From adolescence to the NFL, and now Tolleson High School, Dr. Ray Perkins has been making an impact on young people.
The Richmond, Virginia, native attended the University of Virginia to play football and graduated with a degree in sociology. In 1987, he went on to be a 20-year-old rookie for his favorite football team, the Dallas Cowboys.
“I grew up a Cowboys fan, so it was a dream come true,” Perkins said.
After a stint with the Cowboys, he played in Alberta, Canada, then returned to the NFL to play for the Cleveland Browns.
He finished his career with the Arizona Cardinals.
When his football career ran its course, Perkins started working in education. He’s going on 33 years.
“I wanted to give back by being a teacher and coach,” said Perkins, the assistant principal of athletics, activities and facilities. “I’ve always had a passion and a heart for the young people.”
Perkins started giving back to the youth while he was still a young person. He coached and played on his church’s basketball team in high school. As a Cowboy, he worked at a group home during the offseason.
Perkins is in his sixth year as a vice principal at Tolleson High School.
“Tolleson is very rewarding,” Perkins said.
“We’re a hidden gem. We have young people doing tremendous things and going a lot of places.”
Not only is he on campus and at events, but he actively engages with his students.
“He connects with students on a different level, which brings a unique and dynamic perspective to our administration team,” Tolleson Principal Felipe Mandurraga said. “I have worked with many admins in my career. Dr. Perkins is by far the best at interacting with students.”
Perkins is charge with of athletics, activities and clubs. Knowing that for many students the transition to high school is a challenging time and that being involved causes them to perform better academically, Tolleson has set a school goal of 95% connectivity for its students. At the school with approximately 2,100 students, a report earlier this year showed that about 92% of the student body was involved in at least one way on campus.
“I love seeing young people in their environment, whether it’s extracurricular or co-curricular,” Perkins said. “They notice, they want to have you at their events, and that is really cool.”
For Perkins, one of the most rewarding parts of his career is getting to see people after their time as one of his students.
“Knowing that I had a chance to interact with that young person and hopefully I shared a golden nugget with them and they remembered and it could help them be successful in life,” Perkins said.
In the close-knit community of Tolleson, seeing former students return to support their alma mater after they graduate is not rare.
Kaiden Fesler, a class of 2020 graduate and former Wolverine football player, is a student studying journalism at Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School.
He occasionally returns to his hometown to support the football team.
“Perkins was someone who really helped me with my future after high school, as far as finding my passion,” Fesler said.
“As a graduate, and when I go back to Tolleson and see Perkins there still having a great impact on the student-athletes at the school, it is really awesome to see, because I know it is a job he loves to do and the students love having him around.”
Perkins knows his experience as a professional athlete creates interest with his students, and he appreciates having a platform to encourage them.
“That’s something that no paycheck will ever satisfy. It’s about relationships. It’s about young people. It’s about how you make other people feel,” Perkins said.