BY KENDALL SMITH
By Kendall Smith
“They Call Him Moose”
His birth name is William A. Perry, Jr.
Most people know him as “Moose.”
Others know him as “Coach Perry.”
Old friends may call him “Bill.” And a few of his church friends refer to him as “Brother Moose.”
Coach Bill Perry is inarguably one of the most successful high school baseball coaches for the past half-century. I met Coach Perry in my junior year at Jackson Central High School. He was fresh out of Mississippi College and had begun his first year of teaching history and government.
Coach Perry grew up in a large, two- story house in the northwest corner of Poindexter Park. Growing up in a park has many advantages, including easy access to pick-up baseball and basketball games.
When quizzed on where he got the name “Moose,” Coach Perry related the story of walking to the old Boys Club on Hiawatha Street to try out for elementary football. The team was coached by a legendary Doodleville hero, Skeeter Hart, who had excelled in several sports at Central.
When Skeeter looked at Coach Perry’s small size, he said…” we’ve got to give you a nickname that gives you a reputation.” And so, the legend of “Moose” began in the sandlot on the east side of the massive wooden building run by another legend, Calvin Walker.
Coach Perry began his career as a “walk-on” assistant baseball coach alongside the legendary Willis Steenhuis and Louis “Skin” Boteler, as Central made their run to the AAA State Baseball Championship in 1969.
Not long after, he was hired at Forest Hill High School to revive the Rebel baseball team. Forest Hill was mostly known as a “basketball school,” led by J. N. Brock.
It did not take long for Coach Perry to restore the prominence of Rebel baseball.
His first coaching prowess was revealed in his alleged recruitment of two of the biggest baseball talents in the Metro area……Stewart and Stan Cliburn. The Cliburn twins had attended Hardy Junior High and their residence was solidly in the Provine district.
To the surprise of anybody who had any knowledge of high school sports, the Cliburn twins wound up transferring to Forest Hill as ninth graders. Rumors swirled……to this day…. that the twins were living in a house trailer, by themselves, on Gertrude Drive.
With Stewart pitching and Stan catching, Forest Hill’s success with an All-Star battery was assured for the next four years. (Both Stan and Stu would up playing in the Major League and have coached for many years in Minor League ball.)
Forest Hill, powered by a lineup that is still the talk of South Jackson, won the AA State Championship in 1974.
Coach Perry coined the phrase “We Believe,” which became the battle cry of the Rebel baseball team, but also served as inspiration as he shared his faith in classes and life.
It did not take long for Coach Perry’s coaching skills to get noticed and Mississippi College came calling for him to lead the Choctaws. Never one to shirk a challenge, he agreed to a “home-and-home” series with the Mississippi State Bulldogs, led by Coach Ron Polk. Polk’s nickname for Coach Perry is “Moosey.”
Everywhere Perry went, he won. After his MC days, he moved back to high school and led the Byram Bulldogs. His most famous achievement there was the development of a gangly kid by the name of Chad Bradford.
To hear Coach tell it, Chad could throw hard but could not find the strike zone. So, he showed Chad how to develop a submarine style delivery just inches above the ground.
Chad went on to star at USM and then pitched for several years in the Majors, including stints with the White Sox, A’s, Red Sox, Mets, Orioles and Rays.
Oh, by the way…. Chad made millions in the Majors……he came a long way from the dirt fields of Byram.
Later, Coach made stops at Raymond High, Central Hinds, and finally Rebul Academy. He never stopped teaching fundamentals to kids…. regardless of the level of ball. What he taught to the kids in the Poindexter Park neighborhood continued to college and high school.
One of his marquee training routines was attaching wooden blocks to player’s hands and ditching their gloves. Hard line drives during infield practice required them to learn how to know the ball down and then make the throw to first base.
Along the way, Coach Perry accepted God’s call to the preaching ministry and has faithfully led several churches…. most recently in the Learned area. He founded a ministry, “Lamb of God.” To this day, I use the engraved bible he gave my dad years ago as I teach my Sunday School class each week.
He leads an outreach ministry the Saturday before Christmas each year by distributing sacks of fruit to the homeless in the downtown area, along with a half-way house and a prison.
Coach Perry, like several of my other close friends, is now battling his biggest foe…. Parkinson’s. It is very difficult for him to walk, he tires easily, and it is hard for him to speak later in the day.
But…. he STILL teaches one class each day at Rebul Academy.
He has taught for 55 years, going all the way back to his Central days, and has only missed TWO working days in all those years.
I have NEVER heard him complain about his illnesses.
Every fall, I enjoy driving down to Rebul to run the clock for a couple of football games. Coach Perry has a folding chair right in front of the concession stand. It is difficult and painful for him to get up and move around.
But every single kid in the school comes by during the game, hugs him, and tells him they love him. I get misty-eyed watching that. He continues to influence an inconspicuous sixth grader just the same as he did several major-leaguers years ago.
Several years ago, I began to feel uncomfortable calling Coach Perry, “Moose.”
Somehow, it seemed disrespectful.
I have done my best to change.
One thing will not change……I’ll still call him “friend” and I’ll still call him my “Brother in the Lord.”