Perry Reese Jr. is a friend of mine. That statement can be said literally by thousands of people and still be true. Perry Reese Jr. has thousands of friends.
People who only met him once consider him a friend. That's the kind of person Perry is. He makes an impact on you; you make an impact on him. He remembers you, and you remember him, and you are friends.
Through no fault of his own, an indiscriminate illness called cancer has overcome this friend of so many. A power and control freak of the highest magnitude, Perry no longer is in control of his life.
Perry loved to be in charge, especially when it came to basketball. In part, that is what drew his players so close to him. They depended on him to teach them what to do, and teach them he did. Year in and year out, he took a bunch of short, scrawny kids who loved to play basketball, and made them play better than they should have. Yes, there were some excellent players over the years on the Hiland teams. But far and away a majority of the players who wore the red, black and white uniforms were no better or no worse an athlete than those on any other team.
What made them winners was Perry taught them they could win. He taught them how to win using the gifts and abilities with which they had been blessed. He worked them hard, but these were boys who knew how to work.
That was another reason Perry fit in so well at Hiland. The good old-fashioned work ethic was taught at home, preached at church, and expected at school. The basketball court was no different. Perry saw this uncommon phenomenon, embraced it, and used it to win and win and win.
But Perry did more than teach his players. He loved them unconditionally. He helped them with their personal lives, with problems at home, in the classroom, in relationships.
Perry was father to them. They were his children.
Player after player confided in Perry. They trusted him, believed him, considered him their best friend.
He took them fishing, shopping, out to eat, to watch other games. They shared things with him they would not tell their own parents.
The parents understood this relationship as a compliment to Perry, not an insult to themselves.
Perry did not confine his generous and compassionate spirit to his players alone. If he saw that the parents were not with a student as he or she walked center stage to receive an award or special recognition, Perry would jump to his feet and walk side-by-side with the student. At those moments, he was their parent.
This is what made Perry so special. He taught from his heart. Now, crippled by this ugly illness, he is no longer able to do any of these things.
Maybe this can be the last lesson Perry can teach us. We are all susceptible to the whims of life.
Though we like to think we are in control of our own destiny, that we are immortal, we are not.
We are human, we are weak, and we are vulnerable.
We must live each day as if it were the last, to the fullest, the kindest, the best way we can, not for ourselves, but for those we love, those we meet. For there by the grace of God go I.
If we can learn and live this last lesson on a daily basis, our friend Perry will have won much more than the state championship, and so will we.
Thank you, Perry. Thank you for being my friend.