Prep Football

Being legally blind doesn't prevent CPU senior James Peterson from playing football

James Peterson, Center Point-Urbana
James Peterson, Center Point-Urbana

CEDAR RAPIDS — There are times when it simply becomes too much for him. He admits it.

James Peterson is just a teenager after all, a senior in high school who has to deal with being legally blind.

“I might not show it all the time, but, yeah, it definitely does get to me,” the Center Point-Urbana student said.

Peterson has Stargardt disease. It’s an inherited form of macular degeneration that has taken away much of his central vision.

He was diagnosed in third grade. Stargardt affects roughly 30,000 Americans.

“I remember when I was 14, I always wanted to be one of the first people in my grade to be able to drive, and I couldn’t,” Peterson said. “That was really hard for me. Even now, never being able to drive is tough (to consider), but I’ve come to terms with it. I have great people who give me a ride wherever I need to go. Still, I do have points in my life where I struggle with having this.”

Peterson’s condition has never stopped him from being a great student. He uses magnification tools to read, has a 4.0 grade point average and plans on studying computer engineering next year at Iowa State.

He also participates in athletics. Peterson played basketball in middle school, ran track a couple of years ago (the sprints, specifically) and plans on going out for soccer in the spring.

Let him explain to you how he makes that work.

“That one really surprises people, and that’s actually super cool to me, too,” he said. “In order to figure out where the ball is I have to use my hearing. I listen when people kick it or the ball hits the ground. You’d be surprised how different that sounds, when people kick it.

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“So that’s how I really know where the ball is. And just the flow of where the players are, where they are headed to, I know that’s where the ball is going to be. Once I have the ball, then I can see it. When I don’t, that’s when I have to use other things to find out the information I need.”

Don’t forget about football now, either. Though he’s been out with an injury the past couple of games, Peterson hopes to return to his starting center position for CPU’s Class 2A playoff opener Friday night at home against Anamosa.

Yes, starting center.

“When you sit and think about it, it’s unbelievable,” said Center Point-Urbana Coach Dan Burke. “But I’ve just been around him so much and know him, I don’t think so much about (his condition), because I’m just so used to it. Does that make sense? He (knows) blocking, and he just always gets it done. I’m not saying he’s perfect, that he never misses blocks or anything. But he is as good as they come for us.”

Peterson’s parents, Amber and Todd, never put limitations on their son when it came to sports. If he wanted to play something, they let him, just told him to go out there and do his best.

That included football. James started out in flag football and transitioned with the rest of his classmates to tackle in seventh grade.

“Being on the line, it surprisingly is not that much different than how other people play. At least in my opinion,” he said. “I can still see the people in front of me, and I can see the linebackers as well. So I can figure out what is in front of me, and if I have to go up to a linebacker, I can see what he’s doing as well and get to him, too.

“The guy right across from me, I can see him. I might not be able to see what color his eyes are, but I don’t really need to know that.”

Peterson said he relies a lot on his peripheral vision.

“It definitely gives you a lot of information. I would almost wager that is more important than your central vision as a lineman,” he said.

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Burke mentioned how dedicated Peterson has been to football, saying there were times Peterson and his father beat him to school early in the morning for weight-training sessions.

The kid definitely is an inspiration.

“I had never really thought of myself that way,” Peterson said. “Had never really even thought of that at all. But recently I’ve been told that, and that’s amazing to me. That amazes me that I can (inspire) people, and I’m extremely happy that I can.”

After college, Peterson would like to get a job with a computer programming title. He wants to live nearby, specifically mentioning Cedar Rapids as a strong market for what he wants to do.

He said his ideal situation would be to work someplace he can live close to, so he can walk to work every day

“It is definitely challenging at times,” Peterson said. “You get used to it after a while, but when I was first diagnosed, it was very different for me. You don’t really realize how much information you get from your vision. Then you start not being able to pick up on things, and you have to learn other ways to get that information.

“It is definitely wonderful to have people around to help you out with that. There are a lot of helpful people that tell you things that you might not see. Day to day, obviously, it affects me all the time. But I just have to live with it.”

Comments: (319) 398-8259; jeff.johnson@thegazette.com

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