People were filing into the new Hiland gymnasium, which normally would have brought a smile to anyone's face — even Perry Reese's
It would have meant something big was in store for the Hawks, and that part, at least was true.
The tip-off, though, was the calendar. For on July 2, there was no big basketball game to be played, no sideline for Reese, the veteran Hiland coach, to be patrolling.
Instead, this was for Reese, a gathering of the Berlin school district to express their prayers and hope for him.
It's a situation which would have made Reese uncomfortable even under the best of circumstances since his coaching career had been devoted to deflecting the spotlight to his team and not an individual — even himself.
Sunday, that was unavoidable, because these aren't the best of circumstances.
Reese came home Friday evening from Canton's Aultman Hospital after being diagnosed with an inoperable, malignant brain tumor which had developed behind his left eye.
Sunday, people were at the new Hiland gymnasium for him, to offer their hopes and their prayers and, as so many asked for, a miracle.
"The purpose of this is for us to come together and pray for a miracle," said a shaken Hiland principal Matt Johnson. "This is hard on all of us. Miracles do happen. Perry is still with us. We need the strength of each other and share the support and love we have for him.
"Perry is very grateful for the friends who have come to see him."
Many of those people were among the 800 or so who attended Sunday's informal prayer session. Among them were Reese's siblings — sisters Audrey, Carolyn and Jennifer and brother Chris; Muskingum College coach Jim Burson, who helped get Reese started in coaching; past and present members of the 16 Hawk basketball teams Reese has coached, and even an old friend from Guernsey Catholic High School, where Reese got his start coaching basketball and, of all things, volleyball.
"I knew Perry as a student, friend and as a coach," said Burson. "When we spoke he told me, 'Coach, appreciate every day and see the good and beautiful things in life.' That was his message he wanted to get out to you. Live your life to the fullest and cherish your family and friends. I know I'm a better man for knowing him."
Phil Mishler, who played for Reese and asked him to be his best man at his wedding, commented on Reese's impact in the Hiland community.
Although Reese had no children, Mishler once told him, "You're an extra uncle of all the boys and girls (at Hiland). You have grandkids. Coach, you don't know how many people you've touched. You're going to live on in those families."
Father Ron Aubrey of St Peter Church in Millersburg commented on what Reese, a black man, meant to Hiland.
"All of us are aware Perry's spirit is with us," Father Aubrey said. "The spirit of Jesus is also with us, and Jesus taught by example and by stories he shared. That's the kind of coach and teacher Perry Reese is as well. No one present has not learned a lesson from Perry, whether it's a lesson in life; lessons taught in the classroom; lessons of love; lessons of hard work and diligence.
"He embraced victories and courage in defeat; lessons of hope and lessons of patience. He is now the one teaching us, those suffering and in sorrow and fearing separation," Father Aubrey added. "Perry has taught us a lesson in the eyes of God, it does not matter if you're white or black, Amish or English, Protestant or Catholic, we are one people of God."
Pastor Ernie Hershberger likened Reese's approach to basketball as a lesson to be brought to everyday life.
"His brand of basketball... was to play your best," Hershberger said. "We all have a gift from God. If you do your best... you will have no regrets."
Reese's presence carried far off the basketball court. As Johnson added, "As principal, not having him here everyday will be tough — every day."
And that's what makes this situation so difficult for so many people, young and old. Reese was more than a basketball coach. He was a second father, a best friend, a listening ear and a kick in the butt, all rolled into one. He demanded an extraordinary amount of effort, pushing people out of their comfort zone and on to better things, things they once felt impossible.
The rewards weren't all in black and white. They certainly aren't reflected on the banners hanging from the wall of Hiland's new gymnasium.
For Perry Reese is about people. That's why 800 folks from around the area stopped what they were doing on Sunday to come offer their prayers and hopes for one man, a man who well represents what Holmes County is all about.
They came for a member of their family.