Within the confines of the Newport News track and Menchville athletic halls of fame, the Perry brothers have built their own wing. From the mid-1970s to early 1980s, the brothers dominated local and state high school track and helped the Monarchs, under coach Steve Lewis, to three consecutive state titles from 1979-1981.
Each brother had his own niche.
Clifton owned the middle distances, winning a state title in record time in the 880 in 1975, followed by a high school national record in the 600-yard run the following year, a record which still stands. James was a half-miler who competed on Menchville's school record 4x880 yard relay. He also ran cross-country.
Eric was a three-time high and intermediate hurdles state champion who earned All-American status. Ray was also a state champion in the 330-yard intermediate hurdles. In all, the Perry brothers built their legacy on excellence.
It was a trait inherited from their mother Mary. Last November, the family gathered for Mary Perry's 80th birthday celebration. On that day, all of the Perry brothers celebrated their mother to the tune of the Intruders "I'll Always Love My Mama," while each brother (nine, in all) presented a single gold rose to their matriarch. It was a special day for Mary Perry and her 14 children.
Just weeks later and three days after Christmas, she complained of stomach pain and was taken to the emergency room. The doctors' initial prognosis was confirmed and in early January of this year, she was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Now in hospice care, the brothers said they all realized that their mother doesn't have much time left. Still, her spirit continues to inspire them.
"She is such a fighter," Eric Perry says. "Her spirit is so strong as is her passion for love and passion for life."
Now a detention officer in Texas, Eric shared one of the stories which best describes his mother's passion.
"My mother has a favorite window at the home. Every day, there's a squirrel that comes up to her window as if he knows she is going to be there. Mom even gave the squirrel a name… 'Runner.' We like to say that the squirrel is sending nature to her window every day."
Now in their 50's, five of the brothers (Mike was added as an alternate runner) decided to bond and compete one more time in honor of their mother. So they turned back to their track background.
Thinking of the prestigious Penn Relays meet in Philadelphia, they signed on to run as a 1,600-meter relay. Under the moniker "Sons of Mary," the brothers entered the 50-and-older Masters race. Uniforms were designed and pictures were taken to commemorate the event.
Last Saturday, the brothers took to the track at Franklin Field, to relive their past glory in front of the 42,000 fans who commonly attend the last three days of the meet. Ray led off, followed by Eric, James and finally Clifton with the anchor leg. Their time of 4:15.13 was good enough for ninth place of 22 teams.
"We wanted," Eric said, "to have an opportunity, before the Lord calls her over, for our mother to see her sons together, focusing on one cause … one more lap."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times