East grad coming back home, leading Denver East team

DWIGHT Berry’s road to Denver East High School started 1,400 miles away in his hometown of Youngstown.

The then 25-year-old was playing in the Youngstown Midnight Basketball League after graduating from Youngstown East High School in 1988.

Enter former Youngstown State Assistant Athletic Director Floyd Kerr, who is the director of athletics at Morgan State. He came to the league and saw Berry play – offering direction to the young man.

Kerr did not say “Go West, young man,” but he might as well have as Berry took the sage advice and headed to Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado – toggling on the border with New Mexico.

His travels then took him north up I-25 to Denver and Regis University – a place he would eventually call home.

“That midnight league gave me a chance to do something positive with my life,” Berry said.

After Berry received his Bachelor of Arts and History degree in 1998 from Regis, he headed to nearby Denver East High School as a guidance counselor.

Berry’s goal was to coach. He wanted to coach the boys team, but there were no openings.

He was relegated to mentor the freshman girls team before being elevated to head varsity coach.

Berry would find coaching girls was his niche, starting in 2004 as the Denver East mentor.

He led the Lady Angels to six consecutive Denver Public League championships (2006-11), four appearances in the Sweet 16 of the state playoffs (2008-11) and the first-ever Elite 8 appearance in 2008.

In 2010, it came together for Denver East as they won the Class 5A state title – the same year Berry was named Colorado Girls Basketball Coach of the Year.

This week, Berry brings his Denver East team back to his home state for a three-game road swing starting tonight at Boardman High School. Friday, Denver East travels to Ursuline.

Then on Saturday, Denver East will take part in the second annal Hope Classic: High School Basketball Showcase at the Struthers Fieldhouse.

“We’re just going to play on some pride,” Berry said. “It’s a whole new team for me. Last year, I graduated nine seniors. I got two starters returning and everybody else is new to varsity. We’re just coming to play. To me, this is more coming home. We’d like to win a couple of games, if not all of them. I think the girls will adjust. It’s nothing different than here.

“This time, we’re going back-to-back-to-back.”

The most important thing is Berry is bring his extended family back to meet his original family based in Youngstown.

“The Hope Classic, that itself is an honor to be a part of,” Berry said. “Then, this will be the first time as a head coach my family will see what we do.”

That’s a win-win situation for the Denver East mentor.