Leto player’s memory lives on in program
It’s been 20 years, but Cheryl McCarter-Perry can still recall the last words her son spoke to her, just hours before he was murdered.
“Mom, I love you,” she said. “I’ll see you later. I’ll be right back.”
But her son, Albert Perry, who as a senior at Leto High had earned a partial scholarship to play football for Texas Southern, never returned. He was gunned down inside the Ponce De Leon Court public housing complex in West Tampa. He was 19.
Thursday will mark the 20th anniversary of Perry’s death. However, his memory lives on through the All Sports Community Service program, started 20 years ago by former Chicago Bears Super Bowl champion and Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tyrone Keys, who mentored Perry and helped him secure a football scholarship.
Recently, Keys invited McCarter-Perry to his All Sports office, located on Blake High’s campus. It was McCarter-Perry’s first visit to the center, inspired by Keys’ connection to her son and other youths in Tampa.
“I wanted you to know that what happened to your son, nothing goes in vain,” the towering 6-foot-7 ex-NFL star said to McCarter-Perry.
This May will mark the 20th anniversary of All Sports. Since its inception, the program has helped hundreds of youths from the Tampa area prepare and earn scholarships for college. In return, the program’s graduates are expected to continue the mentoring cycle within All Sports.
All Sports alumni include professional athletes, coaches, business professionals and teachers, some of whom are educators in Hillsborough County.
And it all began with Albert Perry.
Keys, who was a substitute teacher at Leto during his offseasons with the Bucs, continued coaching and teaching at Leto after retirement. During the 1991-92 season, Keys helped Perry land the scholarship to Texas Southern. As a senior in 1991, Perry led Leto to a district title while rushing for 1,034 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In 1993, Keys ran into Perry at a midnight basketball event in West Tampa and was surprised to see the football star still in Tampa. Keys discovered that Perry lacked the financial means to travel.
“He said, ‘Man, I have to get out of here,’” Keys recalled.
That night, Perry asked Keys to make another highlight film for him to shop to schools. He even offered to pay for it. Keys walked the former Leto star to his car to have him fill out a scholarship application.
Days later, Perry was shot to death by Ronald Pressley Jr.
“That happened so quickly,” Keys said.
Albert Perry knew his killer. He and Pressley were acquaintances, but the rift between the two escalated and went unresolved.
When McCarter-Perry arrived at the All Sports office for her first visit, Ronald Pressley Sr. was by her side. A perplexed relationship to some, McCarter-Perry and Ronald Pressley Sr., a well-known barber in West Tampa, remained friends throughout the tragedy.
“She lost a son, and I lost a son, too,” Pressley Sr. said.
“I can’t bring him back,” McCarter-Perry said. “A lot of people didn’t understand how I took it. I was surviving.”
Ronald Pressley Jr. is still serving a lengthy sentence at Columbia Correctional Institution in Lake City. In 1994, he was sentenced to three months for escaping prison, 20 years for possession of a firearm and 40 years for second-degree murder.
McCarter-Perry said she forgave her son’s killer soon after he was captured.
“I felt Albert’s spirit, and he said, ‘Mom, you can rest now,’” she said.
Until three years ago, Perry was unaware Keys was the man who helped her son. She learned of Keys through her grandson, also named Albert, who played football at Hillsborough High.
“I read something he did for Albert,” McCarter-Perry said. “I didn’t know Albert went to him. I was glad he did that. He wanted to get out of the hood.”
Albert Perry’s jersey hangs in a glass case in the All Sports office. It was donated to the organization years ago by former Leto football standout Ricky Sailor, who participated in the All Sports program and, like Perry, grew up in the West Tampa housing projects.
“I feel happy,” McCarter-Perry said of seeing her son’s jersey. “I’m glad to see it hanging somewhere.”
Joining in McCarter-Perry’s first visit to the All Sports office was Scott Ulm, whose father, Jerry, was the original contributor to All Sports. Ulm partnered with Keys to start a summer jobs program at his car dealership. Jerry Ulm died not long after the program started.
“I don’t think (my father) saw the scope of what All Sports meant,” Scott Ulm said. “I didn’t know how deep this really was, until now. It leads me to believe that there was a deeper connection.”
Sailor, now 32, runs Unsigned Preps, a service that helps student-athletes get into college. He also served as defensive coordinator during Jefferson High’s undefeated state championship season in 2010. Sailor was given Perry’s jersey by Leto head coach Alex Albert because Sailor reminded him of Perry.
“Not a lot of guys from the West Tampa projects played football (like Perry),” he said.
Inspired by Keys’ desire to help inner-city youths, Sailor has helped more than 100 students attend college. He was 12 when Perry was murdered, but he understood how much his death meant to the community and the growth of All Sports. Like Perry, Sailor had his hair cut by Ronald Pressley Sr. in West Tampa.
“A huge blessing came out of it,” Sailor said. “Albert was the first one. He came out of West Tampa. I’m honored to be a part of it.”