Thursday, May 5, 2016, 9:15AM
Arvada West No. 1 golfer Ali Peper, is also a hockey player for half of the academic year for the Boston Shamrocks, is going to Harvard to play hockey. (AAron Ontiveroz, The Denver Post)
Co-valedictorian rips it up on golf course, at hockey rink
By Neil H. Devlin
The Denver Post
ARVADA, COLORADO — Last week, Ali Peper shot even par. The senior at Arvada West fired a 72 at Broken Tee Golf Course in Englewood, the lowest score of her career, to win a league meet. "It was a thrill. I was so excited," Peper said.
While Peper's feat could be considered a highlight of her budding athletic career, golf might not even be her best sport. Hockey could be. For the past two school years, the Wheat Ridge, Colorado native has left her family and friends for nearly six months to play junior ice hockey in Boston. "It got to the point where I was committed and wanted to take my game to the next level," said Peper, who is a defenseman. "That was the place to do it."
Better yet, Peper will be one of A-West's 11 valedictorians later this month. She will attend Harvard and play hockey there, with aspirations of making a run at the U.S. Olympic Team someday. Anyone who knows Peper isn't surprised. "It says something to the resilience of teenagers," principal Robert Bishop said. "When they want to be something, they can. I've learned a lot from kids in my 25 years. They just set their minds to it." Said Wildcats athletic director Mike Mulvaney: "She's a special person, probably the most organized, self-disciplined and driven student and person I've been in touch with."
Ali's father, Graham Peper, knew early on his daughter was super organized. "(It was) when she was in the second or third grade and was having a fit," he recalled. "She said she was late on something for school. I asked her when it was due. She said in a week. I told her to get back to me in six days."
Ali Peper said she has made her last two years work with what she said have been truckloads of help. The former Colorado Select player had competed against boys for multiple seasons "up until I was 12 or 13, but it got different when they were starting to get a foot taller and 60 to 70 pounds heavier than I was. The girls game was a better fit." Thus the move to Boston, where she played for the Shamrocks — in the Junior Women's Hockey League — from October to March. She couldn't pass on playing in New England to gain exposure. But it came at a price. "I missed my family all the time," she said. Said her father: "It got us an empty nest. It was really difficult, because we missed her and we're not prep-school parents."
But Ali developed, playing 60 to 70 games. In 28 JWHL games, she scored 10 goals and had 16 assists. "It was the best move I could make," said Peper, who stayed with a host family. "They will always be another family to me," she said of the Jacqueses.
It was a grind with regular road trips, which made for additional challenges academically. "She had to teach herself calculus, and she always seemed to be doing homework on a bus," her father said. When Bishop heard what Peper would be attempting two years ago, he checked with her teachers about it. "Hands down, they said they would do whatever it took for Ali," Bishop said. "That tells you a lot about the student." Peper never blinked in the face of high-end and advanced-placement courses. Her 4.6 grade-point average will have her addressing her 2016 classmates at commencement. Don't be surprised — her grandfather, John Peper, was Jeffco superintendent from 1981-91. "From Dr. Bishop to my teachers to my tutors and everyone else, they were all unbelievably understanding," Ali said.
As for the cost, Ali likened it to a college education. Her father said it wasn't quite that steep. Ultimately, he said, it was worth it. "It was the biggest preparation for college," he said.
While Harvard awaits, Ali still has about three weeks to enjoy being in high school. She has qualified for the Class 5A state golf tournament the past three seasons and won regionals once. Capping her career with a high finish or perhaps becoming the medalist would be a memorable send-off.
"We look to her for guidance when we need it, and she's there to comfort us if we need it," Wildcats junior Leigh Robinson said. And that's the thing, Bishop said: "On top of everything, she's a pretty darned good golfer."