COOK- It’s a long-held and widely accepted rule that umpires and officials are supposed to be impartial, no matter the sport, no matter the ages of the athletes.But it’s difficult to …
COOK- It’s a long-held and widely accepted rule that umpires and officials are supposed to be impartial, no matter the sport, no matter the ages of the athletes.
But it’s difficult to imagine anyone faulting Bill Peterson, of Cook, for an inadvertent slip last week. After all, after four decades of officiating football, basketball, baseball and softball, he’s earned a little grace.
Over the years, Peterson has refereed games involving all his grandchildren, but umpiring a junior varsity softball game at North Woods School last Thursday, May 6, gave Peterson an opportunity to take that experience to a new level. Great-granddaughters Hailie and Emma Peterson, 14 and 13, respectively, were in the lineup for Cherry, the Grizzlies’ opponent, and Peterson was behind the plate.
And during the game, for just a tiny moment, the umpire became a great-grandfather.
“Emma got up there and there was a high pitch coming in and she looked like she was going to swing and I said, ‘Don’t swing’” Peterson said with a hearty laugh. “I did. I told my wife that this morning and she said, ‘What do you think that catcher thought of you? You can see how it happened. ‘Don’t swing,’ I said. I don’t know if she listened.”
Of course, Peterson admitted, it wasn’t the first time he ended up giving an edge to a family member. That honor went to his grandson Dusty, who played nose guard for the Cook High football team in a game against Cook County that Peterson refereed.
“You kind of watch your grandkid a little bit, so there were a lot of holding calls against Cook County,” Peterson said. “Their coach, he knew me pretty well, and he said, ‘Petey, I never had so many holding calls in all my career.’ And I said, ‘I might as well tell you that my grandson was the nose guard.’ And he said, ‘I knew there was something going on.’”
Peterson attended school in Littlefork, graduating in 1960, and it was no secret just how much he loved sports.
“In my annual they wrote in there that when Bill Peterson passes away and goes to heaven he’ll ask where the sports field is,” Peterson recalls.
It was also at the school in Littlefork where Peterson had perhaps his most memorable strikeout, but it had nothing to do with baseball and everything to do with a girl, his future wife, Edie.
“She was two years younger, and I was in a study hall, and she came in for library time. I saw that girl and I thought, ‘Boy, that’s a nice-looking girl.’”
Peterson asked another girl to go over to Edie and ask her if she would go out with him. Her response was strikes one, two and three all rolled into one crushing answer.
“If he wants to go out with me, he has to ask me himself,” Peterson said.
He didn’t in that moment, but then came prom. Peterson’s friends set him up with a blind date, and while Edie was too young to attend, she was there serving punch. Peterson stepped away from his date to seize the moment.
“I asked her to dance and asked her if she cared to go to a movie tomorrow, and she accepted,” he said, smiling.
And what about his prom date?
“I had to go home early because somebody told her at a party we were at, and they said you’d better get out of here because she’s got a butcher knife and she’s coming after you. I got in my car to go home and left her there. I wasn’t going to get stabbed.”
Bill and Edie got married in 1962 after she graduated from high school, the same year Peterson decided to try refereeing football. He had a good mentor and partner, his father, who was a referee and also shared Peterson’s love of sports. He did that for four years but stepped away when he went to work in a mill.
“I always wanted to get back into it,” Peterson said.
The Petersons moved to Cook in 1972 or 1973, Peterson said, when he was a supervisor with Boise Cascade. When the company wanted him to move back to International Falls in the 80s, the Petersons decided to stay in Cook.
That’s when Peterson saw a chance to get back into refereeing.
“I loved to go to a football game on a Friday night, and I thought why not go referee it on the field,” Peterson said. “And then I got basketball, baseball, and softball and I’ve been doing it since.”
It was clear at last week’s softball game that Peterson enjoys being around the kids. He would have conversations with some before the start of a new inning and welcome others to the plate.
At times, like when he sees a basketball player on the verge of committing an infraction, Peterson steps into the role of teacher, letting the player know what they’re doing wrong before he blows his whistle.
Having developed a thick skin early on to deflect inevitable criticism from the stands, Peterson loves nearly everything about refereeing, except those times when he gets something wrong.
“It bothers you,” he said. “It’s just like playing, you want to do it right. And it’s just like playing, that some nights you have a great night. The best feeling you can have is when you walk off a basketball floor or a football field or a baseball field and nobody even knows you were there.”
On the cusp of turning 80, Peterson shows no signs of slowing down, although he did give up refereeing basketball four years ago when it became more work than fun. He often works four or five games a week, and he’s forthcoming that he couldn’t have done it all these years without Edie at his side.
“She knew, even when she went with me, that sports were big in my life,” Peterson said. “I was the jock of the school and she knew that. Every official, their wife has to be patient for them to go out every night and referee. She’s been pretty patient with me all along. She knows I love it.”