Edison High School assistant coach Tony Perry – for years a guiding force for teen athletes on and off the field in west Fresno and beyond – died Saturday. He was 54.
Mr. Perry was instrumental in helping high school athletes prepare for college football by holding camps and competitions during the summer. He also reminded them of the importance of doing well in the classroom to reach their goals.
It was no surprise, then, that there was an outpouring of support for Mr. Perry on social media as word spread of his passing. Athletes, coaches and friends expressed their sadness and offered condolences to his family.
Edison High football coach Jason Murray, in a statement Saturday night, said that Mr. Perry had always been more than just an assistant. He said Mr. Perry, who focused on the team’s defensive backs, used his passion for helping others to mentor youths and ensure their success.
He was always positive. He was my guiding light. He was the person I would lean on in time of pain.
Matt Johnson, Madera South High School head football coach
“This is a huge loss for the Edison family and west Fresno,” Murray said. “I will forever be grateful for what he brought to this team, community and to me personally. Our prayers go out to his family and the many, many people whose lives he impacted.”
A Twitter page by Mr. Perry states that his mission was to to provide central California athletes an “opportunity to change their (family’s) lives.”
Mr. Perry “never took a day off” as he worked to connect them with college recruiters, Murray said.
Matt Johnson, now the coach at Madera South High after four years at Edison, said that losing Mr. Perry leaves a hole in the football community. Mr. Perry returned to coach at Edison – after time at Central – in 2012 with the help of Johnson, who considered it a dream experience to coach with the man regarded as “the king of the west side.”
“The greatest moment of my coaching career was being saddled up with Tony,” he said. “He was always positive. He was my guiding light. He was the person I would lean on in time of pain.”
Through the DB Guru club, Mr. Perry coached youths up and down the state. He was such a proficient teacher of the technique needed to play the position, that DB Guru became his nickname and many recalled that in their tweets and other social media posts.
Much of his impact was felt in west Fresno, Johnson said, and his death is not expected to pass quietly. Johnson believes a big celebration, bringing together all who knew Mr. Perry, is likely.
“This might be the largest display of public affection in the history of our central Valley,” he said. “It’s like losing, for some kids, a father, a grandfather, for others a close personal friend,” Johnson said.
Mr. Perry leaves behind achievements that Johnson said he considered to be as large as the Grand Canyon.
Along with the relationships he built with the young athletes he mentored, “everybody in the world of football” knew of Mr. Perry, Johnson said. “He was that large of a figure.”
“He gave a lot of kids in west Fresno a dream of going to college and maybe getting to the pros,” said Danny Alberty, a longtime friend and fellow Edison assistant. “The kids, they listened to him.
“He always spoke the truth. And when he told you that you were good and had a chance to go far, these kids felt stoppable because they knew he wasn’t one to lie. He got them to believe in themselves. And I hope that doesn’t die because Tone’s gone.”
Friends noticed something wasn’t quite right with Mr. Perry this season as he often stayed quietly seated while coaching during games.
It was quite the contrasting sight from years past when Mr. Perry regularly stood during games, and his passion for coaching and motivating players could be heard up and down the sideline.
During Friday’s playoff game between Edison and Clovis North, Mr. Perry again remained seated during most of the game.
Johnson, along with others who knew him, had suspected Mr. Perry had respiratory issues, though it was unknown what caused his death.
Regardless of rivalries, Mr. Perry earned admiration.
A statement on the Buchanan Bears Football Facebook page said Mr. Perry “was responsible for opening the doors for many young men to achieve and pursue higher education, by using football as the vehicle.”
Followers on that page were asked to offer prayers and support ahead of a playoff game next Friday between the Bears and Edison. Still others on individual Facebook pages mourned Mr. Perry and recalled the impact he had on their own lives.
Tony’s heart was for the kids in the west side. He used football as the carrot to get these kids going to school.
Don Arax, Bullard High School head football coach
Don Arax, the Bullard High coach, who last spoke to Mr. Perry a couple of weeks ago when the Knights played Edison, said it will be hard to fill the void left in Fresno’s youth football community.
“Tony’s heart was for the kids in the west side,” Arax said. “He used football as the carrot to get these kids going to school.”
Arax met Mr. Perry when he spent his freshman year at Edison. In the decades that followed, both climbed the local coaching ranks in similar fashion and their friendship grew.
Mr. Perry’s commitment to getting youths in west Fresno to look past some tough realities in life and keep them engaged in sports was one of the qualities that Arax respected. He referred to Mr. Perry as a “Pied Piper.”
“He’s always been that glue that has held (Edison High’s football) program together,” he said.
And at times his efforts were not only life changing, but potentially life saving.
In September, Mr. Perry was one of 25 honorees recognized during the Fresno and Madera Counties Police Chiefs’ Association awards for stepping in to help a student at Gaston Middle School who was planning to harm himself.
“There’s a lot of people who wouldn’t be where they are without Tony Perry,” Alberty said. “He helped so many kids. He had one goal: To motivate and save kids.
“I’m going to miss him. A lot of people are going to miss him. He is a west Fresno legend.”