BERLIN — A cancerous brain tumor has claimed the life of beloved Hiland High basketball coach Perry Reese Jr.
Reese, 48, died Wednesday morning in Walnut Hills Retirement Center.
A memorial service for Reese was held Wednesday evening, where students, teachers, administrators and community members gathered to comfort each other and to honor the coach who left a significant and enduring mark on their community and lives.
Scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings of victories lined a table in the gymnasium lobby. There were many photographs showing Reese at graduation parties, at weddings and, of course, on the basketball court.
At the end of the table, a red and black Hiland Hawks hat rested on a school banner.
Dave Schlabach, Hiland High girls' basktball coach and longtime friend of Reese, said the coach's unselfishness was what made him special.
"He had every reason in the world to have a big ego, and he didn't," he said.
Schlabach said Reese never wanted to be in the limelight, and never wanted pity. Even in the worst times of his illness, he was more concerned about "his kids" — his players and students.
"He had a true ability to care for people," Schlabach said. "I'm not sure why he was chosen to be here, but I think we were very fortunate to have him here these last 16 years."
Colin Mishler, Hiland athletic director, said he lost more than a co-worker. He lost a friend.
"He was always a lot of fun to be around," said Mishler.
"He made the work day exciting. He kidded with you a lot. He argued with you. He played with you. He would sit down and have good heart-to-heart talks. He made the day go by so quickly."
Mishler said he thinks Reese's students and players learned humility from their coach. Reese never wanted credit for himself. He passed all the credit to his teams.
Hiland Schools Superintendent Gary Sterrett knew Reese for 23 years.
He said he was most impressed with Reese's ability to motivate students to achieve beyond their ability level.
Students saw Reese as someone who could help them with their problems "even if they weren't a basketball player," Sterrett said.
Matt Johnson, Hiland High principal, said he will always remember Reese's gift of friendship.
"Perry was a dear friend to us all. It was his friendship that we will miss most," he said. "Perry had a special gift ... He was truly meant to be a teacher."
Reese was a Canton native who graduated from Canton Timken High and Muskingum College. He was head coach at the former Guernsey Catholic High before he joined the Hiland Hawks as head boys' basketball coach in 1984.
In the subsequent 16 years, Reese posted an impressive 304-85 record. Under his leadership, the Hawks advanced to the state final four in 1986, 1992, 1998, 1999 and 2000, winning the school's only state championship in 1992.
Reese was admitted to Aultman Hospital at Canton complaining of flu-like symptoms and slight memory loss on June 27. The next day, doctors told Reese they'd found an inoperable malignant tumor behind his left eye socket. He was dismissed from the hospital and received 24-hour care from Hospice of Holmes County.