St. John Neumann third baseman Maddie Dincher and coach Ray Perchinski never met prior to Dincher's first practice her freshman year. A few days later, Dincher felt like she had known Perchinski for years. In the blink of an eye, a friendship blossomed.
That was pure Ray Perchinski.
Whether he knew people most of his life, whether he just met them, Perchinski made everyone feel good. The wins and losses never defined Perchinski while he coached softball at Neumann. Had he never won a game there, he would have been one of the school's most beloved coaches ever.
Neumann coach Mark Temons wears a commemorative shirt for the late coach Ray Perchinski Monday at Elm Park.
Last January the Neumann community collectively wept when Perchinski died of a heart attack. Monday at Elm Park, his former players honored him as Neumann held a "Coach Ray Day," and defeated Montgomery, 12-4. All who know him are sad Perchinski is gone, but Monday was all about celebrating him and everything he meant.
"I can't say enough about a great man, a man that was kind, compassionate and willing to sacrifice his time for others," Dincher, now a senior, said during the pregame ceremony. "You will never be forgotten."
Dincher was speaking for herself but she could have been speaking for the entire community. Coaching is the not easiest job and coaches sometimes wear targets on their backs. But not Perchinski. Nobody ever had a bad word to say about him. Everybody liked him.
"Ray was the definition of a nice guy," Neumann coach Mark Temons said. "He always cared about his girls and he always cared about the Neumann community. He was always a happy guy. We have made sure in this season to remind the girls what kind of man led this program and how great he was."
Perchinski's players always knew how he felt about them. They understood that, win or lose, he was proud of them. Whether one was a starter or reserve, Perchinski always took the time to get to know every play and bring out the best in her. That went beyond softball too.
Perchinski's door always was open. His title was softball coach, but he was much more. He was a life coach too. That is why is death hurt so much. Neumann lost more than a coach. It lost a mentor, a friend and a hero.
The Knights cannot bring Perchinski back but they know they can honor him. They are doing so every time they take the field, making a tremendous turnaround and going from 2-18 last year when they were so young to 8-10 this season.
"I hope he knows that every play, every hit, is for him," senior catcher Rachel Danneker said. "I know he is with us and he is proud of what we're doing."
Temons, Dincher and Danneker spoke during the ceremony yesterday before Perchinski's wife Colleen and daughter Mallory were presented game balls signed by every Neumann player. They then threw out the game's first pitches and continued serving as pillars of strength.
Colleen was the one who broke the news to several of his players following a basketball game last January. She and Mallory, who played at Neumann from 2008-11, have shown remarkable strength since and have helped the team as much it has helped them.
"Having them here added to the emotional and sentimental aspect of it," Danneker said. "I've looked up to Mallory since seventh grade. She has helped me so much and I look to her as an inspiration and I look to Colleen as a second mother."
That makes sense. Perchinski, after all, looked at his players as his daughters. He knew the game well, but his impact went beyond strategy. He know how to get the best out of each player and helped the program flourish.
In Mallory's senior year of 2011, the Knights won a program-record nine games and just missed reaching the postseason. A year later, Neumann did reach the playoffs and won a record 10 games before giving Muncy a tough game in the quarterfinals. The Knights were so young last year, but Perchinski remained optimistic and helped them make significant strides.
That growth continues this season. Perchinski's fingerprints are all over this resurgence. He might not be in the dugout anymore, but Perchinski is there guiding and supporting his players, helping bring out their best.
Coaches come and go. Great people, though, are never forgotten. The results he produced while at Neumann are nice, but that is not Perchinski's legacy. His legacy will march on and on through his players. Wherever they go, whatever they do, Perchinski will be a part of them, always serving as an inspiration.
"Coach Ray left such a wonderful legacy," Neumann principal Denise Tobin said. "We were blessed to know him and we thank God that he sent him our way."