Volleyball team rallies behind coach’s cancer-stricken son

October 27, 2009

By Christopher Huber

Skyline’s Olivia Marquardt, Anya Kamber and Amy Ziegler (from right) wear ‘RP’ on their arms before each game to show their support for former coach Mark Peterson’s son Ryan Peterson, who is being treated for a rare form of leukemia. By Christopher Huber

Skyline’s Olivia Marquardt, Anya Kamber and Amy Ziegler (from right) wear ‘RP’ on their arms before each game to show their support for former coach Mark Peterson’s son Ryan Peterson, who is being treated for a rare form of leukemia. By Christopher Huber

When Mark Peterson and his wife Angie found out Oct. 10 their 1-year-old son Ryan had a rare form of leukemia, the decision to step down as head coach of the Skyline High School volleyball team wasn’t difficult, he said.

After 11 years of coaching at Skyline, Peterson had to make the sudden, but obvious choice to stop coaching the sport he loves and be with his son as he began six months of chemotherapy treatment at Seattle Children’s.

“You drop anything and everything,” Peterson said. “It was all of a sudden. It was definitely out of the blue. It happened overnight.”

Since Ryan was admitted to Children’s, the Petersons, who both work, have been taking turns between the hospital and home — they also have a 5-year-old, James.

“We’re very, very lucky in that both of our employers are understanding,” he said.

At this point, he said, they are still getting their bearings about what do to with their lives during Ryan’s monthslong chemo. They’re just going with the flow now.

The girls on Skyline’s team felt the gut-punch of the diagnosis.

Kevin Rohrich, the school’s athletic director, said they almost cancelled the Oct. 12 match against Newport, because most of the girls found out that day at school and emotions were raw.

“We don’t really have to deal with this very often,” Rohrich said.

Players and fellow coaches immediately rallied around the Petersons. The Lady Spartans beat Newport 3-1 Oct. 12 and went on to galvanize the Skyline — and rival Issaquah — volleyball teams and communities to raise money for Ryan’s treatment, as well as moral support for the Peterson family.

Even though Issaquah volleyball had beaten Skyline the night before, players from both teams worked in solidarity to raise close to $3,000 in the pouring rain before the Oct. 16 Skyline-Issaquah football game. The rival teams collected cash donations and loose change from fans as they entered the stadium.

“We’re good friends off the court. It was totally something the girls wanted to do,” said Issaquah head coach Todd Parsons. “Everybody was just 100 percent behind that.”

Peterson said he and wife Angie have been overwhelmed by the community’s outpouring of kindness and support since learning of Ryan’s diagnosis.

“It really makes you appreciate people,” Peterson said. “It’s unbelievable.”

Those who know Peterson are not surprised that the community is rallying to help the family.

“I think it … speaks a great deal about Mark and his relationship with this community,” said new head coach Laura Gacayan. “It just says so much about him and what he’s brought to Skyline and Skyline volleyball.”

For the next more than five months, Ryan will go through five more bouts of chemotherapy, Peterson said, due to the aggressive nature of his leukemia. Roughly 500 children (20 percent of all cases) nationwide are diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia each year, Peterson said. Four out of five children go into remission after treatment, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Even though Ryan still can’t talk much, “he’s just rolling with what’s going on,” Peterson said. “When he grows up, hopefully he’s not going to remember any of this.”

As the regular season winds down, the Skyline girls said they think of Ryan throughout each game. They each paint “RP” on their right upper arm before their match and have placed a banner in the gym to express their support for the toddler.

“That gives us motivation to play harder. We put our RPs on our arms before every game just as a reminder of who we’re playing for,” said Skyline outside hitter Olivia Marquardt. Ryan is “always in our heads as we play these teams. Especially now, because we lost our coach. We think about him all the time.”

Marquardt and Gacayan said the transition to a new coach has been smooth. Gacayan, a 2001 Skyline grad, played for the Spartans when Peterson was assistant coach. Until Oct. 10, she had coached the Skyline C team. So, she knows the program well, Rohrich and Marquardt said.

“It’s always hard to lose a coach, but Laura has been doing a great job, keeping it consistent, doing the same things during practice,” Marquardt said.

Even though he’s not on the court coaching, Peterson still reviews game film at night in the hospital. He said he e-mails tips and advice to the girls and Gacayan before each game, along with updates on Ryan.

“(I’ll miss) being around the girls and watching them improve,” Peterson said. “That’s why we coach, because we want to see them get better.”

Christopher Huber: 392-6434, ext. 242, or chuber@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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