A few years ago, Stephen Kinsey stood on the sideline of his favorite blue football field, a coaching headset covering his left ear and his favorite coach, Chris Petersen, standing nearby.
Then, just a few weeks ago, Kinsey felt like covering his eyes when he heard Petersen was leaving Boise State to coach the Washington Huskies.
“I was a little upset,” Kinsey said.
Perspective came quickly for the 15-year-old from San Antonio. After the initial shock faded, Kinsey sent a text message to Petersen, congratulating him on his new opportunity and wishing him well in Seattle.
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Petersen called Kinsey a few hours after his introductory news conference at UW on Dec. 9.
Back in 2010, it was Petersen who was surprised when he found out Kinsey — then in the early stages of non-Hodgkins lymphoma — had made his Make-A-Wish request to come to Boise. Kinsey, who was then 12, wished to coach the Broncos.
Petersen chuckled this week as he recalled his first reaction to that request.
“Did they call the wrong Broncos? Do they mean the Denver Broncos?” Petersen wondered.
Betsy Kinsey knew her son’s wish was ambitious when they made the request in late September 2010. Make-A-Wish representatives said they would do their best, but they couldn’t make any promises.
“Stephen was actually really distraught,” Betsy recalled. “He didn’t want to get his hopes up. …
“Then, within three days, we got a call back.”
Petersen, his wife, Barbara, and the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Idaho had granted the wish.
“Three weeks later,” Betsy Kinsey said, “we were in Boise.”
Barbara Petersen was part of the Make-A-Wish party that greeted the Kinsey family at the Boise airport.
“She was a big part of making that wish happen,” said Torene Bonner, President and CEO of Make-A-Wish Idaho.
“They are one of the most genuine families,” she said of the Petersens. “They’re down to earth and wonderful people.”
The Texas family was treated like royalty in Boise for the three “life-changing” days, as Betsy Kinsey called them.
“We were humbled that someone would want to come spend a weekend with us for their wish,” Chris Petersen said. “The Make-A-Wish people in Boise were awesome. They all wanted it to happen. Really, everybody did — from our players. We got them in the loop when it was going to happen and they did such a great job. And then really the fans caught on and just took it to another level for the family.”
The Petersens have had a strong personal connection to Make-A-Wish. Their youngest son, Sam, who had a long fight with brain cancer, had his wish for a trip to SeaWorld and Legoland in San Diego fulfilled when he was 6 or 7. (Sam, 15, is cancer-free now.)
The Petersens are also involved in the Make-A-Wish fundraiser that the Boise State athletic department hosts each year. The event is called Serving Up Wishes, with Boise State athletes acting as servers during the fundraising dinner and auction. Bonner said it’s the Idaho chapter’s biggest fundraiser, bringing in $230,000 a couple of years ago.
“They only know one way, and it’s complete first class,” Chris Petersen said of Make-A-Wish. “It doesn’t matter how many are in your family, it doesn’t matter about your economic status — they treat all those kids exactly the same. So we were always so blown away by the Make-A-Wish experience (with Sam).”
The Kinseys were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the Boise State fans that weekend three years ago.
“It was life-changing. It really was,” Betsy Kinsey said. “Bronco Nation was so great to him — and it’s never stopped.”
Boise State players greeted Stephen as “Coach Kinsey” wherever he went around the athletic department facilities that weekend. His game day entrance onto the blue field, hand-in-hand with defensive end Shea McClellin as each hold a traditional team hammer, has become an iconic image for the Boise State program; a photo of the moment is emblazoned on a large wall at the team’s new football facility.
“It was amazing,” Stephen recalled. “They went all-out for me.”
And “Coach Kinsey” did indeed stand on the sideline as the No. 2-ranked Broncos hosted Hawaii on Nov. 6, 2010, wearing a coach’s traditional uniform — white polo shirt, white hat, tan khakis and a headset. Near the end of Boise State’s 42-7 victory, Kinsey was even asked his advice on one particular offense play.
“I didn’t expect that at all,” he said.
He doesn’t remember the details of that play — he knows it was no-huddle — but he said he won’t forget that weekend wish in Boise. (The Kinseys returned to Boise a couple of years ago to participate in the Serving Up Wishes fundraiser, and Make-A-Wish has granted similar wishes with Boise State to two other kids in the past few years. Petersen plans to remain involved with Make-A-Wish even after his move to Seattle.)
The initial trip to Boise gave Stephen “a lot of strength” as he continued his fight against cancer. Diagnosed on Dec. 18, 2009, he is now 98 percent cancer-free. Lately, he’s been going through daily chemotherapy treatments — and two on Mondays — with the expected ups and downs, but his mom said he’s battling.
Kinsey remains a devout Boise State fan and expects to remain close with Petersen, too.
“We love Boise State, but we’re able to put it (the coaching change) in perspective,” Betsy Kinsey said. “It’s sad in a way, but we’re so happy for Coach Pete and his family, and he’ll do a great job there at Washington.”
Adam Jude: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @a_jude.