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Top Senior Athlete Awards Recognize Standout Foursome
Amanda Franklin was a two-sport athlete for Escalon High, playing volleyball in the fall and soccer in the spring.

Franklin played at the JV level of both sports as a freshman, but was pulled up to the varsity for soccer toward the end of her freshman year and then joined the varsity volleyball squad as a sophomore.

"It taught me that I could be a leader on a team," Franklin said of her experience with sports, whether that 'team' is on the playing field or in the classroom.

Sports helped her realize her potential, she said, as she learned to juggle schoolwork responsibilities, community service and competition.

"Getting pulled up freshman year for soccer," she said of her most memorable sports moment at Escalon High, "and getting to score a goal in the championship game."

Escalon went to the Section finals that year at Lincoln High, eventually losing in an overtime contest.

Franklin plans to attend Cal State Stanislaus to pursue a nursing degree and praised her teachers and coaches at Escalon.

"They just taught me a lot of life lessons I'll take with me," she said.

Teresa Williamson coached Franklin in volleyball for three years, bringing her up as a setter during her sophomore season.

"She puts her whole heart and effort into practice and games," Williamson said. "She never settles ... coaches push her, she pushes herself even harder."

Filling the important role of setter, Franklin grew into a team leader and Williamson said she also made her mark in other ways.

"Off the court she is very positive, very outgoing, everybody likes her," Williamson said. "She's just a great person, let alone an athlete."

Working with Franklin as a freshman in JV soccer and then again this year as coach at the varsity level, Jamie Peoples said she is a rare combination of outstanding athlete and exceptional person.

"She is an amazing person and it has nothing to do with sports," Peoples explained. "It's her as an individual. She's very sincere, an all around great person that you notice in a crowd ... she displays leadership on and off the field, she has won scholarships, she does community service, goes on mission trips."

It's a hectic, yet successful, pace that still has Peoples a bit in awe of the senior.

"She's a true leader in every sense of the word and you don't get those kids very often," said Peoples. "I feel honored to have coached her two years.

"The girls look up to her. I put a lot of weight on her shoulders this year and she handled it with grace."

The varsity soccer girls just missed out on qualifying for the post season, with a third place finish in league. Still, Franklin's overall performance netted her the co-top Offensive Player of the Year honors from league coaches.

"Her dominance on the soccer field was noticed, but even more than that, her sportsmanship," Peoples said. "I just can't say enough about her."

Charlie McDonald wrestled for three years at Escalon High, played baseball all four years and did a year and a half of football, sidelined by injury until he was able to come back with a vengeance as a senior.

His best memory of Escalon High sports is, in fact, this past football season as the Cougars won the Trans-Valley League title and helped coach Mark Loureiro win his 200th game.

Along the way, he learned plenty of lessons.

"It's just a lot of teamwork," he said. "It takes a lot of teamwork to get through things, in sports and life."

His coaches have also been instrumental in driving those lessons home, McDonald said.

Derek Scott served as his coach in wrestling.

"I love the guy to death, he's helped me not only with wrestling but life in general," McDonald said.

He also pointed to the respect and admiration he has for coaches Mark Loureiro and Greg Largent for their work with him in football and baseball, respectively.

McDonald plans to attend Modesto Junior College in the fall, though he is currently undecided on a major. He does, however, hope to play football there and also wrestle.

"I'm glad I got a hold of him for football," Loureiro said. "Charlie is a fierce competitor, he plays 100 mph, throws his body around like it doesn't matter."

After getting hurt during football earlier, McDonald sat out his entire junior year but came back to be a force as a senior.

"He has tremendous athletic ability and had a great senior season, he was the most valuable back in the Trans-Valley League in football, a Section qualifier in wrestling and had a great baseball season, he was all-league," Loureiro said.

Echoing the sentiments, baseball coach Greg Largent said he brought McDonald up to the varsity level as a sophomore, where he was part of the 2007 championship team.

"He's a true competitor, that's for sure," Largent said. "When he was healthy, he was very dominant as a pitcher."

