USAF officer watches Ponder play from Turkey
On a couple of mornings each week, hours after a group of high schoolers finish their basketball game and hours before grown men fly over the Middle East, Air Force Lt. Col. Richard Peterson gets out of bed to watch his son play basketball.
He pours cream and coffee into his mug, opens his laptop and waits for the video to load before he goes to work.
Peterson isn’t anywhere near Ponder. He’s about 6,710 miles away at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, and he doesn’t miss a game.
Thanks to a program called Hudl, a semi-reliable Internet connection and a more reliable group of coaches, Peterson can keep up with the exploits of his son, Ponder center Josh Peterson.
He’ll be tracking the team on its playoff run as if he was perched atop Ponder’s bleachers.
“It makes me feel like I’m not really gone as much as I am really gone,” Richard Peterson said. “I’m still a part of it, even though I’m a long ways away.”
Two years ago, Richard Peterson saw what was coming. It’d be his turn to serve his country as a member of the Air Force Reserve, and he’d be asked to work abroad for 90 days before returning home for a good portion of the following two years.
Peterson, of the 465th Air Refueling Squadron, is deployed as director of operations for the 90th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron, which is stationed at Incirlik, about 35 miles north of the Mediterranean Sea. The 90th is responsible for the air-to-air refueling of aircraft operating the region.
While Richard Peterson will remain stationed overseas until just after basketball season ends, Josh Peterson has been stationed near the basket for Ponder (26-8) as the Lions try to return to the Class 2A state tournament after a two-year hiatus.
In the paint
Prior to Ponder’s regular-season finale Tuesday, Josh Peterson was averaging 7.3 points and five rebounds per contest.
Peterson comes from a family of athletes. Josh is the only boy out of four siblings, and both of his older sisters played basketball at Ponder. His dad played basketball and baseball while growing up in Elysian Fields and was the baseball team manager for Texas in the mid-1980s.
Josh is one of the more outgoing players on the team, although he can talk too much at times, junior Clay Morgan said. When the Lions eat out on road trips, they often tell servers that it’s Josh’s birthday. The team claims a deception rate of 100 percent.
Josh stands 6-6, and he says his gets his height from his mother’s parents. He came off the bench last year as a sophomore but has started since the beginning of this season, Ponder coach Jude Stanley said.
During a recent game, Stanley asked the lanky junior to defend Peaster’s starting point guard while assisting his teammates in stopping Peaster’s other scoring threats.
Peterson did what Stanley asked, and Ponder picked up the win in double overtime. It was a testament to Peterson’s unselfishness, something Stanley said he admires.
“Later on in life, you’re going to look back. And as I give examples to our teams, 10 years from now I can point to guys like Josh and say ‘This is a quality guy. This is the kind of guy you want to be like,’” Stanley said. “He’ll be successful in life, whatever he chooses to be.”
Richard Peterson saw all of the Peaster game. Hudl is used by 12,000 teams from youth sports to professional leagues.
In 2006, David Graff was a graduate assistant at Nebraska and saw how much Cornhuskers coach Bill Callahan struggled in distributing game film to his team. Graff, John Wirtz and Brian Kaiser developed Hudl, an online program used to help teams review film.
Nebraska was the first to implement the program. The next team was the New York Jets, and other NFL teams soon followed. High school coaches realized they had the same struggles.
Now the program is used by high school coaches in many sports, youth coaches and teams in the NBA and NHL.
Graff, the company’s CEO, said he didn’t anticipate the program’s impact outside of sports.
“We were so focused back then in ’06, ’07 on really just the college and NFL level, we didn’t foresee the kind of global impact and the impact it could have on families,” Graff said.
When Graff was told about the way the Petersons use his program, he replied by saying “That’s awesome.”
“Whenever we get a support call from a coach to our support team and they hear a story like that, that always gets our team very excited here in the office,” Graff said.
Richard Peterson sat in the barracks in Turkey to watch the Peaster game, which he said comprised about 58 clips ranging in length from 15 seconds to three minutes.
Peterson often starts Hudl and pauses the video, allowing the game to fully load. He does that to avoid buffering hiccups during playback. But if there is a stop in the action, he usually doesn’t mind.
“When it’s freezing, it gives you a chance to look at the game and dissect who’s where and what you think is about to happen as soon as the buffering catches up,” Peterson said.
He tries to wake up early and watch what’s been uploaded to the website. He prefers to watch in the morning because the wireless Internet tends to get bogged down by NATO troops later in the day. If he has time, he’ll try to watch the first half of a game during lunch.
When he’s back in Texas, he works as a pilot for American Airlines. He plots his flights around the basketball schedule. He’ll wake up at about 4:30 a.m. and get to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport at about 6:30 a.m. to fly a Boeing 777 to places like New York or San Francisco.
If everything goes according to plan, he’s back at D/FW around 4:30 p.m., giving him plenty of time to get back to Ponder for a home game or to join his wife, Heather, on the road to watch the Lions.
But since he’s overseas, he takes advantage of technology that’s evolved since he started his military career 23 years ago. If the film is uploaded fast enough, he can watch it early in the morning at Incirlik, which is about eight hours ahead of Ponder.
Richard Peterson will call his son and they’ll discuss the game as if the father was yelling from the bleachers. After a lackluster Ponder victory over Paradise, the lieutenant colonel chided the junior for his algebra grades before talking about missed free throws.
“It means a lot,” Josh Peterson said. “Even if he can’t watch it that very next day, if he watches it a couple of days later, he still calls me and talks to me about it. You can talk to your mom about that stuff, but it’s still a guy/dad [thing]. That’s somebody I need to talk to it about, and it’s nice that we have the technology to do that.”
As Ponder makes its playoff run, Richard Peterson will be anxiously awaiting the footage on his laptop, coffee in hand, ready to watch his son and his teammates.
“It’s made all the difference in the world,” Richard Peterson said. “I don’t feel like I’m missing it at all. I feel like I’m able to watch it, and it’s a lot of fun.
“I reserve the right to amend that answer, though, if they make it all the way to state,” he said with a laugh. “That will make me sad [to not be there]. I will be very happy, but that will be a toughie.”
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