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Column

Pride in Leto High surpasses a diploma

By ERNEST HOOPER
Published June 13, 2007


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From their mother, Flora Curley, a nurse, Gilbert and Sergio Perez learned to balance their lives between athletics and academics.

From their father, Gilberto Perez, a carpenter, the brothers learned the value of hard work and never taking anything for granted.

From their teachers at Leto High, the Perez boys learned that education and effort - not people who looked down on their school - would define who they would become.

From Tyrone Keys, the founder of All Sports Community Service, they learned the importance of giving back to the city's most deserving.

These building blocks are the foundation of success for these two, both in their 20s. Years from now, they likely will stand as cornerstones of the community after establishing thriving careers.

But they can't wait that long to give back.

Last month, the brothers took money from their savings and presented the inaugural Perez Brothers Scholarships to two aspiring Leto students headed to college: Bryan Venzen and Armando Perez.

"People kept saying wait until you're older or wait until you have more money, but my brother and I have always wanted to do it together and help out the school, " Gilbert said. "Our parents graduated from Leto, and we have a lot of cousins who graduated from Leto. It's exciting to be a part of something bigger than ourselves."

With the help of All-Sports, the Perez brothers set criteria for the $1, 000 scholarships that reflect their values: academics, athletics, school spirit and community service.

Gilbert, 23, graduated with high honors from the U.S. Air Force Academy last month. He ranked 30th in his class with a 3.0 grade point average and served as football team captain. Next season, he will work the sidelines with the Air Force football staff after earning the coveted graduate assistant position. He also will marry childhood sweetheart Angeline Teope, a University of South Florida graduate.

Sergio, 22, spent three years as a student athlete at the University of Tampa. A hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, he helped the Spartans baseball team to the 2006 Division II national championship. He now pitches for the Salem (Va.) Avalanche, a Houston Astros farm team, after being drafted in the second round last year.

But he still expects to earn a sports management degree in December while continuing to help future Leto students.

"We have a lot of good memories of Leto, and we hope other kids will enjoy the same things we got to enjoy, " Sergio said. "We want to say we're proud to be Falcons."

Leto pride can be fleeting for some. The school has made progress since receiving three consecutive D grades in 2002-04, but the school still battles poor perceptions. The Perez brothers, however, provide living proof that you get as much out of a school as you put into it.

"Excuses. That's what some people want in life, " Gilbert said. "They want to say, 'I went to a bad school, so I'm a bad person.' But Leto was one of the best choices my brother and I could have made.

"You're not a product of your environment. You're a product of the people you're around and the different connections you make."

The connections future students make with Gilbert and Sergio are sure to define greater success for Leto, and for Tampa as whole.

That's all I'm saying.

[Last modified June 13, 2007, 00:52:47]


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