The smallest club at Wilson High School was huddled around senior Jason Perry during an afternoon meeting in late January, listening to its leader give instructions about camera angles. The Tiger Sports Network, created by Perry just six months ago, had a busy day ahead. The four-man team would have to shoot a wrestling match and a swimming meet later that afternoon — and Perry knew exactly where he wanted each of his videographers positioned at the events.
“This is the pool,” Perry told one of his students, using his hand as a protractor. “I want you to get low. Basically like a highlight shot.”
Perry is the coach, and this is his team. The highlights of these events would later go on TSN’s YouTube channel, which is Perry’s new playing field. A fifth-year senior, Perry starred at wide receiver and in the long jump for the Tigers in 2012, and he was recruited by several colleges. But unaware of the District’s eight-semester policy for student-athletes, he was abruptly ruled ineligible to compete this year even though he had played just two years of sports at the Northwest school.
So the 18-year-old had a decision to make last summer: He could be part of a widely popular trend among area students and transfer to another area school for athletic purposes. Or he could stay at Wilson, where he was a budding young sports journalist, and continue to pursue a future in broadcasting.
Perry stayed, and has since launched his own student media organization. He has worked on several short documentaries, including one that will be shown at the White House Student Film Festival on Friday. And he has served as a student representative on the District of Columbia State Board of Education, a pinnacle achievement that seemed unlikely three years ago, when he was an impressionable teenager battling Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and searching for an identity on athletic fields.
Although he didn’t realize it at the time, Perry lost a year of athletic eligibility in the District while he was a freshman attending The Beddow School in Southern Maryland in 2009. He had been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed medication but still struggled to focus on his assignments. His transcript was in ruins — he said he finished with a 0.9 grade point average that year — and he couldn’t participate in sports because the Montessori school didn’t offer them. In middle school, his father, Haywood Perry, let him play sports when his grades were acceptable. His freshman experience at The Beddow School shocked his father.
“At the end of the [year], Jason sort of said, 'Hey, I don’t want to go back there again,’ ” Haywood Perry said. “So we had to take a different route.”
Perry found a fresh start at his parents’ alma mater, Wilson. Perry and his father moved to the District the following fall, and it was “the perfect move,” Perry said. He was re-classified as a freshman, and he had a hole to dig out of. Perry’s father wouldn’t allow him to play football, but he let him run track and cross-country while he got his grades together. That helped him channel his hyper energy.
Perry started to get a grip on his ADHD. He became more comfortable with his dosages of Concerta medicine, and the side effects that accompanied it.
“I’ve got to constantly be moving,” Perry said.
By the time Perry joined the football team as a sophomore, he was considered one of the school’s best athletes. He was a speedster with long limbs who could play both ways. As a junior he caught 10 passes and three touchdowns for Wilson — including 120 yards on three catches in a come-from-behind win over Perry Street Prep. Wilson went on to win eight games and make a run in the DCIAA playoffs, and Perry was beginning to attract college interest from a host of Football Championship Subdivision programs and Division III schools.
But in November 2012, Wilson Coach Mark Martin discovered that Perry’s transcript listed two separate freshman academic records. He told Perry in a face-to-face meeting in his office that he would be ineligible to play as a senior.
“He went from 100 down to zero. Like a great depression in my office,” Martin said. “If we would’ve had Jason this year, we might’ve went undefeated.”
Martin and Wilson Athletic Director Mitch Gore told Perry that they would help him try to find a school at which he could play football during his senior year. He considered Capitol Christian and Maret, he said. But something else had happened to Perry amid the collapse of his athletic pursuits. He had found a passion for film-making and in particular, sports journalism, through a class taught by a mass media and communications teacher named Kadesha Bonds.
“She kind of saw me as a jock,” Perry said of his first encounter with Bonds, “a lazy kind of jock.”
Over the next 15 months, Bonds pushed Perry to explore his creative outlet.
Perry’s first project was a music video set to a folk song, and she encouraged him to expand. He started experimenting and editing more footage, and soon he was planning and shooting short documentaries on life at Wilson — on gun violence, on the school’s principal, on the controversy surrounding the football team that was ruled ineligible to participate in the 2012 Turkey Bowl.
By the spring, Perry realized that football was not the conduit to his college scholarship anymore. He told his father he was going to stay at Wilson, and approached Bonds about his ambition to start the Tiger Sports Network as a senior. His passion for sports videography was two-fold. Filming and editing games gave him a chance to stay close to the games he loved, and in turn, he felt pride in bringing exposure to the athletes at Wilson. Aside from his online platform, he provides many of his peers with footage for their recruiting highlight tapes, and the school started to stream many of his videos on flat-screens in the atrium.
All the while, Perry was getting a chance to teach his team. The motion of the games and the constant responsibility that came with running the club helped him cope with his disorder.
“He’s got so much talent, so much potential. Just realizing it in himself was probably part of the discovery,” Bonds said. “The more creative the projects were, the more alive he became.”
On Friday, Perry’s three-minute documentary examining how technology is used at Wilson will be shown on a big screen at the White House, the culmination of a two-month process that included directing, narrating and producing the piece along with a fellow classmate.
Perry has college to think about (he’s applied to a number of schools, including Michigan, Howard and Ithaca), and he has plenty of remaining academic work to finish out his senior year. He has duties as a student member of the school board. He has TSN’s future to consider, because it has the capability to reach hundreds of Wilson students every day, and he wants to see it survive at the school long after he graduates.
“This experience helped me see life beyond football,” Perry said. “Which a lot of people don’t get to see, until it’s too late.”