When the boys got into their teens they played for Farm Life along with Evan, and they distinguished themselves in high school ball. "James was the type that if he felt like he was doing himself a favor he would work himself to death," says Larry Woolard, now an appraiser at the Martin County Savings and Loan and a contemporary of the Perry brothers who was better off financially as a boy than they were. "One year I had to play third base, which I wasn't too good at. I told James, 'Don't let them hit the ball to me and I'll buy you a milk shake and hamburger.' I went three games without a chance. Another year I said to Gaylord, 'If you'll pitch a no-hitter today I'll let you use my car tonight and I'll pay for the gas.' Course he pitched a no-hitter."
In Jim's last year and Gaylord's first at Williamston High the brothers won the state championship together. You can read about it in the back files of The Enterprise, Williamston's semiweekly paper, along with adjoining small news stories for incidental flavor:
DISPLAYS LARGE HEN
EGGS HERE THIS WEEK
"We do not have many hens, but what few we have really produce sizable eggs," Mrs. Clyde Modlin of near Jamesville said this week, when she displayed one that measured eight and one-half inches by seven and one-half inches.
Mrs. Modlin explained that she served her chickens with a feed mixture from the Martin Feed Mills in Williamston.
Perhaps the most interesting game during the playoffs leading to the state title was the one in which, according to The Enterprise, "in the fifth things began to happen. Bobby Hardison was safe on an error, Bobby Mobley and Gerald Griffin bunted for infield hits, James Perry sacrificed but was safe on an error, Gaylord Perry and Zack Gurkin bunted safely and the Coopers' catcher walked off the field and did not come back."
Even more intimidating was the Perrys' pitching. Gaylord had been a third baseman, but he was moved to the mound for the playoffs. In the last five games Gaylord won two and Jim three, and Williamston's opponents got only 12 hits and no man as far as third base.
"In fact," says Jim, "Gay and I won seven games in a cow going into the finals with Colfax High. All you could hear about was how good Colfax was and how good their best pitcher, Bobby Simmons, was. Then we met them in two games, a Friday and a Saturday. Well, they wouldn't pitch Simmons against me. They held him out. So I won the first game 9-0, a two-hitter. Then they came back with Simmons on Saturday, and Gaylord beat him 2-0, a three-hitter." From that point on it was clear that Williamston couldn't hold the Perry boys.
Today Williamston remains more rural than urban and people there still say, "This is baseball country." Eastern North Carolina has stayed sparsely populated and largely agricultural while the western part of the state—led by thriving Charlotte—has, as they say, developed. But the kids in eastern North Carolina have cars and widespread TV and other absorptions they did not have 20 years ago, and the Raleigh News & Observer has phones in two minor league press boxes today, as opposed to 23 in the 1940s. The small tobacco farms such as those on which Slim Gardner and Evan Perry were tenants have mostly been taken over by large landowners who can afford modern machinery, and the people who used to be tenant farmers are now day laborers or mill workers. They have more money, shorter hours and less access to pastures.
Williamston's hope is the extent to which it has industrialized—it has a shoe factory, a pulp mill, a metal products plant and prospects of a shopping center. The recent four-laning of the U.S. 64 bypass has attracted a Holiday Inn and a renovated Shamrock Inn to the outskirts of town. These developments are set against the facts that the town's population is declining and that most of the kids who leave for college move elsewhere to settle.