Brandon Perryman made an everlasting mark on Mountain View’s boys basketball team, though it wasn’t by scoring a ton of points or hauling in a pile of rebounds.
As a ninth-grader Brandon showed up for the first day of basketball tryouts not quite 5 feet tall.
But he made the freshman team, and in the next two years he earned a spot on the junior varsity squad, all while battling cystic fibrosis.
He would be gone for stints of time during the season when he would travel to Portland for treatment at Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, but his place on the Cougars’ roster was always waiting for him when he got back. Along with a pack of movies to watch during the sometimes monthly visits to Doernbecher, Brandon would haul three plaques to hang in his hospital room — awards he received three years running as Mountain View basketball’s Most Inspirational Player.
“That was something he was very proud of,” Steve Perryman, Brandon’s father, says about his son’s team awards. “Every hospital stay those went with him.”
This week, Brandon’s spot on Mountain View’s roster will permanently be reserved.
Last Nov. 25, two days before Thanksgiving, Brandon lost his battle with cystic fibrosis. And this Friday night, his jersey will be retired by the Cougars. No one will replace Brandon on the Mountain View roster wearing his No. 0.
Not that anyone could anyway.
At the start of the current basketball season, Mountain View coach Craig Reid called Brandon and told him he wanted to talk.
Brandon was worried. Despite having cystic fibrosis and standing under 5 feet tall, Brandon three years earlier had defied the odds and made the Cougars’ freshman team. As a sophomore he played on Mountain View’s junior varsity squad, and after growing to 5-3 he developed into one of the program’s better outside shooters.
But last season Brandon’s illness — cystic fibrosis causes mucus to build up in the body’s organs, particularly the lungs and pancreas, making breathing extremely difficult — began to take more of a toll. His visits to Doernbecher become more frequent, and he was staying there longer than in previous years.
After missing most of his junior season, Brandon was sure Reid was calling to tell him his run with the Cougars was over.
“I bet I didn’t make it,” Steve Perryman remembers his son telling him after the coach called to set up a time to talk.
But Brandon was wrong.
After watching Brandon battle day in and day out for the previous three years, Reid was making sure his scrappy shooting guard knew he had a spot on the Cougars’ roster for his senior season.
“Do you think if you didn’t have CF you would have tried and worked as hard as you have?” Reid recalls asking Brandon.
Taken a little by surprise, Steve recounts, Brandon answered, “Yes, I’d like to think so.”
Reid proceeded to tell Brandon he was the toughest player Mountain View had ever had, and that he had earned a spot on this year’s team whether his health would allow him to participate or not.
“He was in tears when he was told he was on the team,” Steve Perryman says.
Cystic fibrosis, or CF, is a devastating disease that affects multiple organs of about 30,000 people currently living in the United States, according to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. A defective gene produces an unusually thick, sticky mucus that clogs some organs of the body, particularly the lungs and the pancreas. CF patients are prone to frequent coughing fits and have problems breaking down food because of the way the mucus blocks the digestive track. Though progress has been made in treating the disease — in the 1950s few children with CF lived long enough to celebrate their fifth birthday — the current projected median age of survival for a person with CF is 37 years.
Craig Reid knew none of this three years ago when he first met Brandon Perryman.
Before the start of the 2005-06 basketball season, Steve Perryman called Reid to tell the Cougars’ coach his son Brandon was interested in trying out for the freshman team. Steve wanted to talk with Reid about Brandon before tryouts started, so the two decided to meet at the Mountain View gym a few days before practices began.
When Reid first saw Brandon, the coach had his doubts. He admired the fact that the tiny kid in front of him wanted to try out, but he just didn’t see someone under 5 feet making the team of a freshman class that had shown a lot of promise in youth leagues. As Reid and Steve Perryman talked, Steve explained his son’s condition.
“I had to sneak over when Brandon wasn’t looking,” Steve Perryman laughs. “Brandon told me, ‘Don’t tell the coaches what I’ve got!’ ”
Of course, that wasn’t an option. And Steve asked that Reid research the disease a bit so he knew what Brandon was up against. Reid did his part and studied up on the disease and thought what any coach would: It’s great this kid is trying out, but in all reality there’s no way he will make the team.
On the first day of tryouts, Reid’s prediction seemed to come true after the first set of drills. After only a few minutes of practice, Brandon found a trash can and began coughing up the mucus in his lungs. It was not a typical cough, and to a basketball staff unfamiliar with CF, it was a little unnerving. Reid went to Brandon and asked if he was all right.
“I’m fine coach,” Reid remembers Brandon telling him as he looked into the coach’s eyes.
