Neumann loses more than a coach

As a journalist, one meets many people. From players, to coaches, to fans, every day brings new faces, new stories.

Sometimes the people we meet and the stories we see unfold in front of our eyes fade as the years go by. Sometimes, unwillingly, we forget some of those people we meet.

I will never forget Ray Perchinski.

Ray was real, Ray was honest, Ray was kind. Ray was more than a coach. Ray was a devoted husband, father and leader. Ray was one of the good guys.

How hard it is to fathom then, that he is not here any more.

Ray died Wednesday afternoon after suffering a heart attack. All one had to do to understand the impact he made was watch the Neumann girls basketball players exit the locker room following Wednesday’s 68-54 win over Bucktail. The girls, many who play softball, did not learn of Ray’s passing until afterward and each one left sobbing and hurting.

One does not react that way to simply losing a coach. That was Ray’s title, but he was so much more. He was a father figure to those girls and all those who played for him over the years. He was a mentor, a role model, a friend and a hero. Losing him cuts like a knife.

Really, that extends to everyone affiliated with Neumann, everyone affiliated with area softball. Nobody had a bad word to say about Ray. How could they? Everybody liked Ray. He was the kind of person people gravitated toward.

Make no mistake, though, Ray was also an excellent coach. He led Neumann to its best season ever in 2012. At that season’s outset, the Knights did not even have enough players to fill out a lineup. By season’s end, they had 10 wins, beat Muncy for the first time in program history and reached the playoffs for the first time. His teams won 19 combined games in 2011 and 2012, each one setting a new program standard.

Neumann was decimated by graduation following that 2012 season and started mostly freshmen and sophomores last spring. Again, though, Ray was building something. The Knights improved as the year went on and look like a team that again can make a playoff run in the coming years. At one of the smallest schools in the state, Ray was building a solid program.

More importantly, he was building strong people. The Knights played the game the right way. They played hard, they had fun and they were good sports. They were a reflection of the man who led them. They enjoyed playing for him and paid him back the best way they knew how.

When the bats, helmets and balls were packed away for the spring, Ray did not disappear either. He always was active in the Neumann community and was one of the school’s biggest fans. Any time something good happened to Neumann, chances are Ray was there.

I was told he was at the Catholic Community Center three nights ago when the Neumann boys basketball team hosted rival South in a classic neighborhood rivalry game. The Knights won a thriller 42-39, and it seems comforting in some ways, that the last Neumann sporting event Ray saw was a win.

Regardless, even had Neumann lost, Ray would have remained the same. Whether his teams won or lost, he always was gracious afterward. He never had a bad word to say about anything or anyone. I always enjoyed talking softball with Ray and will miss doing so this year. Neumann softball games will not be the same.

I wish I could have been at the Catholic Community Center on Tuesday. It would have been great to see Ray one last time. I would have loved telling him that he could coach my daughter any day. How grateful I would have been.

All that is left now are the memories. And they are all good ones.

Ray might be gone, but his spirit will live on. His legacy is the all the girls lives he has positively influenced. His legacy is his family and his school. His legacy is a great one.

He coached at a small school but understand this about Ray Perchinski above all else:

He was a giant among men.

Masse may be reached at