Fisher DeBerry can’t stand to say no.
If there’s a driving force that continues to coax the legendary Air Force coach from retirement in South Carolina back to Colorado, it’s a desire to say yes to every applicant for his program.
“It’s just unbelievable, the need that is out there,” DeBerry said. “It breaks my heart to turn people down.”
On Friday, DeBerry will again return to Denver for the 12th Colorado Coaches for Charity gala at Mile High Stadium. Current coaches from around the state — Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, Colorado’s Mel Tucker and Colorado State’s Mike Bobo as well as coaches from CSU-Pueblo and Northern Colorado — will be among the panel to talk football and raise money for their designated charities and the Fisher DeBerry Foundation.
DeBerry’s foundation supports single parents and their children, sending them to athletic camps, providing basic medical and educational needs and, generally, reaching out a hand to those in that difficult situation.
It’s one DeBerry has always known.
He never really knew his father, who was away in the military when he was born, was never part of the family and died when DeBerry was 12.
It was DeBerry’s mother, with 15 cents to her name in the late 1930s, who sought help from her parents to raise her young son in a country town in South Carolina. They lived next to a football field, so that’s where he spent his days. And that’s what eventually took him to college at Wofford, and to a coaching career that really took off at the academy and landed in the College Football Hall of Fame.
When DeBerry would make recruiting trips for the Falcons, he found himself visiting more and more single-parent homes. He understood what some of these kids were forced to do without, and more, he knew what they could be with a little boost.
“He can change the heart and soul of his school,” he said.
And so, more than a dozen years removed from coaching, DeBerry continues to return to Colorado to raise money to assist those kids.
It helps that he can still tap into enormous popularity in this state where he served as the head coach for 21 years.
The evidence of his beloved stature was on full display Saturday night, as his 1985 Falcons team that finished the season 12-1 and ranked No. 5 was inducted into the Air Force Athletics Hall of Fame. More than 30 members of that team returned and surrounded their coach as he spoke about the camaraderie within that group.
In fact, it’s hard to say he “spoke,” as at times he screamed with enthusiasm recalling those days and relationships.
“Can you get me the video of that speech?” more than one 1985 player asked afterward.
And it didn’t stop there. When former linebacker Chris Gizzi was inducted, he thanked many who helped him on the path to the academy and into the NFL. But it was DeBerry who received the most attention.
“Coach DeBerry … I’ve been waiting for this,” Gizzi said. “You were right about everything. Gosh, that hurts me to say that. You were right about everything.”
Gizzi, now the strength and conditioning coordinator for the Green Bay Packers, said he carries many lessons from DeBerry into his approach with players.
“Most of all, I remind guys to tell their parents they love them,” Gizzi said.
To DeBerry, that parent-child relationship is central to everything. And he knows not everyone is given the same opportunities where that is concerned. So, as long as he can help, retirement will just have to wait.
For more information, visit https://www.fisherdeberryfoundation.org.