Before Reid had time to think over the situation, Brandon was back at the drills, competing for a spot on the freshman team. A few minutes later he would head over to the trash can again, cough up the mucus, and bounce right back into action. By the end of the second day of practice, Brandon was officially a member of the Cougars’ 2005-06 freshman basketball team. Against all logic, he had battled and hustled his way onto Mountain View’s roster.
“I cried every time he got in and I cried every time he took a shot,” Steve remembers. “I told my wife I’m going to have to get some sun glasses to watch the games in.”
Brandon was no all-star on the court, but he was no charity case, either. While he never dunked a basketball, Brandon turned himself into an extremely accurate shooter during his time at Mountain View.
“Three-point shots were his favorites,” says Brandon’s older sister, Ashley Perryman. “That way he didn’t have to mix it up with all the tall guys.”
While nothing was promised, Reid had talked to Brandon about shooting free throws on technical fouls for the Cougars this season. Once, during Mountain View basketball fundraiser, Brandon made 98 of 100 free throws, raking his uncle and grandparents for $1 a make.
“He called me a chump because I’d only pledge 10 cents a shot,” Steve recalls, laughing. “I knew how good he was. But he got my brother and parents. That was the last time they pledged a dollar a shot.”
As tough as he was to beat in the shooting game H-O-R-S-E, Brandon was even tougher off the court. The coughing fits at practice were nothing compared with what he went through at home.
“It was 10 times worse at home,” Steve says. “On a normal day, he’d get up and the coughing would go on for an hour. Sometimes he’d cough so bad he’d pass out.”
Brandon’s last year was especially rough. The coughing bouts got longer, more frequent. Steve estimates that for the last year and a half of his son’s life, he slept on his couch, waiting to help Brandon when he had an attack at night.
“We’d have to take him out in the freezing cold to get him going again (after a coughing battle),” says Steve, referring to how cold air opens up the lungs. “He’d come home from practice and go straight to sleep.
“But he wouldn’t quit.”
While being a high school basketball player was a huge part of Brandon’s life, he was also a brother, an uncle, a student.
At the time of his death, Brandon had two brothers and six sisters between his dad’s family in Bend and his mom’s family in Portland.
“He was the typical teenage brother,” remembers Christina Perryman, Brandon’s stepmother. “He’d fight like cats and dogs with Sammi (Brandon’s 16-year-old sister) when his friends were here, and then they’d leave and those two would go off and play Xbox (video games) together.”
He spent hours watching the Los Angeles Lakers, the Oakland Raiders and the New York Yankees with his dad. When he was at Doernbecher he would help the younger kids pass the time by making Rice Krispies treats.
“The nurses at Doernbecher adored him,” says Rhonda Cohen, Brandon’s mother. “He was a mentor to the other kids. He’d share his movies and his Xbox.”
He watched and rewatched videos, especially anything involving Jud Aptow of “Knocked Up” and “Superbad” fame.
And he loved to laugh.
“Just watching movies with him made the movies funnier,” recalls Ashley, who was five years older than Brandon. “I’d watch something without him and think it was stupid. Then you watched it with him and you thought it was the funniest movie ever made. His laugh made you laugh.”
When Ashley gave birth to her daughter Ariana 18 months ago, Brandon was in the delivery room keeping the mood light.
“I was in a lot of pain, but he was there making me laugh,” Ashley remembers. “No matter how sick he was, he always had a way to make you smile.”
While Brandon’s health had been deteriorating over his last year, his death nevertheless came as a shock. His teammates and coaches knew he would be gone from time to time, just as they knew he would always return. Before heading to Portland the week of Nov. 17, Brandon was still helping the Cougars at practice. He had ordered his new Nikes and was hoping to run out with the varsity team and participate in pregame warmups this season.
And then Steve called Reid on the night of the 25th. Brandon’s body had been found in his bathroom at the hospital, possibly after a coughing attack. He was 17.
Steve Perryman still goes to all of Mountain View’s boys basketball games. Watching Brandon’s friends and teammates on the court keeps him connected to his son.
“Since Brandon passed, the team’s just let me in,” Steve says. “It feels like I’m still with Brandon. It feels like he’s still alive. The boys (on the team) make sure to come up and say ‘hi’ before the game. ... It means a lot.”
At times Steve believes it is a relief that Brandon is no longer in pain.
“The end was so horrible,” Steve says. “You don’t want to have to watch that. … On good days you know he’s with the Lord. That’s something that means something to me.”
Since Brandon’s death, Steve will sometimes wake up at night, swearing he heard Brandon’s cough. He misses his son’s laugh, his son’s pranks.
Despite all his hardships, though, Steve insists he has been fortunate.
“I’m one of the lucky parents,” he says. “Brandon touched other persons’ lives.
“Some of these kids get in an invincibility rut. They cruise through life, taking things for granted. But I think some people will get more out of life than they realize after watching Brandon. They’re appreciating every day.”