Longtime Huntsville coach Berry to be inducted into national hall of fame

Charles Berry did not become a high school coach with the idea of reaching a hall of fame, but when his 57-year career ended, there was no doubt he’d achieve that kind of status.

Berry, the longtime basketball coach at Huntsville High School, was inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame on July 1 in Orlando, Fla. He became just the 10th Arkansan to earn a place in the Hall of Fame and the first since Morgan Gilbert in 2014.

Berry was supposed to have been inducted in 2020, but the ceremony in Denver was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic and rescheduled for this year.

The National High School Hall of Fame was created in 1982 and originally called the National High School Sports Hall of Fame. It was created to honor high school athletes, coaches and others for outstanding achievements in high school sports. The name was changed in 2003.

There are more than 450 individuals in the Hall of Fame, including Arkansas legends Sidney Moncrief and Don Kessinger.

Tommy Tice, who played for Berry and later coached with him at Huntsville, said no coach was more deserving than his mentor.

“They asked me to write a letter on his behalf,” Tice said. “I told them there was really nothing that I could say, just tell me when the ceremony is going to be.”

Berry won 1,377 games as a boys and girls basketball coach at Hector, Plummerville and Huntsville, where he spent 50 years patrolling the sideline. His win-loss mark of 1,377-691 includes two state championships and two state runner-up finishes.

Berry likes to joke, “I had a lot of losses, too. More losses than most people win.”

Ken Harriman, who was the football coach at Huntsville for many years when Berry also was the athletic director, later returned to the school as the athletic director and Berry worked for him.

Harriman said Berry was more than a basketball coach, relishing his role as a geometry teacher.

“I don’t know of anybody at any age who enjoyed coaching and teaching more than Charles H. Berry,” said Harriman, who recently retired as the athletic director at Siloam Springs. “He just loved it. It was literally a huge part of his life. And everything that he had went toward coaching and teaching.

“There were times when Charlie talked about maybe giving up the coaching and just teaching. He loved teaching kids, whether it was geometry or whatever it was. He was an excellent teacher.”

Tice said Berry’s passion for students was unsurpassed, and his example to other teachers and coaches set him apart.

“A number of things stand out with Coach Berry,” Tice said. “Besides being great with X’s and O’s is that he just cares. He just has a great heart for people and certainly for Madison County and Huntsville, Arkansas.

“But the thing that stands out is the guy had and still does have a tremendous energy level. He coached for 57 years, and he never sat down in a practice. The old coach, he always set a great example, and that’s what we miss. I hate that the day may come that we don’t have that kind of example set for us, the kind that he set.”

“I would go by his classroom and look in there and he was teaching. He wasn’t sitting behind the desk, he was up at that chalkboard or at an individual’s desk. It was very important to him that they learn. As they always said when you went by Coach Berry’s room, we knew that school was going on.”

Harriman was the athletic director at Huntsville when the decision was made to name the gymnasium after Berry.

“If anyone ever deserved to have a gym named for them, it was Charlie Berry,” he said. “We had a big ceremony and it was very deserving.”

Tice said neighboring schools were always trying to pry Berry away from Huntsville for other coaching vacancies. Tice, who served 29 years as the athletic director at Harrison, tried himself to poach his former coach when a basketball job came open.

“Every year when Jarrell Williams was the AD and a legendary football coach at Springdale, every time the basketball job came open in Springdale, he would try to hire Coach Berry,” Tice said. “And certainly all the 29 years when the basketball job came open in Harrison, we would try to hire him here, but the thought never entered his mind. He was home, he was where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do.”

Berry deflected praise to his former players, both boys and girls, who had a big role in his career. He started in 1968 and ended it in 2016. He was both a boys and girls coach until 1988, when he shifted his focus to coaching just the girls teams at Huntsville.

One of his most memorable seasons came in 1983 when his daughter Liz helped the Lady Eagles advance to the state championship game.

“We had a flock of good players,” Berry said. “This is a great honor, something I never expected. I didn’t even know I’d been nominated. A lot of the credit goes to the Arkansas Activities Association. I assume they are the ones that put the nomination in. Sometimes it’s not your actions, it’s the people that you know. I know there are a lot of people more deserving than I am.”

According to the website, Hall of Fame members are approved each year through a two-level selection process, involving a screening committee composed of active high school administrators, coaches, officials and state association administrators before it goes to a final national selection committee.

Membership in the Hall of Fame is the highest honor an individual associated with high school sports can receive.

“It’s got to be the highest honor you can possibly get,” Tice said. “I am so proud for him and his family. I have a big heart for Coach, and I’ll have a lot of tears that night, too.”

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