UofL’s intramural and recreational sports have a long history, but only two employees have overseen the massive department.
The first director, Ellis Mendelsohn, was hired in 1953. He held that position for 40 years before Dale Ramsay took over in 1980. Ramsay retired in November after 41 years and proudly passed the position to Justin Peterson while joking that Peterson should go for a new record and has been serving for 42 years.
Peterson received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan Central University, where he was a sports official and supervisor in the Intramural Sports Program. He then became a graduate assistant in the Department of Recreational Sports at Indiana State University, where he received an MS in Recreation and Sport Management.
In 2010, Peterson began his career at UofL. A longtime member of the Cardinal community, he is known for having started the Special Olympics program here in 2016. His dedication to this initiative resulted in UofL’s unified basketball team being the first to represent Special Olympics Kentucky at the USA Game.
Peterson’s first title at UofL was intramural sports coordinator. Working under Ramsey, who quickly became an influential mentor, he was eventually promoted to assistant director of intramural sports and then assistant director of facilities. He has been involved in almost every aspect of the Student Recreation Center program.
Now he will oversee the people who hold these positions that he once held. His leadership is respected among peers as he has spent more than 10 years building trust across campus.
“Dale taught me a lot about relationship building because it’s a really big part of the job. If people don’t know who you are, they won’t call you. But when they meet you and know they can call you, they learn they can trust you. Being able to have those conversations and do the little things for people is going to make a big difference,” Peterson said.
However, Peterson doesn’t just do the “little things” for others, he goes the extra mile. While continuing cherished traditions like the turkey and canoe regattas, he’s also expanding his program to reach more students with diverse interests. With this in mind, the name of the department of the SRK has recently been changed from “Intramural and Recreational Sports Department” to “Campus Recreation”.
Their purpose is to “…improve the quality of life and sense of belonging for all members of the University of Louisville community,” so he feels the new name better represents what they are about. He continues to expand the vision of inclusivity by working with other departments to develop programs that reach people with interests that extend beyond the gym, the athletic field and the court.
Among other things, he plans to offer more outdoor activities, such as hiking trips, alternative breaks at outdoor recreation sites and community clean-ups.
Peterson fosters an environment that welcomes all while caring for the holistic well-being of each individual. He has found that recovery can be a unique catalyst in getting students to open up about mental health.
“There are emotional health initiatives that we can do because one of the beauties of the sporting environment is that you can break down some barriers. You have people who may not be ready to open up and talk about things, but if you bring them to the basketball court, you can start a conversation. You learn a lot about a person and you connect with them,” he said.
The SRC’s intramural sports teams and clubs have been a great way for the UofL community to do just that. From ballroom dancing to basketball to badminton, there are more than 25 clubs where connections are made and students discover fitness while having fun.
The connections Peterson has forged continue to benefit every program he is involved with. With his drive and dedication, he could break this 42-year record.