Calling the Shots: So many stories to tell

Daily Pilot

With 30 high school athletes being honored, there were plenty of stories to tell Wednesday morning at the Radisson Hotel in Newport Beach.

The athletic directors from Corona del Mar and Newport Harbor high schools read the achievements that each accomplished. But the audience can become antsy with it being in the middle of the week and all the errands to run before Memorial Day weekend. So Don Grable of CdM and Mike Zimmerman of Newport Harbor did their best to read quickly.

They announced high grade-point averages, All-CIF awards and championship accolades about these special athletes, as part of the event hosted by the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce and the Commodores Club. There just wasn't enough time for each story.

Not enough time to tell everyone about the great character Cecil Whiteside has shown. The Newport Harbor senior, one of the top football players in Orange County, dealt with the tragedy of living without a father. When he was 5, his father, Martin Hammonds, was murdered. He was later taken in by Craig Brown, and even later the Newport Beach community embraced Whiteside.

The story doesn't end when he throws his graduation cap in the air next month. It continues at UC Berkeley, where he'll play football.

There were more stories to tell, most not as dramatic as Whiteside's, but intriguing nonetheless. There's one that's simple and cute, yet impressive.

When Elizabeth Eddy was 11, she played tackle football with the boys. She wasn't a backup or some sort of novelty act. She was the star running back. The majority of people who saw her play sensed something very special in her future.

Now the Newport Harbor senior is headed to USC on a full-ride scholarship to play soccer. She's one of the top players in the nation and a member of the U.S. women's under-20 team.

Yes, everyone has a story to tell. And, maybe you've heard those before. But ever heard of John Vallely and what he's been through?

He wasn't the student, but the teacher before the athletes who were honored.

Vallely, a former CdM and OCC basketball star who went on to win two national titles at UCLA, spoke to the athletes and the rest of the audience. He's good at speaking, as he's been used as a motivational voice for company workers. His wife, Karen, says he really enjoys speaking to youth.

The 61-year-old, who lives in Newport Beach, talked about John Wooden's Pyramid of Success and how it was applied and needed in his life.

The UCLA Athletics Hall of Famer talked about competitive greatness: "The ability to give your best when your best is needed." You could sense he wasn't just talking about sports.

In 1991, Vallely watched his 12-year-old daughter Erin die of cancer. He talked about the pain that still exists today, but he also talked about the love, fight and efforts made — "We did all we could do," he said — using that as an example for the athletes who are on their way to the next level.

"One of the most beautiful people I've ever met," he said of his daughter. "I learned lessons from her that you could not learn unless you walk through the experience of living with a little girl who has cancer. It's dramatic."

There was more to Vallely's story. He was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma in 2002. He had a bone marrow transplant two years later and was in remission. But in 2005 the cancer relapsed. This time he received help from a stem-cell recipient in 2006. He was once again in remission and today lives cancer free.

Two years ago, Vallely met his donor, Richard Hofmeister, in Connecticut and thanked him. They weren't allowed any contact for two years, as part of the agreement with the stem-cell registry.

Hofmeister, who is from Germany, does not speak English, so his daughter was there to translate.

Just a few weeks ago, Hofmeister stayed with the Vallelys. Hofmeister, a winemaker, brought a bottle of his wine. Vallely was extremely happy to open his door.

"They stayed with us a couple nights when they visited the West Coast," Vallely said. "It's the least I could for this man who saved my life."

It comes as no surprise that Vallely's story could make for a great book. He is working with J.A. Adande of ESPN and hoping for it to be published later. They recently completed a chapter. However, it was Vallely's pleasure to speak to the athletes and later pose for pictures with them.

"Sitting in a room like this with so much talent and so many great grade-point averages and great athletic careers, I'm really humbled," he said. "But because I lived some of the experience of moving on to the college level and into life, it was fun to share some of the ideas that I learned at UCLA."

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