North Valley athlete defies stereotypes

Neal Walters (right) with Pinnacle High School Head Coach Dana Zupke. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Pinnacle High School senior Neal Walters says he learned a lot of “life lessons” from his football coach, Dana Zupke. “He taught me about sitting close to the front of class, about paying attention and not being a stereotypical football player,” Walters says.

Stereotypical Walters is not.

Walters is about to graduate with a 4.33 GPA. He is a member of the National Honor Society and an official Pinnacle High School Mentor. He is also an active volunteer with the Salvation Army, Big Buddies, Feeding the Homeless, St. Mary’s Food Bank and Kitchen on the Street.

“I try to be a part of the community in any way I can,” Walters says.

As for football, Walters played tight end, defensive end and long snapper for the Pinnacle Pioneers.  In addition to being a team captain,  Walters was a first team selection in the All Desert Valley Region as both tight end and defensive end. He was also chosen as a Cox Communications Scholar Athlete of the Week and a first team National Football Foundation Scholar Athlete.

“Neal Walters exemplifies what a student athlete should be,” says Zupke. “He has set high standards for himself not only on the field, but also in the classroom. He is a leader by example as well as vocally.”

Walters credits Zupke with another important lesson that applies beyond the football field. “He told us that you get from football what you put into it, so I decided to put in a lot,” says Walters, who will continue his football career this fall at Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.

Another Pinnacle teacher who had a huge influence on Walters was chemistry teacher Kelly Tommasino. “I first met Mrs. Tommasino when she was my junior year honors chemistry teacher. She had so much influence on me that I decided not to take a half-day my senior year, but to take AP chemistry as an elective instead,” Walter says. “What makes Mrs. Tommasino so special is her willingness to be available and help me with whatever questions I had. This past semester, I had a free first hour of school, but I used it instead to get daily tutoring from Mrs. Tommasino during her only prep period of the day. This caring attitude meant a lot to me and I now see the difference in people’s lives that results from taking a little extra time to help someone.”

Walters was selected recently as the Phoenix City Council winner for 2011 Outstanding Young Man/Woman program for District 2. As a district winner, he is one of eight male finalists who were chosen from 140 applicants for the 2011 Outstanding Young Man of the Year Award, which will be chosen Monday night, April 25 at Hilton Garden Inn, 4000 N. Central Ave. Eight girls are finalists as well for the Outstanding Young Woman of the Year Award.

Each of the eight district winners will receive a $250 scholarship. The two overall winners selected Monday night will each receive an additional $2,000 scholarship.

Not surprisingly, Walters has a few plans beyond college and football.  Here’s what he wrote as the last paragraph of his essay applying for the Outstanding Young Man of the Year Award:

“In 10 years, I see myself in Washington D.C. I plan on double majoring in politics and international relations and then going on to law school. I have always had a strong interest in government and feel that I can contribute to the betterment of the country. It’s my dream to be a U.S. Senator and having a strong background in government is essential to the base of your political mindset. I think someone diverse, intelligent and down-to-earth such as myself could do wonders in the Capitol.”

The two Arizona seats in the U.S. Senate will come up for election in 2040 and 2042. I think I know who one of the candidates may be. — Dan Barr

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2 responses to “North Valley athlete defies stereotypes

  1. Congratulations Neal, your mom and I are very proud of you.

  2. Congratulations, Neal,
    I’m sure you will enjoy your life in Iowa. Your teacher mentioned, Kelly Tommasino, lived the first years of her life there. Very thoughtful of you to mention those who have influenced you so far toward achievments!
    Kelly Tommasino’s Mom
    La Jolla, CA

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