By LARRY HYPES
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
TAZEWELL, Va. —
One of the Legends of the Spring has stepped aside.
Lucian “Lou” Peery, one of the area’s most respected athletic figures and head baseball coach at Tazewell High School from 1979-2004 and 2006-2013, has decided to retire from coaching.
Peery, who has produced scores of college players and coached three professional performers, notified school officials earlier this week of his decision to take leave of the dugout.
“You always want to pick the right time to go and I decided back in May that this was the time for me,” said Peery. “I love baseball but more than that I love the kids. Whatever is best for them is what I have always tried to do.”
Peery, whose name will live on at Lou Peery Field where the Bulldogs play, has led Tazewell to 10 Southwest District regular season and tournament championships, seven Coppinger Invitational Tournament crowns, a pair of Region IV titles and five appearances in the Virginia High School League state playoffs.
Overall, he coached Tazewell to more than 440 victories and earned a reputation as a “player’s coach” for his dedication.
Peery was also an assistant coach with Bill Strong in 1978 when the Tazewell baseball program organized. He played for many years in local baseball and softball leagues and tournaments and was recognized as one of the best hitters in the area with a record number of home runs.
He worked with many of the Bulldog sports programs and was a teacher at Tazewell High for more than 30 years. He is a member of the Tazewell High School Hall of Fame.
Peery grew up in Thompson Valley and first attended Tazewell County High School in Bluefield, Virginia, before integration.
He graduated from Tazewell High in 1966, served in the U.S. Armed Forces, graduated from Emory & Henry College, and began his coaching and teaching career in the mid-1970s.
His teams first began practice down at the Tazewell Fairgrounds, played at the town’s Lincolnshire Park facility for several seasons and moved to the field that now bears his name in the late 1990s. It was Peery’s vision for a baseball facility and work of a strong booster organization that made the sterling playing area possible.
Since 1979, the only season Peery was not head coach was 2005, when he stepped aside for health reasons. His veteran assistant Jeff Brintle took the reins that year and had a successful campaign as his son, Josh, was SWD player of the year.
Brintle then relinquished the job, due in part to a heavy work load in the local judicial system, and Peery resumed his record-setting career. Assistants Aaron Buchanan and Mike Catron were in the program at that time and remain Peery’s key staff members.
“I have tried to run the program in such a way that whomever takes the job will do things the right way because it is already set up to be focused on doing what is best for the kids,” Peery said. “That is what I believe in first and I think a coach like Aaron, for example, would step in to the job and carry on what we have tried to build one day at a time. He and Mike work well together and they know our system.”
Brintle was another Tazewell coach with a solid baseball background who helped the program at a key moment.
Brintle, a star pitcher himself at East Tennessee State University, recalls, “Lou has been such an important part of the community. I seldom use the term ‘icon’ but it certainly applies in his case. I was fortunate to also help with the program as an assistant and as a pitching coach for a time and I am very proud of that association.
“Coach Peery has a tremendous reputation in the town and the area for what he has worked toward. More than one generation of children and parents have sought his advice and trusted in his program. He is a one-of-a-kind individual.”
Peery’s teams have been perennially successful and three players have advanced beyond the college level. Billy Wagner, Jack Compton, and Zak Wasilewski have earned the “pro” label. Compton played for the Astros organization in 2000, Wagner was Houston’s number one draft pick in 1993 and notched 422 major league saves, and Wasilewski is currently a member of the Bluefield Blue Jays beginning his first Appy League season.
Trey Lambert, a veteran pitcher at Liberty University in Lynchburg, is projected by many to become the fourth of Peery’s charges to be drafted following the upcoming collegiate season.
Peery says, “I’m proud of all the players. Billy has been unique but they all have. I think I will be up at Bowen Field this week to see Wassy throw. I may not be coaching any more but I am not giving up baseball.”
Wagner, whose All-Star major league career is the stuff of legend in T-Town, and who is now a coach himself at Miller School in Charlottesville, said Tuesday, “Well, I would put Jesus above Coach Peery but that’s about it. I have never met a man or a coach at any stop of my career I would compare to Coach Peery. He loves every kid 100 percent.
“He and I have had a lot of conversations and he and I see things the same way, you can’t put success on a stat sheet. It’s what a child does in the world that really matters. He (Peery) has always been about making kids better. I don’t know to start to say all the good things that need to be mentioned about a man with the character of Coach Peery.”
Peery has impacted a variety of players with sterling high school (and beyond) careers including Drew Barrett, Stuart Angles, Dustin Barrett, Casey Herald, Wes Gentry, Jake Graham, and many others, who all respect him.
One of the premier athletes in Tazewell sports was Jeff Lamie (Class of ’88) who earned All-State honors in football and baseball who was also an academic star. Lamie, like Wagner, and several others, often comes back to work with camps and special projects related to the baseball program and Peery.
Lamie says, “There’s nobody better. I wish he could go on forever. I think he’s made the program what it is — one of the best— and without a doubt, Coach Peery has been like a second father to me. He showed us what to do without getting on us all the time. By his mannerisms, I guess he got me to adopt the philosophy that the way you lead is shown by what you do and not by what you say.”
Tazewell principal Rodney Reid, who along with athletic director Tom Keene has worked closely with Peery, says, “This is a sad day for us. Coach Peery made the decision it was time for him to step aside. He is a gracious and wonderful man.
“The baseball world in general, and not just the Tazewell baseball team, will miss him very much. We will start looking soon for someone to follow him. That is the only way I can say it because nobody will ever replace him.”
Peery, the veteran warrior, has battled a variety of health concerns over the past decade while continuing to spend countless hours — including weekends and summers — at the baseball complex tending to scheduling, mowing, maintenance, office duties, and presiding over practices while sharing his knowledge with young men the year ‘round.
Long-time field announcer and booster Larry D. Blankenship, who refers to the baseball facility as “the house that Lou built,” has worked with Peery for many years and recalls a conversation that reveals the veteran coach’s philosophy.
Blankenship says, “Lou told me ‘I never focus on wins and losses. If I have 14 individuals on a team, I try to help make them good students, good sons, and work so they can go on to be good husbands, good dads, and productive citizens. If I can teach them a little baseball along the way, then the wins and losses will take care of themselves.’
“That sums up Coach Peery’s philosophy. I would add to that, I played every sport in high school myself that was offered, I played college and organized baseball, and Lou Peery is the best coach in any sport at any level that I have ever seen.”
A legion of Tazewell players and fans would agree.