Football captain John Berry ’00 will continue to be a team leader this season, but he will have to lead from the sidelines.
Berry, an all-NESCAC cornerback and team captain as a junior last year, is unable to finish his college athletic career due to health factors. Though he will not be able to help the Ephs’ push for another perfect season, he won’t be far from the team; Berry is volunteering as an assistant coach instead of putting on the shoulderpads.
Although Berry is ostensibly in prime physical condition, a closer look will reveal a large scar on his left side. This scar marks the kidney removal operation Berry underwent in order to donate a kidney to his brother.
Berry’s older brother, DeAngelo, was diagnosed with renal failure last December and placed on a long list of people seeking organ donors. Faced with his brother’s condition, Berry underwent tests to determine if his kidney would be a match for his brother.
In the spring, doctors determined that Berry was an ideal candidate for a transplant, partly due to his excellent health and conditioning. The operation was performed successfully on June 12 at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
“For me, the decision wasn’t just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do,” Berry said. “It was my brother’s life on the line, and I think that anyone in the same situation would do the same.”
Berry is extremely close with his family, and this relationship facilitated his decision. Growing up was often difficult for Berry and his siblings, as money was tight in the family, but they always stuck together. Berry has maintained a tight bond with his family, and his decision to save his brother’s life was surprising to no one.
“John didn’t have the easiest childhood, and I think he’s more mature because of it…. He’s a wonderful young man, and I knew that he’d do the right thing,” Head Football Coach Dick Farley said.
Berry’s parents, Lolethia Lucas and John Berry Sr., were also not surprised at their son’s decision. They were apprehensive at first, as the operation entailed two of their children going into surgery. It was not long, though, before they fully supported John Jr.’s decision.
Berry himself has been very modest about his life-saving decision.
“I don’t buy the hero label,” he said. “To call one person a hero means that not everyone can do what he’s done. What I did is something that everyone can do given the same opportunity.”
Berry knew that the transplant would end his football career, as he could not risk rupturing his one remaining kidney. But football did not play into his decision at all; the decision was “more about life.”
He is more than satisfied with his achievements last year and is content ending his career with 1998’s perfect 8-0 season. This fall, Berry is looking forward to taking on a new, challenging role as assistant coach.
“Coaching will help me learn a different side of the game, a game that I love. I wanted to still be part of the team, and if coaching is the only capacity to do so, I’m fine with it,” Berry said.
Berry’s presence on the field will be missed. As a captain and starting cornerback last year, Berry led the Ephs to perfection with four interceptions, two of which he made against Amherst. He was named first-team all-NESCAC shortly after the season ended. Farley admitted that he will miss having Berry on the field, but he noted that “it would be difficult for him to do better than he did last season.” Farley wondered if it was divine intervention that ended Berry’s career after his consummate season.
Berry is taking the fall semester off from classes and is working at the Buildings and Grounds Office in the morning before going to football practices in the afternoon. He will begin his studies again during Winter Study and finish the requirements for his double major in biology and psychology in the spring. After graduating, Berry hopes to attend graduate school and study neuroscience.