A double-double in a player’s fourth career game at the Division I level is normally cause for celebration. But for Valparaiso forward Alec Peters, the optimism was tempered by the fact the Crusaders had lost. Little did Peters know that the result of the game would be the least of his concerns that night.
Just before the Crusaders tipped off at Ohio on Sunday, November 17, 2013, an EF4 tornado swept through Peters’ hometown of Washington, Ill., destroying hundreds of homes.
“We got done with our postgame talk, and then I see the coaches rushing over to me with a phone, telling me my mom was on the phone,” said Peters. “I talked to her, she told me what happened and I just sank to the floor. My emotions were already high from a very tough loss, and hearing that, everything just rushed over me all at one time – it was tough to get up and get on that bus.”
While Peters’ mom gave him the good news that his home and immediate family were spared, many of his childhood friends and acquaintances were not so lucky. A six-plus hour bus ride back to Valparaiso awaited Peters, giving him plenty of time to try and touch base with other family and friends to find out if they had been affected.
The ride also gave Peters plenty of time to sit and think about his next step, and once head coach Bryce Drew told the team they had the next day off, Peters knew what he had to do. With the strong ties he had to the close-knit community, a community where his dad was born and raised and where he himself was born and raised, the decision was easy for Peters – he had to go home and help out.
“I think there’s that sense when you’ve been in one place for that long, you feel a responsibility to help out,” said Jeff Peters, Alec’s father. “I know he really cares about the community and about the people of Washington, and with all the friends that he knew who would have possibly been affected, I think there were a lot of emotions that ran through his mind as he came to that decision.”
“Life is more important than basketball,” said Drew. “Just knowing how close he is to this community and what he means to them, it was a very easy decision. He needed to go home, needed to be with family and friends and help out in any way that he could.”
Peters left early Monday morning for Washington and met up with his father to help out in the recovery efforts. He spent the day helping family friends dig through debris, trying to salvage anything they could out of the destruction. Peters emerged with a new outlook.
“Things that you see on TV, or on the news or in movies, you sit there and watch and can’t imagine if that happened to me,” said Peters. “To see that destruction, when it happens to you - you gain a whole new perspective on how short life can be, how quickly things could change.”
Peters rejoined the rest of his teammates the next day to fly down to Evansville for the Crusaders’ next tilt, and it turned out to be a breakout game for the freshman. He poured in 30 points that game – a springboard to a stellar rookie season which saw Peters earn Horizon League All-Freshman Team honors as he averaged 12.7 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while playing for something more than just on-the-court accolades.
“I think it was a turning point for Alec as a freshman in a positive manner,” said Jeff Peters. “Every freshman starts out just hoping to play, and he was already getting that opportunity. This gave him a new inspiration, a lift to play for something bigger than his own stats.”
As Peters contributed to the Crusaders’ successful season on the court, which included the program’s fourth consecutive postseason berth, the team was looking for an opportunity to contribute to the recovery efforts in Washington. The opportunity arose to assist with the Hope Swings initiative, and on July 21, the team took the three-hour trip to Washington to build a swing set and deliver it to a family – doing their part to help the community rebuild.
“Ever since the storm, we were looking for some way we could help the Alec’s community, doing some type of work,” said Drew. “This came up over the summer, which was the perfect time for us. It was a great day, and just a great moment for Alec and for his teammates to be able to do this all together as a team, as a family.”
“We could have used [that day] to be on the court, in the weight room – to get better basketball-wise, but our coaches preach more than basketball,” said Peters. “My teammates are big into supporting each other, and once the opportunity arose for everybody to come here, they were 110% behind it.”
Through his own perseverance and the support of the Valparaiso basketball family, Alec Peters has surfaced as a champion in the community.