I've been in tough spots before sitting down to write a column or a story.
There have been many days when there's nothing in the tank, times when a great idea flickers and then extinguishes like a candle in a hurricane.
Nothing is tougher than this, though, having to talk about Perry Reese Jr. in the past sense.
For 16 years, we've written, I've written, about Hiland's unassuming coach in the present tense. In perhaps the most ego-driven sport there is, Reese had virtually none and wanted none of it. Bring up how great Perry Reese Jr. was and you were dismissed with the wave of a hand, if you weren't dismissed from the conversation altogether. We learned that about Perry Reese Jr. very early in the game.
Today is different because, physically, Perry is not here. I will never write of Perry Reese in the present tense again and I weep because of it for he was a great man.
I'm not talking about his basketball record or any statistic he compiled as a coach at Hiland because that isn't how I measure him.
He was a great man, period.
He was a builder of people, young and old alike, and that's what I admired.
When people started grumbling about how "his" Hiland Hawks had fallen short of the Div. IV state title for the third consecutive year this past March, I offered my own public comment on what the Hiland community would be losing should he leave.
I was furious that a loss in the state's championship tournament would be his measuring stick, and I was furious with those small-minded people who chose to judge him by his wins and losses, or the state titles on his resume.
A month or so passed and our paths crossed and he offered a simple, 'Thank you,' before we moved on to other things.
Mind you, I never shared a moment with Perry Reese outside the basketball arena. I never went to his house, he never came to mine. I never called him in the summer, he never called me. We never even as much as shared a Coke outside the basketball arena.
But, he was my friend, no matter how one wishes to interpret that friendship.
The hollow feeling which invades my thoughts today, on Thanksgiving Day, as I write this, haunts me. I had planned on writing a Giving Thanks story for today, something which had been stonewalled by Perry for some time, but something which had finally gained enough tacit approval that I began to move forward on it. It would have made him uncomfortable, but I wanted Perry to know what he had meant to so many people. It was to thank him for what he has meant to so many people, for what he has taught so many people, myself included.
And, I was going down to see Perry today and push past the feeling that I would be intruding, that I really shouldn't impose myself on him at such a critical time in his life.
And knowing Perry, he wouldn't have understood the fuss, he wouldn't have understood the need for anyone to expres those thoughts, and he certainly wouldn't have felt comfortable accepting the thanks.
But, I didn't get there and I don't feel I got the job done.
Perhaps Perrry wouldn't have understood my feelings, for I certainly don't profess to have a full grasp of them by any stretch of the imagination. I'm examining them with a backward look on the past 16 years and a refusal to comprehend his death, while Perry was one to only give a cursory glance back before he focused on the task at hand by looking forward, solving problems and building for the future. He taught everyone how to deal with life — and death.
Even with his death, he's still guiding us.He formed the Perry Reese Jr. foundation and its focus will be that of looking ahead and making sure that at least two Hiland students will receive a helping hand toward their college education.
Reese, of course, will always be remembered by some for the direction he gave Hiland athletes on the hardwood. However, that legacy pales in the face of his true gift, the hearts and minds of the many people he touched.
He hasn't left us.
Much was made of a black man guiding a small all-white, rural basketball team when he first came to Hiland. And, for a short time, that was a story, just as was the initial misguided distrust and dislike by some.
But, it didn't take long before the story was one of a man who refused to see color and see differences, who forged bonds, allegiances, friendships and trust.
And those things, my friends, never die.
God bless you, Perry Reese Jr.
And thank you.