March 20, 2013 - BY TERESA BUCKNER
Bobby Petersen looks for opportunities to get past his opponents' block. Photos provided by Mars Hill College (click for larger version)
Special to The Clarkston News
Like most college athletes, Clarkston graduate Bobby Petersen grew up loving and playing all kinds of team sports.
Eventually, he settled on lacrosse as his favorite and he began to throw his time and energy behind those skills particular to the sport.
That work and focus paid off last year when Petersen transferred to Mars Hill College. He tried out for the lacrosse team as a walk-on and made the team, which at the time was ranked in the top 15 in the nation.
It is an all-American story repeated over and over for college athletes. Petersen's story is much the same. Except every shot he makes--every block, every play--he makes with one hand.
Petersen was born with a condition that rendered one of his arms much shorter than the other. Playing any college sport one armed is astonishing, especially lacrosse, an intensely physical game that requires players to handle the stick with tremendous strength and eye-hand coordination.
But for Petersen, playing with what some might see as a limitation is just another day on the field.
"I just don't even think about it," he said. "That's how it's always been."
Petersen traces his matter-of-fact attitude to his parents, who never tried to steer him away from an interest in sports.
"When it came to sports, my parents treated me and my little brother and sister all the same. There was no difference," he said. "I wanted to play sports so I got to play sports."
After playing hockey, basketball, football, and bowling as a child, he channeled his energies into lacrosse in high school.
"Once I got to high school, I realized lacrosse was definitely my favorite sport and the one I wanted to put the most work into. I kind of stopped playing a lot of the other ones, and I just tried to focus on lacrosse," he said.
After high school, Petersen played lacrosse on a club team at Oakland University. He went to visit a friend who was playing lacrosse at a small college in North Carolina called Mars Hill.
"I really liked the area, and then I found out that Mars Hill had my major, so I decided to transfer," he said.
To improve his skills, Petersen spent the summer in Ontario playing Canadian "box" lacrosse with a traveling team. Then, in the fall he came to Mars Hill as a junior graphic design major and a walk-on member of the lacrosse team.
Aside from his classes and practice, he said he has had little time for other clubs or interests on campus.
"He does a good job," said MHC lacrosse coach Dave Klarmann. "He works hard and he doesn't hold back. He can't do everything some other attack players can do. But then, lacrosse is a game where you can minimize your weaknesses and maximize your strengths and Bobby is good at that."
According to Klarmann, Petersen is "just one of the guys," to the other players.
"The nice thing is the guys pull for him, but they don't cut him any slack," he said. "If he stands there with the ball in front of the cage, they're going to nail him. But when he scores, you can also tell that there's a little extra pride there throughout the team."
Petersen will admit he is not one of the standouts with the Lions, but he is a team player who is proud of his association with the team.
"We're a pretty darn good team. We have a lot of talent," he said. "I don't play a whole lot here, but I try to take my opportunities when they do put me in."
As a relative newbie to the south, Petersen is still adjusting to North Carolina's version of winter (which, according to him, is hardly like winter at all) and to a southern culture that does not revere lacrosse nearly as much as Clarkston. He is glad he made the move that would allow him to spend more time with the sport he loves.
"I would just say that if you want to do something, do it," Petersen said. "I think you find a way to work around problems. They're just setbacks; they're not roadblocks."
Buckner is Media Relations Coordinator for Mars Hill College, located in North Carolina.