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A chance meeting in the air lands C. Milton Wright senior a spot on University of Maryland track and field team

Posing for a quick photo after the plane landed in Denver, from left, Pete Capozzoli, Andrew Valmon, Peter Capozzoli and Danielle Siebert.
Posing for a quick photo after the plane landed in Denver, from left, Pete Capozzoli, Andrew Valmon, Peter Capozzoli and Danielle Siebert. (Courtesy of the Capozzoli family)

C. Milton Wright High School senior Peter Capozzoli is headed to the University of Maryland, but boy was the decision of mile-high proportions.

Capozzoli, a skilled track and field athlete who’s specialty is the 800 meter run, joined his father and sister on an plane trip to Los Angeles, Ca., by way of Denver, Co. in December and the trip changed his life.

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It happened like this.

Dad, Pete, and son, Peter, took their seats in the aisle and middle spots among three seats on a flight leaving Baltimore. Shortly, thereafter, a woman asked if she could have the middle seat that Peter was in and he of course, being polite, let her have the seat and he sat in the row behind.

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As the flight progressed, Dad decides to strike up a conversation with the couple in his row. 'How are you, where you guys going?

The couple responds, they are headed to Reno, Nev. for a conference and Dad knows about Reno conferences, having been there while an employee of the U.S. Government for small business.

So, Dad asked what conference they were attending and the answer was track and field. “So, I figured, oh, these must be high school coaches or something or USATF or AAU,” Dad said.

So Dad continues to talk it up and says to them that the woman looks like an 800 meter runner and he looks like a 400 meter runner.

“The woman turns and says ‘what?' and I said, yeah, that’s what you look like, and she said that’s what I am and that’s what he is and he didn’t say a word," Dad said.

The conversation continued with Dad relaying some information about his son’s times and such, but not letting on that he’s talking about him.

So, the wheels start to roll. The woman asked what year and of course the answer is he’s a senior and the next question is what colleges? There’s LeHigh, Lafayette, UMBC, and because Peter got such high marks on the SAT, the Ivy League was in view.

A bunch of the schools wanted to roster Peter, but the University of Maryland coach never got back to us. “I got their attention and they said, who was that? and I said it was the head coach and the guy said, that’s me," Dad said.

Long story short, the man is Andrew Valmon, head track coach at Maryland and the woman is Danielle Siebert, the middle-distance coach at Maryland. Valmon is a 400 meter gold medalist from the Barcelona Olympics and world record holder in the event.

So, Valmon looked over some of Peter’s official times and stuff and soon said, ‘consider yourself rostered.’

“At first, when I met them on the plane I was really excited because I thought it would be a really good opportunity to set up a way to communicate,” Peter Capozzoli said. “He [Coach Valmon] gave me his number and I was like great, I can tell him what my times are and figure out what he wants me to run to get a spot on the team.”

When they got off the plane, though, Peter’s college decision was made easy. “He told me that if I come to Maryland, I already have a spot on the team. I was just shocked, I didn’t really believe him,” Peter said. “I didn’t think he was playing a prank on me, but I just, it was just really shocking, I wasn’t expecting that at all.”

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Peter says it took a lot of pressure off. His junior outdoor season wasn’t his best, so he knew he needed to make up for it in his senior indoor season, which he was actively in when the plane trip occurred. A 1:59 time in the indoor 800 was a solid time.

“It just took a lot of pressure off and I feel like it helped me perform better, didn’t have all that extra pressure in the season,” Peter said.

If not for this game-changing encounter, Peter says he likely would have attended LeHigh.

At Maryland, Peter will study aerospace engineering.

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