Erin Peterson

Erin Peterson

Hometown: Chantilly, Va.

Age: 18

Class: Freshman

Location: Norris Hall

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Profile: On strips of paper, the 16 or so students who gathered at Westfield High School yesterday morning to talk about Erin Peterson each scribbled a single anecdote about her. They were supposed to write about what they remembered most about the high school basketball star. And when they were done, almost all the papers told the same story: Peterson had helped someone when it was most needed.

One girl wrote about how she had just transferred to the school and was sitting alone at a table when Peterson invited her to join her group, saying something like, "You're not going to be sitting by yourself anymore."

Another girl was in a locker room, visibly upset, when Peterson stopped to comfort her.

One anecdote described how Peterson always brought all the players together before a game to give them an inspirational pep talk.

"The thing that really sticks out about Erin was she was an excellent basketball player, but she was an outstanding person," said Pat Deegan, the girls' basketball coach. "If there was a positive activity and there were people involved in it, then Erin was going to be in the middle of it."

Peterson, a freshman at Virginia Tech majoring in international studies, had played on the high school basketball team for four years, three of them on the varsity team. Her senior year, she was the captain of the team, Deegan said.

"I've been coaching for 27 years, and I can't remember anyone who was a better leader than Erin," he said.

Mark Richardson chairs the Minority Achievement Committee at the school, which aims to ensure that all students have the ability to achieve. Erin Peterson found that achievement both on the court and in the classroom, he said.

"She was a very kind and smart individual. She did all she could to help others and was very active in the school both athletically and academically," he said.

Even after Peterson left for Tech, she was never really gone, calling the high school team on certain game days to encourage the players, Deegan said.

"When she was in the game, she was a warrior," Deegan said. "But she understood that before the game, you take in life, and after the game, you take in life."

Her loss has left a large hole, one that will never be filled, he said.

If he had written anything on that sheet of paper that morning, he said, it would have been simply: "Erin made the world a better place to be, and we're all at a loss without her."

-- Theresa Vargas, The Washington Post

© 2007 The Washington Post Company