Peerman enforces discipline at Lincoln High
Peerman remembers her father, who coached football and basketball at Lincoln High School. Her father was so devoted to his job that she knew him primarily through school. Physically powerful and clean-cut, Peerman was an imposing presence at school, enough to scare off potential boyfriends and keep students disciplined and tidily dressed.
Citing this Excerpt
Oral History Interview with Joanne Peerman, February 24, 2001. Interview K-0557. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Full Text of the Excerpt
BG: What was your dad like?
JP: He was—he was bigger than life. It’s really hard to remember, as a child, what he was like. He passed away when I was eighteen. The early days, the childhood days, he spent more time at school and with his boys—either football players, basketball players, whatever sport was in season—he really gave of himself. So he spent I would say sixty, seventy percent of his time away from the home. Either at school or working with athletic activities. Our best times were weekends or summers. That’s when they were off work and that’s when we had family time together. A normal school day would be, you know, get up, everybody get you some toast or cereal and get on out to the bus stop. And then you go to school all day, you come home and have a sit-down dinner. Then maybe watch one of two shows on TV and then it was time to go to bed. So it was only maybe three or four hours spent together daily.
I knew him more from at school than from at home. I could see different sides of his personality at school—how he handled other people, how he stressed that they excel, that they do well, that they, you know, “Put your shirt tail in,” you know. He was at two schools that I attended—he was at Phillips and he was also at Chapel Hill High. Him being in the same school, it really cramped my style. I had no boyfriends [laughs] or very few, because they were afraid to talk to Coach Peerman. It was kind of hard being in the same school that your parent worked at. You saw him anytime, because he patrolled the halls to make sure that nobody was skipping classes. He was just around, he’d just show up anytime. It was quite awkward but it was fun at the same time.
BG: Could you describe him physically?
JP: He was maybe 6’ 3’’, 240 pounds, tall, dark, and handsome. He wore glasses. He had graying hair. He wore a military-type crew cut kind of—he never gave in to the Afros. As much as we begged him to grow an Afro, he would not think of it. He was just very clean-cut, always very neat. Since he worked in phys ed, he often wore sweat pants and light golf shirts and tennis shoes. Except for game days, they would all dress. He’d make his players dress, and he would dress for game days. That was part of the discipline of teamwork I guess.
BG: How would the players dress, jacket and tie?
JP: Well, definitely shirt and tie. To ask them to wear suits or jackets may have been a bit much for across the socio-economic strata. You didn’t want to make anybody feel guilty about not having something to wear. But he felt they all should have on a suit and tie. And street shoes, he called them—not tennis shoes, street shoes. And I think this probably went on at other high school across the nation. It wasn’t only this area that did it. I think it started at the away games because they always wanted the players to look nice going away to other schools. But then they instituted it where any game day—if you were a player, you dressed on game day. And you could see a special pride in the guys who were dressed. You could see their whole attitude change on game day. They had a special look in their eye like they were business men or something. Because otherwise the only other time they had on a tie was on Sunday or something. So this gave them another time to get dressed. And it changed attitudes. I think dress codes are really lax now. Back when I was in school we had dress codes. Girls couldn’t even wear pants for a while, I think even until junior high. Early on, there were dress codes. It’s a shame that that has changed because that has deteriorated the whole public education system. It’s been a contributing factor anyway, allowing people to wear anything, anything goes.
But that was important, that the guys dress. Usually there was a pep rally or something and they’d all come out. You could just see beaming faces, nice combed hair, you know. I remember Dad riding the streets of Chapel Hill the night before game night, making sure his players were in. He’d go up to the pool hall and run them home: [booming voice] “You know you got a game tomorrow, get outta here boy!” You know [laughs]. You’ll find a lot of people who imitate him. Because he had a very low, commanding voice. When he told you, they would just run. And it wasn’t out of fear, it was out of respect. He said, “Get up. Get in my car. I’m going to take you home. You know I require eight hours of rest before a game.” So he would ride the streets before a game, making sure his guys were in. Because there were certain hangouts that he knew his guys would be at anyway. So he’d ride definitely by the pool hall. And take the guys home. And a lot of mothers thanked him for that, too. Because sometimes they didn’t even know where their kids were. Or they knew, but they knew that he had a hand in trying to make sure that they were well rested and ready for school and games the day after.
BG: I had someone describe your father to me as a daunting figure. “In one regard,” he said, “I didn’t fear him.” But then a few sentences later, there was fear there. So it’s interesting to hear your take on it that his players respected him. But someone said, “You didn’t mess with Coach Peerman.” Could you speak to that?
JP: That’s how we felt being his children. Whatever he said, it was for your own betterment. It was not to hurt you. There would be an ultimate lesson in the end. He was trying to tell you what he felt was the right thing to do, the right way to go. I grew up, like I said, in the same school with him, most of my junior high and high school life. So I heard this from my own friends, “Uh-oh, here come Coach Peerman.” And then I’ll be like, “Oh Lord. My friends are scared of him.” But it wasn’t fear. It was fear, but it was not a fear that he would hit them or anything like that. It was just a fear of doing wrong in his presence. Which to me, I had no problem with, because I knew I wasn’t going to do no wrong in his presence [laughs], you know.