They are both gifted student-athletes at Cantwell Sacred Heart High School in Montebello who also happen to be polite, well-mannered and, quite honestly, not especially comfortable talking about themselves or their exploits, on or off the field.
Zach Thomas — a junior starting pitcher on the Cardinals’ baseball team — and Andrea Reyes — a senior star of the girls’ cross-country team — would rather do than talk. So let’s let others talk about them.
“Any Cardinal baseball fan can hear Zach Thomas on the field calling plays and supporting his teammates,” said biology teacher Megan Judd. “But what you don’t see is the dedication and leadership that he brings into the classroom.”
And Kim Taylor, math teacher and track coach, calls Reyes “one of the most studious and responsible students at our school. Andrea is a high academic achiever, and her leadership and organizational skills have been invaluable to her school and community.”
In each case, these student-athletes — both with GPA’s in the 4.0 range — find their time spent in sports both enjoyable and valuable. But they believe their on-field success is only one part of their lives and their development as responsible and contributing members of their school and community.
Thomas, who also plays third base and first base for the Cardinal baseball team, expected to do well in the Camino Real League, says he dreams of pitching in the major leagues, but he is also focused on becoming a mechanical engineer and serving his country in the military — ideally, in the Navy.
“My grandfathers served in the Army and Air Force,” said the 17-year-old, who readily addresses his elders as “sir” and “ma’am.”
“And I have an aunt and an uncle currently in the Army. So I’m really hoping to attend the Naval Academy. I know it’s hard to get into, but I’m ready to put in the work. It would be a great honor.”
Reyes, 18, who attended Our Lady of Guadalupe School on Hazard Street in East L.A. and worships there on Sundays, said she’s aiming for a career as a physical therapist, inspired by her mom and her cross-country coach, Carlos Vinegas. She plans to attend Cal State Los Angeles and then the University of Hawaii to study kinesiology.
“I started running to stay in shape, and I liked it a lot,” she said with a smile. “There are runners in my family, so I guess I have runner’s blood. And it was exciting — but now I want to focus on studying physical therapy, because I’ve seen how it can help people, and that’s what I want to do.”
Reyes also is studying American Sign Language, in hopes of providing a service possibly to fellow students who have difficulty hearing. Coach Taylor pointed out that she has donated “countless hours” of her time to her community, helping to feed the homeless on Thanksgiving and deliver Christmas presents to underprivileged children at local grammar and middle schools.
“Andrea also is a manager for girls’ soccer and volunteers at our events here at Cantwell Sacred Heart of Mary,” he said. “She is a trustworthy individual whose unwavering devotion to her community exemplifies strong moral fiber and character.”
Thomas’ fiber and character are embraced in a verse inscribed on his glove: “Fear No Man.” He saw it in an online photo of an aspiring major leaguer, “and that really spoke to me, because I love the pressure, the times when my team is depending on me to get the job done. In baseball, or in the military, you need confidence in order to do well.”
Noted biology teacher Judd:
“To be a student athlete is all about balance: balancing the demands of relationships with coaches, teammates, parents, teachers and friends, and balancing athletic and academic pressures. I am proud to have taught Zach Thomas and witness him balance being a student-athlete gracefully, while supporting others, both on and off the field.”
The son of Cantwell assistant baseball coach Jim Thomas, Zach serves with the student body group that welcomes new students and helps them feel more at home on campus. And, like Reyes, he appreciates the support he receives from Cantwell’s faculty, staff and students.
“The teachers are great,” he said. “They attend all the games, and they make themselves available whenever you need help.”
“That’s what I love about a small school like ours,” added Reyes, who regularly is on campus early in the morning to work out on the track or work on school projects. “You really become a close community that cares for one another.”