Chris Simental did some self-reflection while spending a week at Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall on Blue Gum Avenue in Modesto during his freshman year at Central Valley High School.
“It didn’t take long to realize that isn’t the life I want for myself,” he said. “It was a big wakeup call. I had to own up to what I did and grow up and be a man. If I took the other path, I’d probably be in jail. I’m happy I didn’t give up on life and got a second chance.”
Simental was rewarded this past week for turning his life around.
He was named Central Valley’s Most Inspirational Male Hawk Award winner for the 2019-20 school year.
“To know my classmates think about me like that, it really warms my heart,” said Simental, a former standout football player with the Hawks. “I think of everybody as family. I’ve never had siblings close to me.”
Central Valley officials surprised Simental with the honor on Aug. 5 when he stopped by campus to visit.
“I was flabbergasted,” he said. “I never thought I’d get an award like that. I always thought of myself as an average Joe.”
“We got input from administrators, teachers, coaches and other seniors,” Activities Director Jon Merchant said. “He stood out above the rest. He encouraged others around him to do better.”
“I’m really proud of him,” Principal Carol Lubinsky said. “He’s a perfect example of a kid who made a mistake, was given a second chance and made the most of it. He worked hard to turn his life around. He helped make Central Valley a better school.”
Simental ate lunch with Scott Edwards, his mentor and football coach, last Wednesday. “I hope it’s not the last time I see him,” Edwards said. “We chatted for an hour. I wanted so bad to give him a hug but couldn’t because of COVID-19.”
“He (Edwards) was more than a coach to me,” Simental said. “He was a father figure. He changed my life for the better. He showed me how to be a man and a provider. I don’t think I’d be where I am if it wasn’t for him and other teachers I had at Central Valley.”
“I had nights when I was in tears,” Edwards said. “I’d come home and tell my wife Angie what he’s been through. I wish I could have played a bigger role in his life. He’s got a special place in my heart. I hope I never lose track of him.”
Simental got straight A’s during his final semester at Central Valley. He was a C-student in the ninth grade.
“That’s the first time in any grade I’ve gotten a 4.0 GPA,” he said. “It was a really proud moment.”
Simental was placed on probation for six months after being released from Stanislaus County Juvenile Hall.
He was confined to his house for 30 days.
He had to wear an electronic monitoring anklet for four months.
He was also required to pay restitution to the victim.
“I was a big disappointment to everybody that cared about me,” Simental said. “It took a while to earn their respect back. I’ve grown a lot since freshman year. I’m more humble. I’m not as angry as I used to be. I’m more down to earth. I have more common sense in life.”
“He got himself into a bad situation,” Edwards said. “In a short amount of time, he figured out he didn’t want to let people down again. He apologized for what he did.”
Simental was a standout outside linebacker on Central Valley’s football team last fall.
He earned honorable-mention recognition.
“I’ve had very few players that could match his work ethic,” Edwards said. “He’s similar to Estevan Barragan. He’s a motivator. His effort and willingness to lead by example and vocally has always been there. His teammates respected him.”
Isaiah Hidalgo teamed up with Simental for three seasons, including two at the varsity level.
“I’m not surprised,” Hidalgo said while talking about Simental’s latest achievement. “He deserves it. He’s someone you look up to by just watching him. He never quits no matter what. He’s always trying to help other people. He’s good at being a leader on and off the field.”
Simental didn’t have a male role model in his life until he met Edwards.
He was raised by his mother and grandfather.
“My biological dad walked out on me a week before I was born,” he said. “He came back when I was 10 and walked out again when I was 13. My mom (Sarah) has done a lot for me. She’s my world. She’s the first person I called when I was in Juvenile Hall. She was beyond disappointed. It hurt me to hear her voice. She told me to be strong and show no weakness. People in there are ruthless.”
Simental enlisted in the United States Marines Corps.
He will complete his basic training at Camp Pendleton.
He’ll leave for San Diego on Oct. 26.
Simental will be a combat engineer.
“I’m excited for him and his future,” Edwards said. “He’s striving for security and consistency in his life. The military will be great for him. It’s a perfect match. Our country is going to get a great Marine.”
“This has been my dream since I was a little kid,” Simental added. “The military will teach me more discipline. They build leaders.”