New Campus Recreation Director dedicated to offering more inclusive activities in nature

Justin Peterson
Justin Peterson

UofL’s Intramural and Recreational Sports has a long history but just two employees have overseen the massive department. 

The first director, Ellis Mendelsohn, was hired in 1953. He held that position for decades before Dale Ramsay took over in 1980. Ramsay retired in November after 41 years and proudly passed the position onto Justin Peterson, while joking Peterson should go for a new record and serve for 42 years.

Peterson completed his undergraduate degree at 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 a MS in Recreation and Sport Management.

In 2010, Peterson began his career at UofL. As a longtime member of the Cardinal community, he’s well known for establishing the Special Olympics program here in 2016. His dedication to that initiative led to UofL’s unified basketball team becoming the first ever to represent Special Olympics Kentucky at the USA Game.

Peterson’s first title at UofL was coordinator for Intramural Sports. He worked under Ramsey, who quickly became an influential mentor, and was eventually promoted to assistant director of Intramural Sports and then to associate director of Facilities. He’s been involved in nearly every aspect of the Student Recreation Center’s programming.

Now, he’ll be overseeing the people who hold these positions that he once did. His leadership is respected among peers as he’s spent more than 10 years building trust across campus.

“Dale taught me a lot about relationship building because it’s a really big piece of the job. If people don’t know who you are, they’re not going to call on you. But, if they meet you and know that they can call on you, they learn that they can trust you. Being able to have those conversations and doing the small things for people will go a long way,” said Peterson.

Peterson doesn’t just do the “small things” for others, though, he goes the extra mile.  While continuing cherished traditions like the Turkey Trot and Canoe Regatta, he’s also expanding programming to reach more students with varied interests. In this spirit, the name of the SRC’s department was recently 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 that the new name more accurately represents what they’re about. He’s continuing to broaden the vision of inclusivity by working with other departments to create programs that reach people with interests beyond the fitness center, field and court.

One way he plans to do this is by offering more activities in nature, such as hiking trips, alternative breaks at outdoor recreation spots and community cleanups. 

Peterson is fostering an environment that’s welcoming for everybody, while also addressing the holistic wellbeing of each person. He’s found that recreation can be a unique catalyst for getting students to open up about mental health.

“There are emotional health initiatives that we can do because one of the beauties of the sports setting is that you can break down some barriers. You’ve got people who might not be willing to open up and talk about things, but if you get them out on the basketball court, you can start having a conversation. You get to know a lot about a person and create a connection with them,” he said.

The SRC’s intramural sports teams and clubs have been a great avenue for the UofL community to do just that. There are more than 25 clubs, from ballroom dancing to basketball to badminton, where connections are being formed and students get to explore fitness while having fun.

The connections Peterson has built continue to benefit every program he’s involved in. With his drive and dedication, he may just break that 42-year record.

Source: Justin Peterson chosen to continue UofL recreation’s impact and legacy (UofL News, July 7, 2022)