Perry Reese celebration and open house Sept. 10

Perry Reese celebration and open house Sept. 10

Image Credit: Submitted

Most people who met Perry Reese considered him a friend. When Reese arrived in Holmes County to be the assistant coach for a tiny high school, it wouldn’t have taken much to get to know his character. He was a stranger in a small town that prided itself on hospitality yet remained guarded to what it didn’t know.

Winning basketball games meant a lot to the local culture, but there was much to learn. Much of Reese’s story doesn’t begin in the hallways of Hiland High School. There are places where his story doesn’t belong to Holmes County.

Zosimo (Jay) Maximo, once a star basketball player in Cambridge, is now a filmmaker and entrepreneur, first studying fashion in New York City, then switching to film and moving to Los Angeles. He worked for MTV on some popular reality shows and is currently working on completing Reese’s documentary film. It is nearly finished.

But his humble beginnings began as ball boy for Reese when he coached Maximo’s brother at Guernsey Catholic.

“We got to know Perry very similarly to what later happened in Berlin,” Maximo said. “He was eating at our houses several times a week, he called my mother ‘mom’ and he was just one of the boys. We loved him like a brother.

“He was a black Catholic, and it was good for us to see that in our parish,” Maximo said. “But he could not win a game as coach. He lost almost every game when he coached my brother. But it didn’t feel like you were losing when you had the guy around.”

In the early years, there were several writers who had begun writing the film.

“There was a writer named Gregory Howard who started writing the screenplay, but it fell through. He wrote ‘Remember the Titans,’” said Shelly Miller, close friend to Reese. “James Black, who is from Dover, is now working on the screenplay. I still hear from him.”

On Saturday, Sept. 10 from 2-6 p.m., there will be a Perry Reese celebration and open house at a private residence near Berlin.

“It’s kind of like a homecoming,” Miller said. “We want anyone to come that was touched by him in some way.”

At 4 p.m. a trailer for the film will be shown to those in attendance.

“When Perry passed, I was in film school,” Maximo said. “Then Gary Smith’s Sports Illustrated article came out, and I was like I need to do the documentary. I got in touch with Smith, and he put me in touch with (Jerry) Bruckheimer’s people, who had the rights to the movie.”

Jerry Bruckheimer, who has made movies such as “Top Gun,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Remember the Titans,” had obtained the rights to make Reese’s film. They told Maximo he could make the documentary if he met with the family and they gave him the go ahead.

In 2001 Maximo flew to Ohio and met with Peg Brand, a friend of Reese, and she put them in touch with Reese’s family. They sat with his brother Chris, who gave them his blessing to do the documentary.

“But then I got busy with my career at MTV and didn’t know how I was going to squeeze in a documentary film in Berlin, Ohio,” Maximo said. “I shelved it for a long time.”

Flash forward 20 years and Maximo, now married with a wife and children, had moved back to Ohio, settling in Cleveland.

“The idea of the documentary had never gone away,” Maximo said. “It was during the lockdown where a lot of us had time to think about our lives. What were we put on this earth to do? And I was like I need to make that Perry Reese film.”

It had been 20 years since Reese had passed. Maximo called Brand and Miller and told them it was time for the documentary to happen. They put him in touch with people who in turn helped make the documentary rise to meet the vision.

“Those people helped us produce this film by introducing us to the right people,” he said. “They helped us tell a very well-rounded story.

“We did speak to Reese’s sister Audrey as well, who told us some things about his childhood that probably no one has ever heard. We also talked to Bob and Larry Huggins. They gave us inside information on how Charlie Huggins took the head coach job at Hiland and how he transitioned Reese in.”

Maximo said if he had made the documentary 20 years ago, it would have been what was in the Sports Illustrated article and would have lacked the depth it needed to be told. Reese’s legacy and impact on the community are now the new focus.

The production crew has been following several local kids who have grown into adults, fleshing out how Reese’s impact is seen and felt in their lives.

Along with many others, they have been in close contact with Mark and Dave Schlabach, whose strong coaching careers at Hiland are in no small part successful because of Reese.

“Mark would be the first person to tell you that this is still Perry’s basketball program,” Maximo said. “But at this point, the story is not entirely about Perry. There is a parallel story about the community.

“I am most in awe of the core values that brought Perry and the community together: hard work, dedication, honor and integrity. Those are still so apparent in the community. To see this new generation of kids that is so distracted by everything, to still be committed to playing basketball year round is something to see.”

The plan is to have the documentary done for the 2023 film festival season.

“The Cleveland Film Festival is our goal, to have it debut there,” Maximo said. “This festival is an Oscar-qualifying festival, so that’s on our radar. We hope to be getting some statues.”

There is a lot to Reese’s story that can be hard to hear but important to know. If he did anything, it was to bring a community together — even if it was just over a basketball game.

“It’s important for the kids to know why they sit inside the Perry Reese Community Center,” Maximo said. “They know Mom and Dad played for him, that he was a well-liked man, that we have the Classic. It’s important to know the whys.”

“The goal of the event is to pull the corners of this documentary world together and celebrate it being nearly finished,” Miller said.

The production crew, along with Maximo, will be at the event, cameras in tow. Junior Schlabach’s famous barbecue chicken will be served, and attendees are asked to bring a side dish to share.

The event is open to anyone who has been touched by Reese and his legacy. RSVP at https://tinyurl.com/y97ua2nh, where you’ll find pertinent information.