On the Zips’ bench his place was reserved, marked by a white seat-back cover bearing a 4 Pete’s Sake purple ribbon instead of the PNC Bank logo on the other chairs.
His chemotherapy schedule prevented University of Akron director of basketball operations Dan Peters from attending the “Purple Out” tribute staged for him Wednesday night. Wife Nancy and her sister Jackie Hammond, who lives in Chicago, represented him as UA hosted Ball State in Rhodes Arena while Peters watched the live stream thanks to a laptop attached to the television in his great room in Green.
Presumably, Peters went to bed smiling.
UA coach Keith Dambrot told the Zips he expected their best effort and they responded with a dominating 73-46 victory.
The Zips made 500 buttons to sell and 3,000 purple T-shirts to distribute, and only a few of each remained. Purple ribbons represent the fight against pancreatic cancer.
“It’s a real emotional thing for our team to see what coach Peters is going through,” said senior Demetrius Treadwell, who painted his shoes purple. “I’m glad we got a win for him, especially on his night.”
Across the nation in recent days, basketball programs have saluted Peters, 59, diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in mid-December. In an interview on Jan. 18, four days before starting chemotherapy that is scheduled to last six months, Peters remained optimistic despite being given a 5 percent chance to live.
Dambrot talked about saluting Peters not long after learning of Peters’ diagnosis. But Dambrot did not envision the grand scale it would take.
“College basketball as a whole has done a great job embracing it, which tells you about his reputation and his name,” Dambrot said.
UA distributed 4 Pete’s Sake lapel pins to 26 colleges and had to tell the University of Illinois there were no more available. The pins were the idea of Dan Satter, UA senior associate athletic director for external relations.
Ohio State, where Peters spent five years, wore the pins and showed a scoreboard graphic during Wednesday’s home game against Penn State. Bluffton University held a “Purple Out” for Wednesday’s men’s and women’s doubleheader against rival Defiance. Bluffton coach Guy Neal’s son Tyler is a UA basketball graduate assistant for academics. Purple is a school color of both Bluffton and Defiance.
Also participating in the pin effort were all 13 schools in the Mid-American Conference, Arizona, Walsh University, where Peters worked as an assistant under Bob Huggins before taking over as coach for five seasons; West Virginia, where Huggins now coaches; Cincinnati, where Peters also worked under Huggins; Delta State; Houghton College; Indiana; St. Joseph’s College (Ind.), where Peters was coach for two years; Western Carolina, where Peters spent one season; and Youngstown State, which Peters directed from 1993-98. Youngstown State did a video board presentation with old photos of Peters for Saturday’s game against Wright State.
“It’s hard for him to even fathom; he can’t even put it into words,” Nancy Peters said of the national response. “The support is overwhelming. My husband is a great guy and has a lot of great friends. To hear from all these friends from over the years in a six-week time span is wonderful.”
Nancy Peters works at Walsh as an administrator in the math and science department. Walsh is holding a fish fry for Peters on March 14 in the Barrett Center from 4-7 p.m. and men’s basketball coach Jeff Young and his staff will wear Peters’ pins for the rest of the season.
Peters’ cancer battle has made a big impact on Young, whom Peters recruited to play for Walsh. Peters coached Young for two years before leaving for Western Carolina and tried to get Young to transfer there. Young and Peters now talk every day.
“It’s all Jeff thinks about,” Walsh sports information director Jim Clark said Wednesday afternoon. “I told him, ‘Don’t make it where you can’t function.’”
Ball State coach James Whitford said he’s known Peters for 15 years and that he’s following his battle closely, talking to Peters’ son Danny three times a week. Whitford and Danny Peters, now assistant director of basketball operations at the University of Arizona, worked together for two years on Sean Miller’s Wildcats staff.
“I deeply respect him on every level, as a coach, friend and father,” Whitford said of Peters. “I think he’s phenomenal. I appreciate Akron doing this for him.”
For Dambrot, the “Purple Out” wasn’t as emotional as the Jan. 18 game against Toledo that Peters attended.
“It’s the first time I ever looked up at the scoreboard before the game. I never have watched one of those video things in my life, but I looked up for his picture,” Dambrot said. It showed Peters earlier in the day, posing with Nancy and Jackie Hammond, all wearing purple T-shirts.
“We have a lot of respect for his courage, his determination. We’re going to fight with him all the way. We’re not going through it, but we are emotionally.”
For a Jan. 25 game at Central Michigan, the Zips stayed in Ypsilanti at the same hotel with Ohio State’s women’s basketball team.
“Their coach Kevin McGuff played for Pete at St. Joe’s in Indiana,” Dambrot said. “I put him on the phone with Pete. It’s just strange how the whole thing .…”
What Dambrot didn’t say was how Peters has impacted so many lives in his 30 years in college basketball and how so many of them are coming to the fore now. Peters’ far-reaching effect may continue to surprise even those closest to him.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.