Cancer stole his life, but it couldn't take Perryman's legacy

by Andrew D. Williams
of the Morning Call

Arthur Perryman has probably looked down through the clouds countless times over the last 10 years to bless the people who once cheered and idolized him during his standout basketball career at East Stroudsburg High. Many of those people have refused to let memories of the Cavaliers' all-time leading scorer fade, memories that include the PIAA second-round playoff game against Coatesville in 1994 when Perryman outscored current Detroit Pistons guard Richard Hamilton, 33-7. His family, former coach Mark Brown and best friend Hassan Beyah, also have the painful memory of a then 75-pound Perryman, dying in his bed at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md., at 11:40 p.m. on April 21, 1995. Perryman had endured a 364-day bout with prostate cancer. He had been diagnosed with the disease less than a month after averaging 28.3 points in PIAA playoff games. The run finally ended with the Cavaliers' losing to eventual 1994 state champion Chester, 96-85, in the Eastern semifinals. ''It's been 10 years, but it's still too painful for me to think about it,'' said Brown, who retired two months before Perryman's death. ''It's kind of like when you stub your toe, and you get a scab on your foot and it starts to heal,'' added Brown, now the East Stroudsburg South athletic director. ''You pull the scab off and it's like it just happened yesterday.'' The 1,735 points Perryman scored in starting all 105 games he played in over four years remains a Monroe County record. His legacy is also still strong throughout the Pocono Mountain region, even for those who were either in diapers or not yet born when Perryman died at 19. Couri Gallagher, East Stroudsburg-South's three-sport star, who was a cheerleading mascot when Perryman was making deft passes and scoring with ease, has worn the No. 31 in memory of Perryman her entire high school career in soccer, basketball and as a kicker on the Cavaliers' football team. Gallagher, who's going to Temple on a soccer scholarship, has two younger sisters who also wear No. 31. ''He really did leave a lasting impression on all the kids from around here,'' Blenda Perryman, Art's mother, said. ''You'd be surprised with how many things are in the schools about him. It's really amazing.'' The Art Perryman All-Star Game for Monroe County seniors was established three years ago by Rich Laverdure and Bob Madsen. The game is played in March at East Stroudsburg University and thousands of dollars have been raised and sent to the Jimmy V Foundation in Perryman's name. A spirit award in Perryman's name is given out to fifth- and sixth-graders in the Greater All-Pocono Tournament. There's also an Art Perryman 3-on-3 tournament. ''I think he is equally known passed away as he was living,'' said Stacy Perryman, who honored her brother by wearing No. 31 her senior season at East Stroudsburg University (1995-96). For Stacy, Blenda and older sisters Chrissy and Felicia, Art was more than just a great basketball player who was close to committing to Millersville University before he became sickened with Rhabdomyosarcoma, a tumorous form of cancer that spread to his lungs, bone marrow, lymph modes and spinal column. ''You know you have to move on and live,'' Stacy said, ''but at the same time he is always in our memory.'' It's been just as tough for Perryman's ex-teammates, especially Beyah, who lived with the Perrymans for two years. Beyah, who was a year younger than Perryman, also wore No. 31 his senior year and is one of five former East Stroudsburg players who tattooed the number on their arms. ''That's one common bond that we'll always have to him,'' said Beyah, now a regional sales manager for Aldi Foods. ''It's a way to remember him and have his number in our hearts.'' Beyah has so many fond memories of the games and the laughs he once shared with Perryman. He no longer has anger and confusion. ''It's just a shame that such a wonderful life was tragically cut short,'' Beyah said. ''I think about him often, at least once a day.'' He can't help but think of Perryman everytime he calculates a number that begins or ends in 31 or even when he looks into the eyes of his 8-year-old daughter Aria. ''It's funny how when you lose somebody you gain somebody,'' Beyah said. ''In September of 1996 my daughter was born. Her birth really helped me deal with his loss as well because I had something to look forward to. I just try to follow my life the way he carried his life.''