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THE GREATEST ATHLETE IN YATES CENTER, KANSAS
William Johnson
August 09, 1971
As legends go, Mike Peterson may be pretty small time. But to be deified at 18 and still not get the Big Head is no small thing
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August 09, 1971

The Greatest Athlete In Yates Center, Kansas

As legends go, Mike Peterson may be pretty small time. But to be deified at 18 and still not get the Big Head is no small thing

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Walter Bowers brings to that judgment of Mike's prowess a bit more insight than the average Yates Center citizen might be able to muster. For even though he is gray-haired and a bit paunchy now, with rimless spectacles and the dignified mien one might expect of a retired engineer from New York, Bowers was once a member of the University of Chicago's world-record two-mile-relay team that was coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. He was an extremely gifted athlete in a number of other events, too. Indeed, in 1924, Bowers finished 11th in the U.S. Olympic trials for the decathlon.

"I considered myself perhaps the best 145-to-l55-pound athlete in the world at that time," says Bowers, with a light, modest chuckle. "Since then I have developed many other interests besides sports, of course. For example, I am right now in the midst of preparing a paper on the life of Michelangelo for delivery to the Rotary Club next week. But I have enough background in sports, I think, to know that Mike Peterson is a brilliant young performer. I knew Red Grange when he was at the University of Illinois and I saw him play often. Mike Peterson has Red Grange's same unearthly capacity for breaking tackles. I saw Walter Eckersall play for the University of Chicago, and he was one of the greatest open-field runners ever to play the game. Mike Peterson has the same footsteps and the same tricks as Walter Eckersall. I have seen every basketball game Mike Peterson played, and many baseball games. There is no doubt in my mind that in the full century that Yates Center has existed there has never—never—been a better athlete. And I have seen to it that it is so recorded in the history of this village."

So much for the past. Now what of the future for Yates Center's greatest athlete? Well, despite the high marks issued by Walter Bowers and most everyone else in town, there was no heavy campaign from college recruiters to sign him up. Almost certainly that is because of his slight size. Mike will enroll in the fall at the Kansas State Teachers College at Emporia, and he plans to play basketball and baseball. "I hope someday to get to be a pro baseball player," he says. "I probably ain't fast enough to be a pitcher but I figure with some breaks I could make it as an outfielder. If I don't make that, I'd probably want to coach or something like that."

There is, of course, intense interest in Yates Center in what will happen to Mike now that the magic days of high school heroism are at an end. One fellow who could be a little closer to the truth of it all than others is Gary (Hutch) Dixon, 27, another barber in Yates Center. In 1963, Hutch Dixon was graduated from Yates Center High School, an athlete of great repute. As a quarterback he had made All-League, All-Southeast Kansas and honorable mention All-State. He was one of the few boys in the village ever to have won 17 letters from the sixth grade all through high school—a feat Mike Peterson accomplished, too, of course.

"Well, those were about the greatest years I can remember, those high school games and all," says Hutch. "I was going to go on to college, but things got tight and I decided on a trade school instead and I opened up my barbershop here. I've never regretted staying in Yates Center. Hell, I was Mike Peterson's first coach—in peewee baseball. I think Mike is going to do all right from now on. It'll be hard for him in college, maybe. He's never been away from home, you know. He's used to the way it is in Yates Center where everybody knows him and everybody remembers all his big moments in sports. Mike Peterson's a great man in Yates Center—even I tell my 4-year-old he's gotta take his nap because Mike Peterson takes naps. My little boy will do almost anything to be like Mike Peterson."

And that, whatever happens, is a particular slice of immortality that no one else can ever have. It is reserved for the greatest athlete in the history of the Hay Capital of the World.

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