August 11, 2014
What do I say upon hearing about the passing of Jim Perry? Just writing his first name is odd to me, as he has always been Mr. Perry or Coach Perry. You see, he taught that you respect your coaches and address them properly.
I remember the joy of walking downtown from the elementary school up on the hill on fall afternoons headed to football practice. We stuck the facemask of our helmet through our shoulder pads and swaggered through downtown Branson on our way to the lakefront. We practiced in our jeans, so no need to change clothes on the way. There was something newly intoxicating about being a football player on his way to practice. A stop at Alexander’s Drug Store for a 5-cent ice cream cone made for a good diversion. Life didn’t get much better.
But when we approached the practice field – Coach Perry’s practice field – life didn’t get better, life got different. When you stepped on the field, ice cream had to be wiped from the face and the swagger in check. You were no longer a boy but now a young man, even though we were just boys. When we stepped onto the field we were no longer under the sheltering wings of mothers, but now under the watchful eyes of fathers. On that field you learned the techniques and practices of football. But you learned so much more.
You learned to keep your legs in the air until the whistle blew while doing leg lifts. You learned to keep your feet moving. You learned not to quit when no one was watching. You learned to go as hard as you can until the whistle blew. Then, you learned to stop. You learned to help both your friend and opponent off the ground. Or, you learned to pick yourself up off the ground after someone put you there. You learned to face your fears, whether your fear was the big 6th-grader across the line headed toward you, or the coach pushing you from behind. You learned that most bumps and bruises were just that, small pains and distractions you pick up along the way doing something you enjoy. And, you learned to brag about them as well. Good lessons for life that you get from football.
It was there that I also learned a most interesting truth from Mr. Perry, one I had not heard anywhere else and one that I’ve never forgotten. That is, you can play with reckless abandon between the whistles, be as hard-hitting as possible on the field, and still be a man of faith and integrity. I had never put Jesus and football together. But Mr. Perry did that for me. What glory and what Glory! You could play football and follow Jesus! For a boy on the cusp of becoming a young man, nothing felt more refreshing. It’s a lesson that follows me today. You can go hard at the things that life brings. You may see victories or you may face failures. Either way, or anywhere in between, Jesus is with you. I’ve heard this from many people now over the years, but I experienced it first at a soul level when I learned it on that football field from Mr. Perry.
One of my most treasured possessions is a small New Testament I received when I was a Pee-Wee Pirate. It was more than a gift; it was an endowment, handed down for 2,000 years, a legacy of faith in Christ. Every generation must translate that gift into a language the following generation can understand. It’s best translated when the elders of one generation hand it off to the youth of the next. Mr. Perry was just such an elder. A genius actually, putting Jesus together with football in a way that boys would listen. One does not think of the Taneycomo lakefront as holy ground. But that’s what it is to me. It’s a place where football and faith came together, a place where certain trajectories of life were set. A place where boys put on brave faces and struggled toward manhood and a place where many young people first turned their thoughts to Jesus.
These things never happen by accident. Mr. Perry put in the time, the energy, the sweat and the toil to make it happen. He recruited others to join him. He worried about and gave time to a generation of boys who were not his own. I’m so glad he chose to do so and I’m ever grateful for the fall afternoons I experienced under the leadership of Mr. Perry.
When you came off the field as a Pee-Wee Pirate, you came off to an enthusiastic response by Coach Perry. Jim Perry has now come off the field to an enthusiastic response from the Father. I’m sure he’s enjoying it as much as we did.
Thank you, Mr. Perry.
Pee-Wee Pirate 1972-1973