COLUMBUS — True to form, Norm Persin’s speech Saturday night almost perfectly paralleled his four-decade high school boys basketball coaching career.
That’s because Persin has accomplished just about everything imaginable in coaching — and his Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame induction speech included just about everything thinkable.
From Oak Hill area-inside jokes and humor, to non-wincing of words and straight-on seriousness, to good old-fashioned story-telling and recognition of his illustrious career, Persin — as he often does — put on another masterful performance at Saturday’s 30th annual OHSBCA Hall of Fame banquet.
The annual OHSBCA event is held every year in April — at the Airport Marriott Inn in Columbus.
This year, the legendary Persin — the former Chesapeake High School and current Oak Hill High School boys basketball coach — was formally inducted, along with three other gentlemen.
The OHSBCA HOF Class of 2016 consists of Persin, Ron Moschella of Youngstown Boardman, Bobby Von Kaenel of Tuscarawas Valley and Dover, and Steve Williman of Findlay Liberty Benton.
For Persin, who has enjoyed time and again a special night in coaching, it was another on Saturday night.
In an exclusive interview following the banquet, he said it ranks alongside winning the Division IV state championship at Oak Hill in 2009.
“This is right there with everything and maybe a notch above. This isn’t just about winning with one group of kids. It’s representing really two schools,” said Persin. “I was at Chesapeake for 21 years, and nobody can probably match what we did there in 21 years winning 400 games. Then you are able to come back home to Oak Hill and rebuild a program that was down in the water and ultimately win a state championship. I also think it’s very important to know we haven’t had a losing season (at Oak Hill) in 10 years.”
But Persin said the most important aspect to him was “getting back to the players”.
“We (basketball teams) were always a family,” he said. “We were a family at Chesapeake, we’re a family at Oak Hill. Even those that couldn’t be here tonight, my phone was burning up all day getting congratulatory texts from ex-players. You never forget stuff like that. It is really heart-warming and it means a lot to me.”
Speaking of a lot…check this out.
In 39 seasons as a head coach — spanning six years at Oak Hill to two years at Wilmington to two decades at Chesapeake and another decade back at Oak Hill — Persin has amassed 685 career victories and only 198 losses.
This past season, he moved into fourth place on Ohio’s all-time basketball coaching career wins list.
His coaching awards include Ohio’s Coach of the Year seven times, and the 2009 National High School Boys Basketball Coach of the Year from the National Federation of State High School Associations.
He has also coached in the 2010 McDonald’s All-American Game at Value City Arena in Columbus, and in the 2007 Jordan Brand Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Three years ago, Persin coached the first-ever Ohio team in the National Federal Tournament in Indianapolis — and the Ohio team went undefeated.
He served for two decades as the OHSBCA’s District 13 Director, while also continuing to help coordinate the annual Ohio-Kentucky all-star game.
He has also coached in the OHSBCA’s annual North-South game, the Ohio-West Virginia bout, and the Wendy’s Classic.
In 2002, Persin received the OHSBCA’s prestigious Paul Walker Award for his many contributions to the game of basketball.
Still speaking at several state clinics throughout the year, and regularly working many Nike Elite camps during the summer, Persin’s passion for the sport still burns as fiery as his often intense on-court personality.
Nicknamed everything from “Stormin’ Norman” to “cordial and exciting”, Persin’s induction speech started with his trademark bluntness — and definitely kept everybody’s attention.
“I’m not going to change. These guys know, like the players were right here talking about how many times they got thrown out of practice and stuff,” said Persin, with a laugh. “They remember all of that stuff.”
The crowd in attendance Saturday night will assuredly remember Persin’s speech.
The following remark drew perhaps the loudest laughter — and applause.
“My coach (at Warren G. Harding High School) called me into his office one day and told me ‘Norm, you’re not very good.’ If I said that to a kid today, his parents would be at the Board of Education office the next day and you (the coach) would get fired. You’re not allowed to tell a kid he is not very good anymore,” said Persin. “You can’t tell them the truth. What you have to tell a kid today is that ‘you need to get better.’ Not that you’re not very good. Why do we have to sugarcoat everything? Why don’t we just say what we want to say? ‘You suck!”
Ah, Persin putting it bluntly.
Amid many good-natured “roasts”, Persin praised and recognized those “great players” and “great people” who helped contribute to his success.
