By Kim Pernice
On the morning of April 16, 2007, junior Kaitie Clarkin did what almost every other student on campus did: she took out her cell phone and called everyone she knew who was a student at Virginia Tech, including high school friend and teammate Erin Peterson.
“I remember calling all of my friends that go to Virginia Tech,” Clarkin said. “I heard back from all except her. I did everything I could to try and keep my mind off of it. I tried watching Disney movies all day long. I got no sleep that night. I knew to expect the worst, but I didn’t want to believe it and finding out the next day was the worst news ever.”
Peterson was shot and killed in French class in Norris Hall.
Clarkin, a neighbor of the Petersons, found out about the death on the morning of April 17.
“It’s much quieter without [Erin] around,” Clarkin said, a student at the University of Mary Washington. “It’s hard to put into words. The Petersons live in a cul-de-sac and Erin was always around. The people that used to hang around aren’t there anymore.”
Clarkin, a member of the UMW women’s basketball team, attended Westfield High School with Peterson, where they played varsity basketball together.
“During basketball season, I would spend around 18 hours a day with Erin,” said Clarkin, a business administration major. “Between classes, practices, games, and bus rides, we spent a lot of time together.”
Since Peterson’s death, Clarkin established a strong and lasting relationship with Peterson’s parents, including starting a fund in Peterson’s memory.
Celeste Peterson, Erin’s mother, described Clarkin as a “gentle natured girl with a great sense of humor and somewhat of a homebody, only meaning she loves her family and enjoys being home.”
“[Kaitie] e-mails me every night and has helped with the pain of losing Erin,” Peterson said. “She has been a true blessing in our lives.”
The Petersons have known Clarkin since 2002, when Peterson was a freshman and Clarkin a sophomore. However, Clarkin is better known to the Petersons as “Fred,” her high school nickname.
“When I have come to watch her play [at UMW] and yell out, ‘GO FRED!’ everyone turns to look at me and my husband,” Peterson said. “It’s kind of funny.”
According to Clarkin, her father, who was also her basketball coach growing up, nicknamed her “Fred,” as a little girl. There was always another Kaitie on her team so her father and the other girls called her “Fred.” The nickname stuck throughout high school but does not continue at UMW.
As a basketball player, Clarkin described herself as a team player and always trying to put the team before her.
Head Coach Deena Applebury described her as having an unbelievable amount of strength and a strong defensive player with tons of hidden potential.
Clarkin, who made a half-court shot against Gallaudet College at the sound of the first-half buzzer, played in all 31 games this season. She said she was usually second off of the bench as a back-up point guard and shooting guard.
Clarkin led the team in 3-point field goals made, averaging 1.5 3-point field goals made per game.
Off the court, however, Clarkin’s aggressive nature subsides.
In the wake of what she recalls as one of the worst days of her life, Clarkin assisted the Peterson family in creating the Erin Peterson Fund.
“Erin was the kind of person that just wanted to help people,” said Clarkin. “We wanted to do something to remember her by so I stayed in close contact with her parents and the Erin Peterson Fund was formed.”
The Erin Peterson Fund is a non-profit fund that was established in memory of Peterson’s dream to help the less fortunate. Beginning in 2007, and continuing each year, the fund awards two $1000 scholarships to deserving Westfield High School graduates: the Erin Peterson Commit to Excel Award and the Erin Peterson Leadership Award.
“In the beginning I wasn’t that involved because I was still at school,” Clarkin said, “but my dad went to all of the meetings so I knew what was going on. Once I got home, I became very involved by attending more meetings and spreading the word whenever I could.”
In addition to her busy school and basketball schedule, Clarkin enjoys listening to rap and hip-hop music, but she spends a lot of spare time trying to get information out about the Erin Peterson Fund. She stays in close contact with her teammates from high school to come up with new ways to fundraise.
“She continues to talk up the fund wherever she goes,” Peterson said. “It’s so wonderful to see a young person so committed without tiring from this effort.”
On Jan. 19, Clarkin organized a fundraiser to support the Erin Peterson Fund at the men’s and women’s home basketball games. All donations raised during that game, which according to Applebury were around $1500, were given to the fund. The Petersons were in attendance at those games.
“Erin loved basketball,” Clarkin said. “So I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her memory than to tribute her with a basketball game.”
Clarkin has also been instrumental in helping the fund organize a charity golf tournament that will take place on April 7 in Chantilly.
Clarkin predicts that she will continue to help out with the fund in the future.
“If time allows me, and I can up with new ways to raise money I would love to do more in the UMW community,” Clarkin said. “It means a lot to me, and I would really like to continue helping out. I don’t see myself stopping.”