Rivals take to Twitter to show support for Greer coach Travis Perry
It's usually very difficult to get someone from Blue Ridge High School to acknowledge the block "G" of someone from Greer High School.
The two schools in the same town have a fierce rivalry in athletics, but for Blue Ridge baseball head coach and assistant football coach Travis Henson the decision to change his Twitter profile picture to the Greer "G" was an easy one.
In support of Greer athletic director and assistant football coach Travis Perry, who is currently under the supervision of hospice care as a result of bile duct cancer, many teams, coaches and players have changed their Twitter profile picture to the Greer logo.
Henson is a graduate of Blue Ridge and has been a part of the rivalry his entire life. His father, Jerry Henson, was a coach and teacher for the Fighting Tigers for 38 seasons.
It was the way Perry treated his father when he was fighting his own cancer battle in 2013 that taught Travis Henson about what kind man Perry was.
The two football teams usually play the last regular-season game of the year, and in 2013 Blue Ridge was eyeing a region title with a 9-0 record. Perry was focused on making sure Jerry Henson, who had been diagnosed with colon cancer and was weak, had a way to watch the game at Dooley Field.
Travis Henson said Perry asked what he could do to make sure his father had a seat in the press box and a handicapped parking spot so he could be comfortable while watching the rivalry game.
"There’s so many ways our paths have crossed," he said. "You won’t find a greater rivalry than Blue Ridge and Greer, but he has always had the foresight to see beyond the competitive lines and see the needs of other people."
Jerry Henson's cancer was cured and he has been cancer-free since, but in 2016 Travis Henson had to fight his own battle with cancer.
He had a cancerous tumor in his kidney and had to have the kidney removed as a result. Perry was there to be someone to lean on, even from the rival school.
"Travis’s battle is very personal to my dad and myself. He’s been on our hearts and minds for the last several weeks," he said. "There’s probably hundreds or people that have the same story. Travis is a man of faith. He has never flinched. It’s the same thing he did with his teams. His faith has never wavered. He’s never backed down from any challenge, including this one."
'Rivalries take a back seat'
The first Twitter account to change its profile picture to the Greer "G" was another team with a "G" as its logo, Gaffney.
Alex Guest runs the fan Twitter account, The Gaffney Football History Page. He doesn't have a position in the athletic department but is known throughout the community as a big fan of the Indians.
"If you ask anyone who knows me, they know that I’m very passionate about Gaffney athletics and Gaffney football in particular," he said.
He started the page in 2012 and it has 4,674 followers. He tweeted Wednesday that the page would be changing its profile picture to show support for Perry in his fight.
Guest said he has spoken to Perry only once, but when a school is facing a challenging time he said it's important to show support.
"Rivalries take a back seat to someone trying to fight cancer, or the unexpected death of a student in a car accident or something like that," he said. "Anytime I’ve heard of something like that, I try to post a tweet out there saying, ‘You're in our thoughts and prayers right now.' "
After Guest sent his tweet, more Twitter profiles followed. Chapman and Westside have changed profile pictures. So has Greenville High football coach Greg Porter and numerous other coaches and athletes.
"It 100 percent was not my intent (for it to spread), but at the same time it’s cool to scroll through social media and see everybody showing support," Guest said. "We've seen some of our assistant coaches at Gaffney change their pictures as well, it's been cool."
Guest sees some of the ugly side of social media every Friday night in the fall. He provides updates to games on his page, and isn't shy about being a Gaffney fan.
That is what has made this experience even better for him: In a sometimes toxic social media world Twitter has been used to spread awareness and support for Perry.
"I try to emulate how I would want others to feel if the same thing was happening in Gaffney," he said. "It’s really cool to see social media, with how nasty and cruel it can be, it’s cool to see everyone come together and put rivalries on the back burner. We’ll fight it out on the field in the fall, but for now it’s good to put it on the back burner."
One of the players to change his profile picture to honor Perry is Eastside High quarterback Marshall Skoloff. His Eagles have had hard fights with Greer, but he thought honoring Perry went beyond a rivalry.
"Football is bigger than just a sport," he said. "Even though they’re our rivals and on the field we don’t really like each other, that doesn’t mean that we have to not like each other off the field. This is way bigger than football. It’s way more important than football."
Following Eastside's 35-28 win over the Yellow Jackets last season, Skoloff and Perry spoke briefly, but he doesn't know him well.
He sees football as a family sport, and when one member of the family is in trouble it's important to show support.
"All the football teams want to have a family culture, and I don’t think it should be only your team," he said. "It should be your whole region, your whole area because everybody matters, every life matters. Especially when it’s someone who is a really big deal like coach Perry."
Skoloff works out in the offseason with Greer wide receivers Miller Dearmond and Jaleel Skinner, as well as former Greer and now Spartanburg quarterback Raheim Jeter. All three thanked him for the gesture.
The fact that Skoloff doesn't know Perry very well but still has taken the time to make the gesture of support for a rival coach speaks to what Perry has meant to the community, according to Travis Henson.
"I know he has tremendous respect in this community and throughout the Upstate, because of the man that he is and the way he’s inspired so many people," he said. "That goes beyond the walls of Greer High School, and that’s what’s so phenomenal about it."
The rivalry between Blue Ridge and Greer will not go away anytime soon, and Henson said on the field it is as intense as any in the state.
Now, with sports on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he said that same intensity is being put into showing support for Perry.
After years of service to the community, he said Perry and his family deserve it.
"Regardless of what uniform we're wearing, or what school we’re serving in, it’s about people," he said. "For Travis Perry, it’s always been about people, no matter who you are or where you’re from."