Sports careers may commence in local gyms or community centers, as was the case for Don Perelli, but often the support of a parent or authority figure is what pushes them to greatness. In Perelli’s case, his mother did more than drive him to practices and games and cheer from the sidelines; she made him practice in the kitchen with a book of matches. Matches? Perelli would move around the kitchen shooting the box of matches into a coffee cup and his mother would pass the match book back to him. Unorthodox, perhaps, but it was just one of the many ways in which his family would help him throughout the course of his athletic career.
As a student at Hillhouse High School in New Haven, Connecticut, Don Perelli was a standout basketball player. As a junior, he helped his team to a State Championship and a 23-3 record and in his senior year as a forward and guard, his team went 18-2. After graduating from Hillhouse, Perelli went on to Southern Connecticut State Teacher’s College (called New Haven State Teacher’s College his freshman year) where he continued to excel in the sport of basketball. His teams had winning records every year and made it to the Nationals in Kansas City in 1957.
Perelli tallied an impressive 1854 points in his career at Southern and he was 3rd in career points, 1st with career scoring average (23.5), 1st with individual season scoring average (31.5) in the 1960 season, and 1st individual season free throws made (168). In 1960, he also set a single game scoring record of 46 points in a match against the University of Bridgeport. That year he led the country in scoring (31.5 ppg ) in the small college division. Perelli was honored with many accolades for his impressive skills, including the 1959 NAIA All-American Team, 1960 Associated Press All-New England All-Star Team, and the 1960 Associated Press National Little All America Team.
After such a high-achieving collegiate career, it only seemed natural that Perelli would find great success as a coach as well. Perelli returned to Southern in 1976 to serve as the Head Women’s Basketball coach for three years, where his teams recorded 57 wins and 28 losses. While at Southern, his team traveled to the University of Minnesota to play in the AIAW National tournament in 1977 and his team finished 6th in Nationals.
In 1979, Perelli moved to St. John’s University to coach the Women’s Basketball team. In his five years at the helm, his teams tallied 118 wins and 43 losses. He was named Big East Coach of the Year while at St. John’s (1983) and he led his teams to two Big East Championships in 1982 and 1983.
Perelli’s final and most rewarding coaching experience brought him to Northwestern University in Chicago, where he recorded 251 wins and 181 losses as the Head Women’s Basketball coach from 1984-1999. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year twice while at Northwestern (1987, 1990).
Perelli had 19 winning seasons out of the 23 he coached, including a Big Ten championship in 1990. His overall coaching record was 426-252. Perelli also served as the U.S. Olympic Festival South Team Head Coach in 1990. He is one of only nine coaches to have coached three different teams in the top 25 poll.
In 1981, Perelli was a charter member of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association and in 1986, Donald Perelli was inducted into the Southern Connecticut Hall of Fame as a character member – alongside Jess Dow, Donna Lopiano and Peter Kormann. Don now lives in Delaware and is enjoying retirement!