McDonald ran into some arm problems late in the season that limited his pitching time and relegated him to other positions on the field. But he helped the Cougars to an undefeated regular season showing in the TVL, where they won the title and compiled an overall 26-1 mark for the season.

"Just his presence," Largent said. "He brings the level up to a certain expectation and guys follow his lead ... guys are better around him.

"He definitely was a force."

Rachel Leal was a three-sport athlete all four years at Escalon High, displaying a quiet confidence that served as an inspiration to others. Making great grades and great contributions in her sports, she truly was among the senior class's most inspirational athletes.

She played softball as a freshman, but then switched to track and field and did that as her spring sport the remaining three years. In the fall, she was on the volleyball court for the Lady Cougars and in the winter, suited up for basketball.

"It taught me a lot about responsibility, perseverance through injuries, balance," Leal said of maintaining high standards in sports and schoolwork.

Often recognized as a scholar athlete in the Trans-Valley League, Leal has also earned many team honors along the way.

"It went fast," she admitted of the four years of high school.

Her college plans included studying veterinary medicine at Washington State.

"As a volleyball player, she was quiet but she always got the job done," coach Teresa Williamson explained. "In the huddle, she always had something to say and she was never negative."

That leadership by example, offering positive comments and support for her teammates, Williamson said, is likely what put Leal over the top in terms of her selection for the Hall-Loureiro honor. Also maintaining her outstanding scholastic record while making contributions in three varsity sports, Williamson added, is inspirational in itself.

Working with her in both track and field and at the JV basketball level, coach Roger Beeman pointed to Leal's air of confidence as providing leadership, often without realizing it.

"She's not the loud, excitable type but she's always done real well," he noted. "It was fun to see her grow into her role on the JV basketball team, as she got more comfortable and confident, that confidence rubbed off on her teammates."

Leal had much the same effect in track and field, he said, where she participated in multiple events and did well in all of them, while also taking time to cheer on her teammates whenever she had the chance to view their events.

"To stay with three sports for four years and do so well in the classroom at the same time, that type of leadership is inspirational," Beeman said. "It's what we as educators like to see, what coaches and parents like to see. It's just who she is.

"We're really proud of her."

Beeman said he also has another reason to offer kudos to Leal; her choice of a college.

"I did my graduate work at Washington State," he said.

Danny Thompson is the epitome of an inspirational athlete. He played football and tennis all four years at Escalon High, excelling in both, making the most of his natural talent.

"They're definitely different," he said of the two sports. "With football, it's a total team thing, everyone's got to be clicking at the same time. Tennis is more individual contributions to a team effort. They both take hard work and dedication."

Thompson will attend Chico State in the fall and plans to major in kinesiology. He said his four years at Escalon, with sports, schoolwork and student body government activities, went faster than he imagined.

"The blink of an eye," he admitted.

Dan Thompson had the unique position of serving as both dad and coach, working with Danny on the tennis court.

"As a coach, Daniel is an outstanding team member, always the one ready to rally the troops, always ready to go and ready to lend a hand to his teammates," coach Thompson said. "He's a very unselfish player and really looks out for the best interest of the team. He told me this season, 'dad, put me where you need me.' He wanted to play wherever he was needed for the benefit of the team."

When his own tennis match was finished on any given day, Thompson was always quick to jump to the aid of a teammate, going to root on another player.

"He's a genuinely nice person and maybe I'm biased as his dad, but he was a unanimous decision for this award and I'm very happy for him," coach Thompson said.

Football coach Mark Loureiro said the Hall-Loureiro award could have been developed with Thompson in mind.

"Inspirational athlete just fits the kid," Loureiro explained. "He's inspirational through his leadership, his self-discipline, his love for his teammates. Everything he does, he does with passion and energy, he's just Danny. He's an original."

Describing Thompson as 'a breath of fresh air' around campus and on the playing fields, Loureiro said there was no pretense, ever, about the senior. He always put his best effort forward, whether it was on the tennis court, the football field, planning a student event or finishing a term paper.

Plus, his love for the sport he was playing influenced his teammates.

"His enthusiasm is very contagious," Loureiro said. "On all the teams he's been on, that enthusiasm has spread to the other kids and he has made all the other kids better."