Brock Netter, Staff Writer
OAK HILL — Norm Persin was born to coach, and he’ll jokingly tell you that it’s the only thing he knows how to do.
But after nearly 50 years of serving as the top voice of his programs, he’s decided to give his vocal cords a well-deserved rest.
Following a legendary basketball career spanning 46 years, 43 as a head coach between Chesapeake, Wilmington and Oak Hill, Persin has officially called it a career and is retiring as a head coach.
He’s also decided to retire from his Athletic Director post at Oak Hill, truly marking the end of a historic era in Southeast Ohio.
“I’ve never been one to reflect on what I accomplished or help accomplish, but now that I’ve talked about it in other interviews, it’s pretty cool to think about,” Persin said. “From the wins to the championships to the hall of fames, to say I’ve been very blessed is an understatement. I’ve had great coaches, kids and community support alongside me every step of the way and I couldn’t be more thankful for everything.”
Persin’s coaching journey didn’t actually start on the hardwood floor. It started on the baseball diamond.
Back when he was at the University of Rio Grande, he served as a player-coach during his last season following the head coach’s departure for reasons unknown in January.
Rio’s AD went to Persin and said he was going to be the coach since he had already served as a student assistant coach on the basketball team.
True to what has become a staple in Persin’s career, Rio Grande won the conference that year and he came back the next year to finish his student-teaching before finishing second in the conference.
“We had some really good talent and great kids at the time,” Persin said. “And those two years really showed me something. I was the same age or a couple years older than those guys, but I earned their respect. And if I could get guys the same age as me to respect my authority as the coach, I could do the same with kids that are younger than I am.”
Although he had a love and passion for baseball, which included playing professionally at the AA level, it was basketball that became his true calling.
He spent his first six years at Oak Hill before leaving to take a job at Wilmington as a head coach.
However, things didn’t quite work out and he ultimately landed at Chesapeake where his legend began to take shape.
He made that hour drive everyday, from Oak Hill to Chesapeake, for the next 21 years, dodging coal trucks and navigating through snow storms.
“I’m proud to say this much, in the 21 years I made the drive to Chesapeake, I missed two practices due to snow and I only hit one deer,” Persin said with a laugh. “That was the only minor accident I had, although I did have to replace a lot of windshields due to the coal trucks and the debris that came off them from time to time.”
That was off the court.
On the basketball court, Chesapeake was a machine and one of the best programs in Ohio.
Through those 21 years, Persin’s teams won 16 Ohio Valley Conference championships, which include winning 11 straight titles from 1996-2006 … his final 11 years at the helm.
He led his teams to multiple district titles, and a handful of regional final appearances. But the Panthers were never able to get over that hump and make it to state semifinal action.
That was the only “blip” about Chesapeake during Persin’s tenure, but he sees it a much different way.
“Some coaches coach for years and years, yet never make a regional appearance in their careers,” Persin said. “We were in districts nearly every year and made regionals a number of times as well. What we achieved at Chesapeake was really special. To win 11 straight conference titles is nearly unheard of, and the OVC was a really good conference, still is to this day. It was a great 21 years.”
Those 11 straight conference titles are tied for second-most in OHSAA history, just behind Wooster Triway, who won 12 straight from 1989-2000.
He had a chance to tie the record heading into the 2006-07 season, but he made a tough, yet easy decision to come back home to Oak Hill.
“Two things were the deciding factor in me coming back to Oak Hill,” Persin said. “The drive had just worn me down over the years. It’s different doing it for the first number of years because you have the inner drive and energy to get there and commit. But it got exhausting and wore me down over time.
“The other thing was I had Jim Sloan and Michael Hale who really tried to get me to come back. They were my two longtime assistants and at that time, their boys were in eighth grade. They kept telling me, ‘You need to come back and coach our boys. Just give it five years.’ I took some time, thought about it and ultimately decided to give it a chance, and if it didn’t work out then I would retire.”
After he accepted the job and no longer had to make that hour drive, he had his work truly cut out for him.
Although Persin’s track record had earned him respect, Oak Hill’s program was lacking that respect factor after winning just three games in the 2005-06 season.
Following an open gym during the summer after he took over the program, he uttered a phrase to the players that began the transformation into what Oak Hill became.
“I told the kids, ‘Your days of losing are over’,” Persin said. “And you could see every kid’s face sort of light up and I think that was something they needed to hear. The program wasn’t in great shape and it’s tough when you’re only winning 2-3 games a year. But just hearing that statement, they bought in and committed.”
Despite going just 10-10 in the regular season in his first year back, the Oaks caught fire in the tournament and won a district title before falling in regional action.
From that point on, the Oaks’ core group was on a mission to continue tasting that success they had been starving for.