“You don’t get inducted into the Hall of Fame without great people around you. Everybody knows that. I’ve had great players and great people behind me. No question,” he said. “But somewhere along the line, you have to get started with people that have supported you and taught you. Wins and losses are how you get judged. But your relationship in coaching is the most important thing that you will ever have. And that’s true.”
Persin graduated in 1968 from Warren G. Harding High School, and in 1972 from Rio Grande College.
Persin played basketball for Art Lanham at Rio Grande, and coached the 1972 Redmen baseball team to the MOC championship.
As a player, he received the Rio Grande freshman Most Valuable Player award from Boston Celtic great Bill Russell — and the baseball award for the highest batting average from Cleveland Indians’ great Bob Feller.
Persin’s first high school basketball coaching job was the junior varsity mentor for former Gallia Academy coach Jim Osborne — who was inducted into the OHSBCA HOF two years ago.
After his first stint at Oak Hill and two years at Wilmington, in which he won three conference championships, Persin spent the next 21 glorious years at Chesapeake.
His Panther teams captured 16 Ohio Valley Conference championships, including a dozen consecutive — one shy of the state record for most consecutive conference crowns by one school.
The Panthers won 10 district tournaments, and appeared in the regional championship game six times — as Persin won 400 games and lost only 85 (88-percent winning percentage).
The court at Chesapeake — which was home to a 72-game home win streak at one point — was renamed “Norm Persin Court” in 2005.
A year later, starting in the 2006-07 campaign, Persin returned to Oak Hill — and took over an Oaks’ program that had combined for just seven wins in the previous three years.
In his first season, the Oaks’ incredible tournament run resulted in the Division III district championship — the first in school and even Jackson County history in boys basketball.
The Oaks, in Division IV the next season, reached the regional championship game — after upsetting top-ranked and state title favorite Harvest Prep in the semifinals.
“Everybody thinks the greatest win we ever had at Oak Hill was winning the state championship game. Nope. The greatest win we ever had in my opinion was when we beat Harvest Prep,” admitted Persin.
Then — of course — is 2009, when the Oaks compiled a 25-2 record — while winning the Division IV state championship with a 48-43 double-overtime epic over Kalida in the title tilt.
At that time, Persin was 58 years of age and in his 32nd year of coaching — but finally appearing in his first state tournament after so many gut-wrenching losses in the regional round.
Those players, assistant coaches and supporters from both Chesapeake and Oak Hill were on hand on Saturday night.
From Chesapeake, Persin’s contingent included Chris Fizer, Beckett Gue, Brennon Hall, P.J. Rase, Allen Ozborne, Sammy Gue, Chris Lovely, Aaron Gossett, Wheelersburg coach Steven Ater, Brian Wells and Jacob Wells.
His Oak Hill representation included 2009 players Kyle Ondera, Westen Hale, Cody Cannon and Michael Evans — and current assistant coaches Jim Slone, Heath McKinniss, Michael Hale and J.J. Hale.
Also in attendance from Oak Hill were Doug Hale, Scott and Sandy Borden, former Oak Hill Union Local Schools Superintendent Carl McCrory, current Oak Hill Union Local Schools Superintendent Mike McCoy, Tom and Paula Stewart, Aaron Michael, Brian Howell, “Voice of the Oaks” Buzz Fisher, Jackson Mayor Randy Heath, Carl Knox, Vinton County boys basketball coach and current OHSBCA District 13 Director Matt Combs, former University of Rio Grande men’s basketball coach Earl Thomas, and Mark and Haley Kreischer.
Haley and Mark Kreischer are Persin’s daughter and son-in-law respectively.
Mark Kreischer coached against his father-in-law for a couple of seasons, and won a Division IV state championship himself at South Webster 10 years ago.
Speaking of 10 years, exactly a decade after Persin returned to Oak Hill, he will be inducted into the Ohio Hall of Fame in 2017.
But on Saturday night, it was all about Persin and the OHSBCA ‘16 Class — as he left his former players with this message.
“I love you and I love you more than you ever thought,” he told the crowd. “Keep that in mind, and when you have your own children and they start playing sports, don’t stand up for them every single day. Don’t back down, but don’t stand up for them when every single thing doesn’t go their way. Make them battle through the situation on their own. And they will be a better person and a better player because of that.”
Indeed, Persin was true to form.
“Basketball is always going to end sooner or later, but what you deal with in life is so important after that,” he said. “What they learned in our program and through our system and I guess from me, that means a heck of a lot to me.”