Mike Curtin can remember Dave Perry poking his head into Curtin’s office with that ever-friendly grin on his face.
Fenwick High School’s former athletic director couldn’t resist his aquatic director’s sweet smile and warm personality.
“We had our moments with each other, but we never stayed mad at one another very long,” remembered Curtin. “He was a special man.”
Perry, who began coaching swimming and water polo at Fenwick in 1987, died Sunday morning of cancer. He was 63 years old.
“Dave was a remarkable coach and a better person,” said Curtin, currently Fenwick’s associate athletic director. “It’s the end of a coaching era; it truly is. He was one of the key guys to work with the IHSA to get them to sanction water polo. Everyone knew him. He was one of a kind.”
Under Perry, the Fenwick boys water polo team won a total of 17 state titles, including eight-straight IHSA sanctioned state tournaments. The team won 51 straight games between the 2006 and 2007 seasons. The Friars also won 35 games in both 2004 and 2006. They went 36-0 and took home their eighth-straight state title last season with Dave’s son, Kyle Perry, as interim head coach. Perry helped coach the team from a wheelchair during last year’s 16-9 win over St. Ignatius in the title game at Stevenson High School.
“I can only say there is another angel in heaven,” said Fenwick football coach Joe DiCanio of his colleague. “He was a terrific guy, and he put up a valiant fight. We can all learn about courage and discipline from him. He was a terrific leader and it’s quite a loss for Fenwick.”
With his success at the high school level and his popular Windy City Water Polo Club, Perry seemed to draw skilled athletes to his program.
“He was so successful and so many quality players just came to play for him,” said Curtin. “It wasn’t really fair, we got used to them winning every year.
“One thing about coaches: it’s one thing to have talent, it’s a whole other thing to know what to do with that talent. Perry was a master of how to use the talent he had.”
Current Fenwick boys swim coach Luke McGuire said Perry was known for his patience.
“At Mass this morning one response to Dave’s passing was ‘slow to anger and rich in compassion,’ and that really sums him up, as well as his coaching methods,” said McGuire, who swam and coached under Perry. “He was a very mellow guy and a listener, which made him a great leader.”
Jack Wagner, the Fenwick girls water polo coach who worked with Perry for 17 years, said his best friend was more than just a coach. “I have never met a man who was so calm and cool in pressure situations. He was a diplomat, a statesman, so much more than just a coach.”
Visitation is scheduled for Friday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the gymnasium at Fenwick High School, 505 W. Washington Blvd. Mass is scheduled for Saturday beginning at 10 a.m. at St. Vincent Ferrer Church in River Forest, Lathrop and North Ave.