They won a district title the following year after being moved down to Division IV, and found themselves up against top-ranked Harvest Prep in a regional semifinal.
“I had scouted them a number of times and I remember thinking ‘My God, these guys are good’,” Persin said with a laugh. “But the final time I watched them, I drove home and thought to myself that we could beat them.”
He was right. Oak Hill pulled off a 55-48 upset victory before falling to Worthington Christian in a regional final. But that Harvest Prep victory showed the Oaks they were ready for their moment.
That moment was the 2008-09 season as the Oaks mowed through the sectional, district and regional tournaments before finding themselves at the state level for the first time in school history … and the first time in Persin’s career.
After defeating Ada by a 55-46 final in a state semifinal, it was time for the ultimate chess match in the Division IV state championship between Persin and Kalida head coach Richard Kortokrax, who is the all-time winningest coach in Ohio history with 891 wins.
Four quarters wasn’t enough time to decide a winner and neither was the first overtime period. So the contest, the most important of Persin’s career, went into double overtime.
Oak Hill trailed 43-42 with 2:05 left, but finished on a 6-0, all free-throw, run, capturing the 2009 Division IV state championship in an instant classic.
“I remember after the game was over, the guy who was in charge of the officials got on the PA system and said it was the best state championship he’s ever seen,” Persin said. “It was that close and there was no room for even the smallest of errors. We were so fortunate that Ryan Borden hit a 3-pointer to send the game to overtime and double overtime before we closed out.
“I was on pins and needles, as I’m sure everyone else was during that game. It was a long road just trying to reach the state level, and I had been knocking on the door for a number of years trying to get there. My only trip to state, I win and I beat the coach who has the most wins in OHSAA history to do so, you can’t write a script any better than that.”
He was named the 2009 National Federation of State High School Associations Coach of the Year, one of if not the top honor for coaches in high school basketball across the nation.
Persin said he thought about retiring after that game and going out on top, and quite frankly, no one would have blamed him.
But the itch to coach continued to make itself present and his loyalty to the program, as well as the kids, kept him coming back on a yearly basis.
For the next 11 years, he paced up and down the sidelines while guiding the Oaks to three more conference titles and two additional district championships.
He ultimately retired with a career record of 766-214, which puts him as the third-winningest coach in OHSAA history.
“My life has been blessed beyond my wildest dreams, and some of the things I’ve done still feel like a dream,” Persin said. “But now it’s time for me to enjoy my life and truthfully enjoy the holidays with my family now that I won’t be thinking about basketball. I sort of have to reprogram myself after nearly 50 years of coaching, but I’m excited for the next chapter of my life.”
Overall in Persin’s career, he’s won 23 conference championships, 16 at Chesapeake, seven at Oak Hill, more than 10 district championships, a regional title and a state championship. Additionally, he’s been named Coach of the Year seven times and has won the OHSBCA’s Paul Walker Award back in 2002, the highest honor from the association for a head coach.
But his resume doesn’t end there.
He’s coached in several of the most elite events throughout the country, including the 2007 Jordan Brand All-American Classic in Madison Square Garden in New York City and the 2010 McDonald’s All-American Game in Value City Arena in Columbus, and led the first-ever Team Ohio Elite Rising Juniors to an undefeated National Federation Tournament championship in Indianapolis in July 2013.
In addition to serving for 20 years on the State Association of Basketball Coaches, he’s coached in the OHSBCA North-South All-Star Game, the four-state Wendy’s Classic, the Ohio-West Virginia Game in which he helped coordinate for four years and the Ohio-Kentucky All-Star Classic in which he remains an organizer.
He has also worked several Elite Nike Camps, including the LeBron James Skills Academy for six years, the Nike All-American Camp for 10 years, the Nike Hoop Jamboree for seven years, and the Nike Position Skill Academy for College Players for two years.
He’s been a Commissioner for the Michael Jordan Flight School in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a co-director of the LeBron James Kings Academy.
So he also knows Lebron and MJ pretty well, not that anyone will hear him brag about that.
He’s also been inducted into six Hall of Fames: two Ohio Basketball Hall of Fames — the Ohio High School Basketball Coaches Association in 2015 and the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016 — as well as the Ohio Athletic Directors Hall of Fame, the Warren Harding High School of Fame, the Chesapeake High School Hall of Fame and the Warren Ohio Distinguished Hall of Fame.
Chesapeake’s high school basketball court is also named after him; dubbed the “Norm Persin Court.”
Needless to say, as he turns 70 years young in September, Persin has more than earned his retirement as he rides off into the sunset.
And if you need to find him, be sure to check out some Notre Dame games on television. Surely you’ll spot him cheering on his Fighting Irish in the stands.
Or on the sidelines, just like basketball. It is Norm Persin after all.