UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
By: Tori Schneider
Falcon News Service
Falcon News Service is part of the Department of Communication and Media Studies at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. News stories are prepared by student journalists.
Visitors to a Falcon home football game at UW-River Falls this year may notice a new face on the sidelines or running up and down the bleachers trying to get the fans excited. He won't be suited up in uniform, but that doesn't tame his passion for the game.
His name is Jesse Peterson. He is a 21-year-old with Down syndrome and he has brought new life and positivity to the football team since last spring when he joined it during practice.
Peterson enjoys many aspects of the game.
"I like defense, and offense, too. I like first down. And go for it and field goal," he said.
Head Coach Matt Walker described Peterson as "an inspirational leader."
"It's so great to see not only how it's benefited him and the fun he's had with it, but I think our guys, they've had a blast with him. They really enjoy having him around. It's been awesome," Walker said.
One thing Peterson really likes to do is get the players motivated.
"I say, 'Let's go, go Falcons and come on Falcons, come on red, let's go,'" he said.
Quarterback Sawyer Moon is one player with whom Peterson spends a lot of time.
Moon said the biggest change he has noticed in the team since Peterson joined is positivity.
"You look over at Jesse. He's always smiling, he's always happy, always telling you 'good job,' even if you're not doing a good job," Moon said.
Before he joined the Falcons, Peterson was involved with the River Falls High School football team.
He graduated in 2013 but was in high school until 2015, and was involved with the team the whole time, receiving a varsity letter each year.
It was Jesse's mother, Traci Peterson, who thought it might be a good idea for him to become a manager for the team when he was in ninth grade.
"He just really wanted to be in sports, so I just had to try to think of another way for him to get involved. So he was pretty happy with that," Traci said.
When he graduated high school, Traci worked with Dana Zimmerman, a professor of health and human performance, and Walker to see if he could be promoted to the Falcons team.
"My boys, I miss them," Jesse said about the high school players.
Traci said that being involved with the teams has given Jesse more self-confidence and helps him communicate with other people.
"They are amazing, so good to him," she said.
She said that sports are Jesse's niche, and he cheers for whichever team wins.
Jesse is also involved in Special Olympics, participating in basketball, bowling, and track and field since he was about 9 years old.
In 2008 and 2016, he went to state for track and field, and he also went three different years for bowling.
"I like to win. I don't like to lose," Jesse said. He also said he wants to stay involved with the Falcons for a long time.