Award Honors High School Seniors Doing Good for Others


CUPERTINO — The old truism that “you get what you measure” holds in this high-pressure academic community, where high school students are often measured most often by their grades. Yet one local group of people is seeking to measure something different: kindness.

Since 2009 the family and friends of Albert Perkins have recognized high school seniors from Cupertino making a difference in the world with the Justin Perkins Sandlot Award. It’s named for Albert Perkins’ son Justin, a Monta Vista student and football player who died of cancer in 2008.

“The award is in honor of Justin Perkins and what he stood for in terms of helping others,” said Cathy Gatley, chairperson of the 2012 awards committee. The honor comes with a scholarship and a unique trophy created by a sculptor.

Justin Perkins was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2003 during his junior year at Monta Vista, just after the last football game of the season. Despite his condition, he played the last three games of his senior year, serving as a great inspiration to his fellow teammates and classmates. He died four years later at the age of 21.

To honor Justin’s desire to make a difference to others beyond his death, Albert Perkins and two friends, Steven Young and John Loiacano, a 1979 Monta Vista graduate, established the scholarship award within months of his passing. Young is one of the founders of a nonprofit website, Sandlot Hero, dedicated to sharing inspirational stories of people making a difference. The site includes stories about past award winners.

The word “sandlot” in the name harkens back to the days of youth coming together on a sandlot field, with no agenda other than to play and imagine together. A place where kindness is extended for the sake of kindness, and not because it will be rewarded.

From the start, the award was never intended for students with high GPAs, a long list of accomplishments, and hours of community service. Gatley said the committee often receives applications that appear to be college essays and resumes refashioned for the Justin Perkins award application.

“We’re hoping to get the community to help us find the students we really want, the ones who don’t think they’re doing anything important…the students who don’t stand out as the great student or great volunteer. We’re looking for the ones in the background helping others,” she said.

Gatley’s own son, Curtis, was one of the first recipients of the award in 2009. Curtis had a natural gift of reaching out to classmates he noticed needed attention.

“He’d be walking to class and if he saw someone bummed he would skip class to spend time with them and help them feel better,” she said. The skipping class part would drive her crazy, she said, but helping others was a high value for him, a practice he continues today in college.

The good deeds by other past recipients range from teaching kindergarteners how to help others, to tutoring immigrant senior citizens studying for citizenship tests, to working in soup kitchens, to striving to start a nonprofit helping underprivileged children.

Gatley said any Monta Vista or Cupertino High School senior is eligible for consideration. An effort is currently underway to establish an award at Lynbrook High School, as well.

The deadline for applying online is April 1, 2012. Gatley is encouraging members of the community to nominate students they think fit the criteria. Email her at

Judging is based upon the initiative and self-motivation shown by the student, community service, participation in sports (if any), interest in continued self-learning, and the ability to relate to a wide variety of groups of people.




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