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Football Coach Is Among The 210,000 U.S. Coronavirus Deaths

NOEL KING, HOST:

We're continuing to remember the more than 210,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. One of them is Charles Peterson. He was an assistant football coach at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, S.C.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And his wife, Karen Peterson, says he gave his team more than just lessons on football.

KAREN PETERSON: He wasn't just Coach Peterson. He was like a second dad, probably, or an only dad to a lot of these kids.

KING: If you played sports as a kid, like I did, you probably knew someone like Coach Peterson. He was the guy who just wanted to be there when a kid needed him the most.

PETERSON: You know, 'cause there's just so many kids that, you know, unfortunately, just less fortunate. And Charles would always be that person to - hey, you need a ride home? Or they'd call - hey, coach can you drop me off at practice? Or, coach, I need something to eat. So he'd, you know, run by Chick-fil-A, run by Papa John's, you know, whatever it is he could do.

KING: Whatever it is he could do. He stood over 6 feet tall and the coach had an impressive sports resume.

INSKEEP: He caught the state championship winning touchdown for his high school, and he was also a talented baseball player. In the '90s, he was a first-round draft pick for the Major League Baseball Pittsburgh Pirates. He also joined the St. Louis Cardinals as a scout in 2012. But it's not his sports credentials that people responded to.

PETERSON: He just had this presence. Like, he never met a stranger. He'd give you the shirt off his back, the last $5 in his pocket, if you needed it. He lit up a room wherever he went.

KING: And his colleagues got to see that up close. Robin Bacon was head coach for Spring Valley High.

ROBIN BACON: I hear people use the words servant leadership, but that defined Charles. I mean, he felt like he was on this Earth to help people.

KING: This fall would have been his fourth year at Spring Valley. He hoped to watch his son, Trey, a linebacker for the team, run the field and field some college offers.

INSKEEP: He was hospitalized in mid-August and never left the hospital. But Robin says, even then, even when he could only communicate through text messages, he was thinking of others.

BACON: His thing was always deflecting it away from him. Hey, how's so-and-so doing and how's this person doing?

KING: The team plans to get stickers with the initials CP to wear on their helmets for the rest of the season. And Robin says there will be more tributes planned for the man who his wife Karen called her great protector.

PETERSON: Charles was my big teddy bear. Like, he was my gentle giant.

INSKEEP: And died of COVID-19 at age 46.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRONTIDE'S "STILL LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.