Oak Harbor native Monique Perez has decided to take the road less traveled.
After having graduated from college and finding work for the last five years in Columbus, Perez dropped what she was doing and moved back to Athens, Ohio with the hopes of attaining a Master's Degree while assuming duties as the girls’ basketball team's graduate assistant at her alma mater, Ohio University.
Perez was the point guard on one of Oak Harbor's most successful teams, the 2002-03 squad that went 22-1, had an undefeated regular season, and won a Sandusky Bay Conference title and sectional championship.
Perez, who is 5-foot-2, was known for her intensity on the basketball floor. Fellow guard Megan McGuire (nee Bodnar), who is now the volleyball coach at Oak Harbor, speaks highly of Perez when she recalls their days together as backcourt mates.
“Caring and passionate are what comes to mind when I think of ‘Mo’,” McGuire said of Perez. “I remember having fun with her on and off the court. We were all best friends during the season.”
Perez, who graduated from OU five years ago with a degree in marketing, sees working as a graduate assistant as an opportunity to provide guidance and insight for the team's 13 players. The head coach is Semeka Randall, who won a national championship at the University of Tennessee under legendary coach Pat Summit before playing in the WNBA for three seasons. Randall, now in her fifth season at the helm, has revamped the coaching staff, brought in three new assistants and a new director of basketball operations that will work with Perez to guide the Bobcats.
“Monique is a graduate of Ohio University, which is always good to have around the program,” Randall said. “She knows a lot about this school and can provide great insight to the coaches, student-athletes and recruits as well. We're excited to have her here.”
Perez, a 2003 graduate of Oak Harbor High School, graduated from OU in '07 before heading to Columbus where she worked for Cardinal Health, a pharmaceutical company, and Nationwide Insurance. Aside from that, she worked as an assistant coach and was the head junior varsity coach at Hilliard Darby High School for three years under Liz Van Winkle.
Monique, or “Mo,” was raised by Paul and Mary McElhaney in Graytown. Mary is proud of her daughter and credits Perez for making a major change in her life.
“I'm proud of her and what she's doing,” McElhaney said. “Working behind the desk was not her thing. She did something that I could never do — she quit her job and uprooted herself. She wants to be in the action and on the floor. She played basketball all through junior high and high school. That's her passion.”
McElhaney also credits Dick Heller, Perez's varsity basketball coach at Oak Harbor, with helping her to grow as a person during her adolescence. She said Coach Brad Hemminger had a big influence on her, too.
“Monique loved (Coach Heller),” McElhaney said. “He was tough, but in the end, it made her a stronger person. He made her what she is today. He pushed (the players) and pushed them and she has nothing but respect for him. It was hard, but it made her what she is now. They developed a thick skin and it made them better girls.”
McGuire backs up McElhaney's sentiments.
“We owe so much to Coach Heller,” McGuire said. “He made us reach our potential.”
Currently, Perez is taking a full class load and working with the team. She has a variety of duties, among them drawing up practice plans for the team, travel schedules for the coaches, and, among other things, dealing with the compliance issues rules and regulations with respect to the NCAA. Perez is also working to get to know the players better and, because she is an OU alumnus, can help them become more acclimated to life at the university.
So why did she leave her life in Columbus for something new and challenging? Quite simply, it is her strong passion for the game she loves.
“Life's too short and I'd rather enjoy what I'm doing than get up and work a 40-hour week hating every second of that,” Perez said. “To countdown every minute till the next time you have a vacation or a holiday, I can't imagine doing that for the next 40 years.
“Being around the game of basketball, it's always something that I've loved and enjoyed,” she continued. “It's comforting. It makes me feel good to be around kids and have an impact on their lives. There are other people that are going through tough things – being a motivation to them and being here for these kids.
“Just being in the gym and having the ball in my hand and being around (the game) — watching film, time flies and I could be talking basketball for hours and it feels like five minutes. I can forget about everything else around me. It puts me in a different world.”