after that, too."
If the village of Yates Center had sprung up in some earlier age of man, the legends of Mike Peterson would even now be depicted indelibly upon the walls of a cave or baked in pictures for all eternity upon the polished side of some great urn. But what now? Will the legend live only as it is passed on by word of mouth through Yates Center barbershops of the future?
Not entirely. There are still men who believe in recording history in a more endurable manner. The Woodson County Historical Society has a fine, sunny museum on Mary Street, not more than half a block east of Mike Peterson's own home. The museum is freshly painted white, and its antique displays sparkle as if they had just been put down by their original owners. The Osage Indian arrowheads and the great old hay sickles and the pie crimpers once manufactured in Yates Center, even the huge old turkey platter owned by town founder Abner Yates himself, all seem in mint condition. Lester Harding, the sun-wrinkled farmer who is president of the historical society, says, "A museum don't need to look like someone's attic, you know."
The society has seen fit to preserve, in framed photographs and monographs, certain events in the past of Woodson County—such as the birth of Buster Keaton in 1895 and the visit of President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879 and the arrival in the county of Thurlow Lieurance, the composer of the song Falling Leaves, in 1885 and, most impressive of all perhaps, the sighting on the night of April 19, 1897 by Captain Alexander Hamilton of a brightly lighted, reddish airship with a cigar-shaped cabin 300 feet long. This, it is recorded, was "UFO #1" in U.S. annals of unidentified flying objects, and Captain Hamilton swore that there were six "strange" beings aboard and that they dropped a red lasso over the neck of a 3-year-old heifer and floated away with the cow while the captain, his son and a tenant looked on helplessly. The heifer was later found butchered in a neighbor's pasture. At the time Captain Hamilton resided on a farm 10 miles outside of Yates Center, and several citizens of the village signed an affidavit testifying to his veracity shortly after he reported seeing the strange ship.
The collection at the Woodson County Historical Society is, then, maintained with an eye for thoroughness and a respect for detail. A few weeks ago Walter A. Bowers, 72, a member of the society's board of directors, added to the museum's collection a thick scrapbook filled with photographs and newspaper clippings of Mike Peterson's athletic career. Bowers said, "There is no doubt in my mind that Mike Peterson is the greatest athlete ever to perform in 100 years in Yates Center. I felt that we should capture his achievements right now and put him on record at the museum as being the best in our history."