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July 25, 2014

Where Are They Now: Peggy Kennedy

Throughout the summer, NAU Athletics will take a look back and catch up with former Lumberjack women's basketball players in a Where Are They Now series.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After wrapping up her Lumberjack playing career in 1979 that remains one of the most illustrious until this day, Peggy Kennedy worked a variety of professions. Through it all, from professional basketball player to high school teacher, every decision Kennedy has made along the way has been perfection.

"All of my decisions that I have made in my life have been exactly where I wanted to be," Kennedy said. "When I left NAU, it was the big boost I needed to get on the road I needed to get to. That's what college does for you, it preps you for life and NAU certainly did that for me."

Born in California, moving to Maryland and settling in Illinois, Kennedy initially took a leap of faith when deciding on Northern Arizona University. After spending a year at Western Illinois University in her home state, Kennedy looked to transfer in search of a school who offered her an education in forestry. With her eye on a university that fit what she was looking for, she applied to two schools – University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and NAU.

Having been accepted to both institutions, Kennedy had her choice and decided on NAU because of her unfamiliarity with the state of Arizona. UWSP's loss was NAU's gain as over the next three years, Kennedy would establish herself as one of the greatest Lumberjacks of all-time.

Still a young program – NAU was just in its third season in program history when Kennedy arrived for the 1976-77 season – the Lumberjacks did not experience a lot of on-court success compiling just five wins in each of Kennedy's three campaigns. That did not hamper the experience that Kennedy had though as she describes her time at NAU fondly.

"I came to get an education and play basketball and that's all I wanted to do," Kennedy said. "A lot of athletes in high school don't get the opportunity to play collegiately. Even though we weren't successful as far as wins, it was a great experience; one that I would never trade. It was remarkable and it was a wonderful place for me because of the people. It was the best three years of my life."

NAU's wins were short but Kennedy's successes were anything but. She established career (1,082 points), season (411) and single-game (45) scoring records during her three years with the Lumberjacks and remains the only player in school history to average a double-double for her career. Her career averages of 19.0 points and 11.3 rebounds remain school records as does her 45 point performance versus Utah State on Feb. 10, 1978. Only one other Lumberjack (Amy Patton, 2012) has hit the 40 point plateau in a game since and she is eighth all-time in scoring, fourth in rebounds and third in steals despite playing only 57 career games.

The accolades poured in for Kennedy as she was named an All Region 7 – Intermountain Conference performer all three years in addition to being a three-time awardee of NAU's Most Outstanding Woman Athlete. She was also a top-grade student receiving the Outstanding Senior Student Award from the NAU Alumni Association and being named the Outstanding Graduate in Recreation by the College of Education in 1979.

Her most crowning achievement of all though may have come in 1984 when Kennedy became the first Lumberjack women's basketball player to be inducted into the NAU Hall of Fame.

"It was beyond my wildest dreams," Kennedy said. "Who would've thought? You can't write your story like that. I got the call from my parents and I was overwhelmed and very honored to be selected. To top off your career by being inducted into the Hall of Fame was just unbelievable and amazing. I'm still very thankful."

With aspirations of playing professionally, Kennedy's dreams were realized when she went on to play for the Chicago Hustle and Milwaukee Does of the Women's Professional Basketball League, a league which is recognized as the first professional league for women in the United States. Kennedy also was invited to participate in the Pan American Game tryouts. As proud a moment as that was, Kennedy is quick to mention that it was a team effort from the NAU athletic department to get her shot.

"That was a special moment in time and a rare opportunity for women at that time," Kennedy said. "It wouldn't have happened though if I hadn't gone to NAU and gotten the support of my family, coaches and school. (NAU Sports Information Director) Sally Coughanour helped me go through the process. I didn't do it alone; I had so much support and I need to thank them."

What followed post-professional career was a mixture of professions. Kennedy returned home to Schaumburg, Ill. and worked for the Schaumburg Park District utilizing her degree for five years before heading back to Arizona. Once back in the Grand Canyon State, Kennedy worked for Frito Lay in a variety of roles for nearly 15 years before deciding to head back to school to get her teaching certification.

This fall, she will enter her 12th year as a high school social studies teacher at Camelback High School in Phoenix and in the classroom, Kennedy feels right at home.

"Teaching was always in the back of mind," Kennedy said. "It was always there that someday I would really like to be a teacher. I thought it would fit me better than any job other than a professional basketball player because I really love to teach kids. There was a window of time (when I decided to leave Frito Lay) when at that moment I decided to pursue it."

Kennedy, a current active member on the NAU Hall of Fame committee and avid golfer, remains a strong enthusiast of her alma mater and always encourages her students that Northern Arizona University is a place to consider.

"I tell my students they need to come to NAU," Kennedy said. "I have stickers up in my classroom and you can see how much of a profound effect NAU had on me. It still does today. I just loved living and playing in Flagstaff. I don't know how else to say it."

Who knows, one day one of Kennedy's students will find their path in life at NAU as she did, regardless of where the journey may take them.