Hightstown High School and the East Windsor Regional School District community lost a beloved member of their family on Jan. 21 when Athletic Director (AD) Jim Peto passed away unexpectedly at home at age 42.
Peto had been a physical education teacher in the school district since 2004 and was the Hightstown High School varsity baseball coach for 10 years before taking the reins of athletic director in 2015.
“He was the epitome of what Hightstown High School was all about,” Principal Dennis Vinson said. “Jim was always present. He taught here and moved up the ranks to become AD. We’re still trying to understand his sudden passing.”
Vinson understands full well how much Peto meant to the school, the coaches, the players and the Hightstown community.
He also knows how much being a part of Hightstown athletics meant to his fallen AD, who was also a resident of East Windsor
Vinson remembers interviewing Peto for the AD position. He said what stood out to him the most during the interview was when Peto told him that being the Hightstown High School AD was his dream job and that it was the position he wanted to have for the rest of his career.
Peto showed how much he wanted to be AD by taking the athletic department to “the next level,” Vinson said.
“This is where he wanted to be,” Vinson said. “He was great for the kids. He always put the kids first and did whatever he could to help them on and off the field.”
Peto’s care and love for his student-athletes were put on full display this past fall when Hightstown High football Coach Ryan Fullen said Peto did everything he could to have the school district approve fall sports to be played amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Fullen said Peto was a very “detail-oriented person” and that his well thought out plan to the school board about how the athletic departments and the teams would make sure they follow all COVID-19 safety protocols led to there being sports played in Hightstown last fall.
The Hightstown High football team took advantage of the opportunity to play this fall by securing its first winning season since 2006 with a record of 4-2.
Fullen said his squad’s success this past season was all because of Peto.
“This past season would not have been played without Jim’s help,” Fullen said. “He went above and beyond with the protocols he presented to the school board to get us a season. He was an outstanding person. Anything we needed, he was there for us.”
Vinson said the school plans on honoring Peto and preserving his legacy in the athletic department throughout the rest of the school in many ways.
A motto called #Play4Peto is something Vinson said will be embedded into a lot of the teams moving forward.
The Hightstown High School boys basketball team lived by the motto #Play4Peto in its season opener on Jan. 26 against Lawrence High School and honored Peto with a moment of silence before the game. A second half surge led the Rams to a 63-50 victory over Lawrence.
During every timeout, basketball Coach Don DeLeo said his players came out of the huddle saying “Play for Peto”.
Just like his advocacy for fall sports to be played, DeLeo said Peto was a huge part in helping winter sports be allowed this season.
“The boys played with his memory in mind and wanted to get a win for him,” DeLeo said. “They came out with a lot of passion and that led to us being successful.”
Peto is survived by his wife, Amanda, and their two children, Chase and Lilly.
A GoFundMe page for Peto’s family has been set up at www.gofundme.com/f/peto-family