Reese finds unusual home

Published 12:00 am Monday, June 12, 2000

CHESAPEAKE – At first, Perry Reese wasn’t sure of what he was getting himself into.

Monday, June 12, 2000

CHESAPEAKE – At first, Perry Reese wasn’t sure of what he was getting himself into. Now, he doesn’t want out.

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Nearly two decades ago, Reese was the head basketball coach at Guernsey Catholic High School when the school closed its doors.

Reese went looking for a job and found one. The problem was, it was Berlin Hiland, a school nestled in the Amish country of Holmes County.

To make matters worse, Reese was an African American.

"The first year, I said, ‘No way I’ll be back here.’ The second year, I said, ‘No way I’ll be back here,’ " Reese recalled with a grin. "But, 18 years later I’m still here."

Reese has done more than just last at Berlin Hiland. In his 18 seasons at the school, he has a 304-85 record with six state tournament appearances including three straight. The Hawks won the Division IV state championship in 1992.

A loss to eventual state runner-up Fort Recovery this past season in the state semifinals gave Berlin Hiland a final 25-2 record.

Reese has not only turned the school into an Ohio small-school powerhouse, he has won the affection of his players and most of a doubting, wary community.

Since the Amish are peaceful people, Reese’s fiery coaching personality in practice and games was quite a contrast, let alone the color of his skin.

"For the first five years, I had a lot of questions as far as how the community accepted me, but now I don’t worry about it," said Reese.

"The kids understand me. This is a regular public school, but the majority of the people have an Amish background or understanding of the Amish. I admit going in I had a lot of questions."

But quickly the basketball program began to win, quite a contrast from a school that struggled to win even one game.

Reese guided the Hawks to the regional finals in his first season only to lose to Skyview in overtime.

"The players realized what it was like to win, and they worked harder and came back and made the state semifinals," said Reese.

Winning games helped Reese win the admiration and understanding of the players. As the winning continued, most of the community support followed suit. Reese said everyone realized that playing hard and intense in practice and a game did not reflect the peaceful personal lifestyle of the Amish.

"The kids play hard, and after the game they’re quiet and reserve. They know how I can be in practice and game situations," said Reese. "I’m the same way. When I’m not at practice or in a game, I’m very laid back."

Reese knows people are reluctant to accept anyone or anything that is different than how they live. When people talk to him about race or prejudice, he just shrugs it off.

"My thing is basketball. My kids are very receptive of me. I don’t play those games. It’s not a matter of white and black," said Reese. "Thank goodness we were winning, though. People tend to shut up whenever you win."

The winning has left a lot of quiet people in this community for 16 years, and it’s not just because they’re Amish.