Perry Reese was there.
The second annual Perry Reese Foundation Scholarship Banquet and Memorial Tip-Off, held Nov. 23 in honor of the man and his continuing legacy, proved how a man can live past his own death in the lives of others.
Signs of Reese's presence were apparent in the 300 persons who attended the dinner, held at the Amish Door Restaurant in Wilmot. A trio of former students looking over a picture of Perry commented on how good an image it was of him, as familiar with the coach's features and bearing as they might be of a departed uncle. While recognizing the Reese family attending the dinner, including sisters Jennifer and Audrey and their husbands, Perry's brother Christopher made an inclusive sweep of his hand to the audience and concluded the introductions with, "and all of you."
He was there in the smiles of those who knew him intimately; he was there in the presence of lives he had touched in large and small ways, whether deliberately through his actions or unintentionally through his character. Most of all, Perry Reese, Jr., can still bring hundreds of people together for a good time.
"In his opening remarks', Colin Mishler stated that Reese's contributions to youth were in no danger of fading.
"There are many people who may have never known him well but must understand who he was and what he means to us," Mishler said.
"Events such as this are ways we can give back, ways Perry Reese can continue to give. Those gathered here tonight have a very special bond."
Keynote speaker and Sports Illustrated senior writer Gary Smith, whose article "Higher Learning" spread Reese's life and legacy throughout the nation, came to know Reese through this "special bond."
"There are so many surprising things that can happen, when you put kids out there on the field with a dreamer," Smith said. "Incredibly surprising things happened that are never expected or intended. We've kind of turned sports into a religion; we don't stop to wonder about it and why it exists. I have to ask myself, what good does it do? Coming to towns like Berlin and doing stories on people like Perry answers that, more than the stories about famous people. (Having written about Perry,) it makes me look in the mirror and say yes, it is a good thing."
Smith continued to state that he viewed Reese as "a spirit."
"Many people like to see Perry as a saint, but a saint is too hard to connect to. There is too much juice behind the story of Perry Reese for him to be a saint," Smith said. "He is a spirit that I catch wind of Perry whenever I see a story where someone cares about something or some person who is not going to help him win. What impressed me the most researching this story were the people who approached me who never played basketball, who were touched by Perry in other ways. Those who did play were taught, even if they never played again."
Smith's article on Reese has been anthologized in the Best Spiritual Writings of 2002, The Best Sports Writing of 2002, and the Best Non-Required Reading of 2002.
The Hiland Boys Varsity team was recognized by Coach Keith Troyer, and Girls Varsity Coach Dave Schlabach recognized the 2002 team. 2002 Perry Reese Scholarship Recipients Christi Snyder and Brett McKey were also recognized. Snyder is currently enrolled at Bethany College and is majoring in Spanish, and McKey is attending Mt. Vernon Nazarene, where he is majoring in psychology.
The Perry Reese, Jr., Scholarship awards a renewable four-year $1,000 scholarship to one Hiland graduate and one graduating basketball player. The fund balance currently stands at $141,300 and is funded through Reese's estate, an annual golf outing, a 50/50 raffle conducted at the Hiland/Garaway game and the annual tip-off dinner. Private contributions to the Perry Reese, Jr., Scholarship Fund may be made by calling 330.893.2626.
The dinner was preceded by a social hour with Rob Moser providing piano music. Appetizers were donated by German Village IGA, Guggisberg Cheese and Troyer's Trail Bologna.