Editor’s note: Watchdog reporters invited new Towson coaches to the classroom for group interviews. Here are their stories.
By Billy Owens
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Rivalries in sports, such as the infamous Bjorn Borg-John McEnroe battles in professional tennis, often bring out the best — and worst — of a player’s emotions. The Borg-McEnroe rivalry was especially compelling given their contrasting styles: McEnroe’s quick temper and volatility juxtaposed with Borg’s even-keeled responses.
McEnroe was in his prime when Jamie Peterson, a young tennis player from Bowie, Maryland, was growing up. Peterson looked up to McEnroe — his ability, less so his antics — and loved seeing American tennis players at the top of the professional ranks.
Years later, as a teenager, Peterson found a competitive rivalry of his own. He and his father, Frank Peterson, battled for several consecutive years for the club championship at the Whitehall Pool and Tennis Club in Bowie. It’s a stretch to say that the junior Peterson played the role of McEnroe and the elder Peterson of Borg, but the contrasting styles were evident.
“He was very even-keeled on the court and I was a little bit emotional out there sometimes,” Jamie Peterson said.
Jamie Peterson lost the first championship match to his dad but won the last two, when he was 18 years old. Through those matches, he learned how to be more consistent on the court and not let his emotions get the best of him.
Peterson has brought those lessons with him as Towson’s head tennis coach. He was named to that role in August after serving as interim head coach a year ago and assistant head coach the two previous years.
“It’s good to have fire and stuff like that, but you don’t want to get to a point where you’re out of control and you could hurt your team with penalties or embarrass the university,” he said.
Senior Nicole Shakhnazarova, who plays the No. 1 singles flight for Towson’s women’s team, said she appreciates that message.
“He always tells us that it’s important to keep control of our emotions in a positive way, meaning that it’s okay to get pumped up, hyped and overly enthusiastic just as long as it isn’t off-putting to yourself or your teammates and remains respectful,” she said. “He’s very good at supporting us in times of trouble on the court, as his high fives always go a long way for all of us.”
Peterson appreciated that camaraderie when he played tennis for the now-defunct Towson men’s tennis program from 1991-1995, including his final two seasons as captain. He graduated from Towson with a degree in sports management.
“I have this attachment with Towson,” Peterson said. “I went here, I played for the men, [and] this is the only tennis program that’s here. Between the tennis and the school, it’s where my passion is.”
His passion for tennis began when he was 6 years old. Tennis was a popular sport in the 1970s, and his father had just started to play competitively around that time. Jamie Peterson started to take tennis seriously in his later childhood years.
Peterson played for Eleanor Roosevelt High School’s coed tennis team, which won the Prince George’s County championships three out of the four years he attended. He credited his high school years for preparing him for a team experience, which is a rare commodity in an individual sport like tennis.
And he credits the club championship matches with his father with helping to advance his game. He has a constant reminder of what that first loss felt like.
“I have a picture in my office from after the first club championship, and you can tell by the picture who won and who lost,” Peterson said.
Jamie Peterson was recruited to play for Towson’s men’s program by longtime former coach Dr. Tom Meinhardt. He finished his college career with the fourth-highest winning percentage and number of wins in the program’s history. Besides providing valuable match experience that has translated to coaching, Peterson’s time at Towson further helped him emotionally mature.
“My senior year, I was down 5-2 in the third set to a Georgetown player and [the] match was tied 3-3, so [it was] the deciding match,” Peterson said. “It had been a fiery match, with some heated words exchanged for whatever overly competitive reason.
“I just settled in, down 2-5, and decided to put all of my energy [and] focus into playing tennis, and I came back and won 7-5.”
That match was the first time the Towson men’s team had ever beaten Georgetown in school history.
College tennis is not a lucrative, revenue-generating sport among the likes of football and basketball, which means that Peterson and other tennis coaches are perpetually concerned about their tennis programs being cut.
Given that Towson already cut its men’s program in 2002, Peterson is determined to do everything in his power to sustain and improve the women’s program as head coach.
“All I can do is just try and have the team excel as best as they can on the court and in the classroom and make a good reflection on the university,” Peterson said.
Peterson’s other goals as head coach include breaking into the top 50 of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s national Division I team rankings, as well as being the premier women’s tennis team in the state that can consistently beat the Naval Academy and University of Maryland.
He would love to see the men’s team come back to Towson, but in the meantime, he’s excited to continue building the women’s program into a conference championship contender and getting his players past the emotional hurdles he used to face when he played for the black and gold — and preventing any McEnroe-esque meltdowns along the way.
By Nick Rynes
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
The photos of his younger years as a tennis player fill his office. There’s 7-year-old Jamie Peterson, new to the sport, together with his sister in a photo that appeared in the Bowie Blade-News. There’s Peterson the high school tennis standout, looking dejected after losing the Whitehall Pool and Tennis Club championship match to his father, Frank.
“He was more consistent and smarter,” Peterson said. “I was just a young punk.”
The photos are constant reminders of his tennis past. They sit in an office where he plans his tennis future as coach of the Towson women’s team.
The young punk has become the wise leader. After two years as an assistant coach and one year as interim coach, Peterson was named permanent head coach in August.
Peterson is a home-grown product from Bowie, Maryland. He began playing tennis at age 6 during a time when his father started playing and the sport was popular among his peers.
“Other kids my age were all playing,” Peterson said. “It was kind of the thing to do.”
After that first loss to his father in the club championship, he surpassed him — winning the next two. Peterson went on to a successful high school career at Eleanor Roosevelt. He won the county championships three out of four years as part of a co-ed team.
Peterson’s transition to playing for the now-defunct Towson men’s tennis team was rocky.
“The first few weeks I didn’t really know if I belonged, and I was thinking about not playing,” Peterson said. “After I played that first match, it was kind of no doubt.”
Towson played in the Big South conference in his freshman year. Peterson said other teams in the division had the advantage of warmer weather to practice in year-round, and it was a lot easier to recruit young tennis stars.
Peterson started out as the No. 6 player his freshman year and rose to become No. 2 singles in his senior year, leading Towson to a 19-11 record.
When Towson cut the men’s team years later, Peterson was dismayed.
“I wrote a letter to the athletic department saying, ‘please don’t ask me for any more money,’” Peterson said. “I was pretty upset about that.”
Peterson had been working in the club tennis business since his departure from Towson in 1995. Eventually, Peterson decided it was time to return home to Towson to coach tennis in any way he could.
A friend of Peterson’s coached the women’s team at Towson, and Peterson agreed to help out as a volunteer. After working his way up the ladder, Peterson became interim head coach of the women’s tennis team in 2016, leading the team to a Colonial Athletic Association tournament appearance.
Peterson thought the men’s tennis team was coming back to Towson several years ago, but that plan was scuttled at the last minute. Just like in his first ever club championship match with his father, Peterson can’t let one loss get the best of him.
His sights are set on raising the profile of the women’s team — and hopefully posing for a picture with his team after victories in the year ahead.