hawkhoops.com | Perry Reese Jr 1952-2000
A community says good-bye


BERLIN — It was a wet, drizzly Sunday, which matched the eyes of many inside Hiland's gymnasium.

It was a somber, leaden Sunday, which matched the mood of many of the 1,000 people inside the gym who came in pain, who came in silence, who came in disbelief. But, they came to honor the memory of Perry Reese, Jr.

After all the things that have been written about Perry Reese, Jr., it should also be noted the day, as painful as it was, also ended with a smile or a laugh.

That, too, is how Reese would have wanted it.

Reese passed away Wednesday at the age of 48, cutting short his 17-year career at Hiland High School, as well as his16 years at the helm of the Hiland basketball bench.

"Like you, I would give anything not to have to be here today to say good-bye to one of the most unique individuals we shall ever know," said Mark Lonsinger, one of the speakers at the service. "But, the circumstances being what they are, I consider this the highest honor of my life to be asked to represent this community and express the way we felt about Perry Reese, Jr."

Reese, who was a graduate of Canton Timken High School and Muskingum College, came to Berlin to serve as an assistant coach for one year before being promoted to head basketball coach when Charlie Huggins left.

"A black, Catholic man, who nearly 17 years ago came to this small, largely white, Amish and Mennonite community, and with it began to write the story that would become his legacy," Lonsinger said. "The ultimate 'odd couple.' if you will.

"That constantly begged the question, 'Who would have ever thought this would work?'"

It did work, as evidenced by the 304-85 record Reese produced at Hiland, of the state championship in 1992 and the five state appearances, including each of the last three seasons.

But, as everyone knew, that wasn't what created the bond between Reese and the East Holmes community, a marriage which was recognized by Reese's youngest sister, Audrey.

"We don't want you to think of losing Perry, we want you to think of the family you've gained. We're just like him," she said, drawing quiet laughter from the audience. "We want to thank you for all of the support."

That support was easy for the people of East Holmes to return considering all Reese had done for so many people. And even with his death, a scholarship funded by his estate will continue to aid East Holmes students.

In typical fashion, Reese wanted that kept silent until after he had passed away, and that time came shortly after 10 am Wednesday.

"Wednesday Jesus again made a journey to our dear friend," said Father Ron Aubrey of St. Peter Catholic Church. "I'm confident Jesus stood beside Perry and wept and then said, 'Come. Come to the glory and kingdom that has been prepared for you.'

"We remember Perry this day. One thousand people have gathered, and there are 1,000 different relationships, 1,000 different memories and a million different memories to share.

"Perry is present with us today... Let there be no doubt where Perry Reese is today," Father Aubrey said.

It is that friendship which will be missed most, a friendship which was brought to life in a video played during the service.

For those who only witnessed Reese on the sidelines during the basketball season, it served to shatter any illusion he was a basketball coach first and foremost.

Through snapshots and snippets of video, there was Reese in the classroom, in a wedding, in his living room with players and friends and, of course, on basketball courts, handing out hugs, kisses and handshakes as if that were the most important thing in life.

As we know, to Perry Reese, it was. As the video trailed to its end, it caught Reese in a poignant moment at the end of a banquet. In a voice both strong and struggling, he tearfully thanked everyone, particularly those who chose to play for him: "They put their trust in me and I want to thank them from the bottom of my heart."

Calling hours will be Tuesday at St. Peter Church in Millersburg beginning at 10 am. The funeral will begin at 1 pm.

Reese is survived by a brother, Chris, and sisters Audrey, Bonnie and Jennifer.

Burial will be in Canton.