Coach gave voice to love of children
BY TIM STANLEY World Staff Writer
Friday, April 13, 2012
4/13/12 at 6:16 AM
SAPULPA - As effective as it was at keeping order at a football practice, Sam Berry's booming bass voice contributed a different kind of harmony to last year's Red Shield Fun Day.
The athletic director at north Tulsa's Mabee Red Shield Boys & Girls Club, Berry took the stage with a partner to treat the children, many of whom he had coached, to a couple of his favorite gospel hymns.
An accomplished gospel singer, he was good at lifting spirits with his low notes - not that spirits at Fun Day necessarily needed it.
Thanks in large part to Berry's work with the athletic program, they were high already, say supporters of The Salvation Army-run club.
Under Berry's leadership, the once-foundering program was on track again: Participation was strong, the teams championship-caliber - and new programs were being introduced.
A new era was under way, and Berry deserves much of the credit for it, officials said.
Sammie Lee Berry, who supervised youth football and other organized sports activities for the Red Shield club, died Monday. He was 54.
A service is set for 11 a.m. Saturday at Calvary Baptist Church under the direction of Dyer Funeral Home of Tulsa.
When Berry came on board five years ago, Red Shield's athletic program was in serious decline, club officials say.
"We were going through a difficult time," Director Jerome Smith said. "Participation had really fallen off. Basically Sam was given the job of rebuilding the program from the ground up."
A former machine operator by trade, Berry had done volunteer coaching at Lacy Park for several years.
His first two years at the club were tough, but he slowly got things turned around, starting with football, Smith said.
Helping build a strong core of volunteer coaches for the club's five tackle teams, Berry then turned his focus, with the help of those same volunteers, to reviving basketball.
From there, he began developing new programs.
A flag-football team he started three years ago went undefeated last year and won a championship.
The club's first T-ball program, which Berry also started, is going strong in its third year. And this spring, he was launching the first coach-pitch baseball program for the children too old for T-ball.
Just as important, Berry connected with the kids.
"He was a father- and grandfather-figure to many of them," Smith said.
A deeply religious man, "Sam was always ministering to the children. He was there to pick them up if they were having a bad day, often with a Scripture."
Smith said club supporters are determined that Berry's work rebuilding the program won't go for naught.
"We've had great response from our coaches," he said. "They keep asking me, 'What can we do to keep this thing going?' "
He said the first practice for the new coach-pitch baseball program is scheduled for Friday.
A long-time area gospel singer, Berry sang with his own quartet, Proverbs, at churches, nursing homes and events. He was always up front about his faith.
Despite health problems, "whenever he'd talk about his health, he'd end it by saying, 'But God is good, Sallie, God is good,'" said Sallie Godwin, The Salvation Army's public relations director.
"He touched so many lives. We will miss Sam dearly," she added.
A 1975 Rogers High School graduate and former recipient of the Tulsa Park and Recreation Department's Council Oak Award for his volunteering, Berry had found his calling at Red Shield.
"He loved that job and those kids," his wife, Mary Berry, said. "Sam had a love for people, anybody he met, and especially kids."
Berry's survivors include his wife; two sons, Mitchell Berry and Ronald Berry; a daughter, Tracie Berry; his mother, Willie Mae Berry; a brother, Alex Berry; a sister, Anita Berry; and three grandchildren.
Tim Stanley 918-581-8385
Sam Berry, athletic director at north Tulsa's Mabee Red Shield Boys & Girls Club, died Monday. He was 54. Courtesy