Sports

Perry League aging well at 38!

We had a ton of children last Friday. I was surprised. I had expected turnout to be thin because of the 4th of July layover — we didn’t have t-ball Friday night, July 4, so there was a two-week break between t-ball nights, nor our usual one. And two weeks is a long time to a 2-year-old, a 3-year-old, a 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8-year-old. But the children came with their loving parents and we had another grand t-ball time.

“There’s a game here,” Jens (pronounced Yenz) said, meaning a little league game (a major league game) that was scheduled to follow us at 8 o’clock. They’ve been getting rained-out a lot and have scheduled games under the lights, games starting at 8:10 or so. Under the lights! A pretty cool thing to do as a little leaguer!

Jens saw the red-shirted children gathering, warming up all around us. They looked so very serious, especially compared to us t-ballers. We don’t require uniforms — yes, we do sell Perry League t-shirts, but I’ve ordered a new color every year for the last 23 summers (I plan to do two more summers, making it 25 summers, and then hand the reins over to some other kid-loving t-ball parent). With a different color every year, you’ll see children out there on the diamond in a rainbow of colors: parrot blue t-shirts, bright pink t-shirts, paradise yellow t-shirts, wheat-colored t-shirts, as well as this summer’s athletic grey t-shirt with Perry League in 3-D block lettering.

“We have the diamond till 8,” I told Jens. I thought he was feeling pressured by a “real” team warming up. There were 15–20 major leaguers throwing the ball around in the grass behind the bench along the first baseline; more behind the backstop. In years past, other t-ball volunteers have felt this, too. One night two years back they even called off play at 7:30 on the big diamond, the pressure was so great.

“We’ve had these two diamonds every Friday night for 50 years,” I told Jens and he looked surprised. And impressed, too.

But, has it been 50 years? I did a little homework.

The league got its name in the summer of 1970 when Donald Perry, a Yellow Springs youth sports pioneer — he founded the little league in the early 50’s — died of nephritis (kidney disease) at the age of 34. His sister Patsy Perry, a long time Yellow Springs resident, donated one of her kidneys. It was September 1967, and would be the first kidney transplant ever attempted at the University Hospital in Columbus.

Donald had tried to join the Air Force when he graduated from high school in 1952, but he was classified 4F when they discovered he had nephritis, a chronic kidney disease. So Donald went to work for the next five years at the local PK Lumber Company, saving money to go to college. He founded the Little League during this time and worked with kids as much as he could — he was so extraordinary, so dedicated, that he was picked as the Jaycees Man of the Year in 1963. The then high school principal John Malone called Donald “the moving force on our recreation programs” and said Donald was “behind most everything else that taught good sportsmanship.”

Donald put himself through Central State University and the day after he graduated in 1963, he took a job teaching in the Columbus public schools. His health worsened after he’d moved to Columbus. He began dialysis treatment, spending weekdays in the classroom and weekends in the hospital hooked up to a dialysis machine.

“We didn’t know about all this,” Patsy told me in a 1990 interview about Donald and the naming of the Perry League in his honor, “we didn’t know how very sick and disabled he was becoming, until his landlady called us from Columbus.”

“He wasn’t telling us or anyone,” Patsy said. “He lived alone. One night the landlady called us and told us he was having a difficult time and that he was falling down and couldn’t get up. We brought him home then.”

On Sept. 6, 1967, the day before his 34th birthday, Donald received his sister’s kidney. The transplant and Donald Perry’s story were front-page news here in Yellow Springs and elsewhere. The operation appeared to be a success. Donald was confident and said at the time, “All tests so far indicate my body will accept my sister’s kidney.”

Geny remembers the family visiting, rejoicing, then going home feeling relieved, grateful their prayers had been answered. Two hours later Geny got a call to come back to the hospital as quickly as possible. But Don had died before the family returned.

A Dayton Daily News editorial said four days after his death that “Don Perry was a school teacher…confidante and counselor to scores, maybe hundreds of kids… . His story was heroic. He will be remembered.”

Three years after his death, in 1970, the Minor League, a baseball program for 6-to-9-year-old boys, was renamed the Perry League in his honor. From the beginning the Perry League was racially diverse and for boys and girls. Hank Chapin, living in Honolulu in 1990 at the time of my earlier interview, was one of the three original Perry League coaches. He wrote in a 1989 letter to the Yellow Springs News: “Although Minor League had been for boys only, Perry League created so much interest that girls [Pam and Helen Innis] immediately asked coaches if they could play. The girls were so pleasant, enthusiastic, and confident they would be treated fairly that ‘yes’ was the only possible answer. So girls have played in Perry League since the beginning.”

So our Perry League is 38 years old this summer — not 50 like I said, Jens. Sorry. Like many a 4-year-old, I have a tendency to hyperbole. It’s a fine program continuing to welcome all our community’s children, girls and boys, ages 2–9, regardless of race, color, creed. So, come on out, become a part of our 38-year tradition of goodness and love and sport all rolled into one. We’d love to have you. At Gaunt Park Friday night, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

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