Prep Girls Basketball

Tom Berry, former QHS coach, passes away after battling COVID-19

By Herald-Whig
Posted: Jul. 12, 2020 12:01 am

QUINCY -- Matt Longo understood there was a need for an experienced voice bending his ear as he tackled his first season as the Quincy High School boys soccer coach.

Tom Berry quietly provided him with wisdom.

Serving as Longo's assistant coach with a deep and talented group in the fall of 1987 -- the Blue Devils reached the state quarterfinals that season and were inducted into the Quincy Blue Devil Sports Hall of Fame last November -- Berry helped keep a passionate young coach somewhat in check.

"He was just so knowledgeable," Longo said. "As a first-year coach, I got the rhyme and reason from him every time I wanted to do something. He had a wealth of experience that sort of guided me through those first couple of years, I'm not going to say I didn't make mistakes, but he helped minimize the mistakes before they got to the point they where they needed to be dealt with.

"He was exactly what you needed in an assistant coach. He was there to say. ‘That might be a good idea, but maybe you should think about doing it this way.' He was quiet, but you could absorb knowledge from him. He was a good quiet as an assistant coach."

An assistant coach in two sports and the head girls basketball coach during the program's most successful era, Berry left an indelible mark on the QHS athletic program overall.

He died Saturday morning in Yorkville, Ill., as a result of complications from COVID-19. Berry tested positive for the coronavirus June 24, was hospitalized June 25 and put on a ventilator July 5.

"Tom was the ultimate teacher, not only with his coaching but in the classroom as well," said Gary Handrick, who was Berry's varsity assistant coach with the girls basketball program. "He taught the fundamentals to so many students, boys and girls, and I was lucky enough he asked me to help out and be a part of his program.

"It was an extreme pleasure to work with him and become friends with him doing something we were passionate about."

Berry served as an assistant boys basketball coach to Jerry Leggett and Loren Wallace from 1976-92, an era in which the Blue Devils won one state championship, five state trophies and 360 games. He also served as an assistant soccer coach during an era in which his sons, Steve and Scott, both played for the Blue Devils.

His coaching prowess became more visible when he took over the QHS girls basketball program in 1992. His first team went 6-21 before the Blue Devils won 20 or more games in four of the next five seasons.

The Blue Devils won three regional titles in a four-year span, captured Western Big Six Conference championships in 1996 and '98, and won a school-record 25 games during the 1997-98 season. They made the program's only state tournament appearance that season, losing in the Class AA state quarterfinals.

That team was inducted into the Quincy Blue Devil Sports Hall of Fame last November.

Berry finished a six-season stint coaching the QHS girls team with a 115-61 record. He retired as a math teacher in 2000 after more than 30 years in the Quincy Public Schools, but got back into coaching in December 2000 when he took over the Hannibal girls basketball program for four seasons.

He is survived by his wife, Becky, their two sons and five grandchildren.