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Scholarly Shin Becomes Burbank's Man of Letters

March 15, 2000|Eric Sondheimer

What a stressful time for tennis player Eugene Shin of Burbank High.

He's not worried about serves or volleys. It's mail delivery that makes him jump.

Shin is anxiously awaiting letters of acceptance from Stanford, Princeton and Harvard.

"My mailman is pretty prompt," he said. "He comes at 1:30 p.m., so I know when to check."

Just don't touch his letters.

"I don't even like [my parents] around when I'm opening the mail," he said.

Shin is the Albert Einstein of Burbank. He has a 4.92 grade-point average, 1550 SAT score and is a top candidate for valedictorian.

If he doesn't get into Stanford with those credentials, who can?

"He's unbelievable in every aspect," Principal John Hutak said. "He's very bright, very task-oriented. He's an affable guy. He's just one of those driven individuals who has a very nice, warm personality."

He can hit a tennis ball, too. He plays No. 2 singles and No. 1 doubles for Burbank, which is seeking its 13th consecutive Foothill League championship.

As much as Shin has learned in classrooms, tennis has taught him lessons he can use for life.

"It's definitely taught me about leadership and trying to get people to work with you," he said. "Even if people are coming from different backgrounds, if they have a single goal, you can work together and achieve that goal."

There isn't anything Shin can't do--except maybe sing.

"When I sing, everybody either leaves or tells me to be quiet," he said.

He has never received a grade lower than A. He scored a perfect 800 on the English portion of the SAT. The surprise was he didn't do the same in math.

"If I do get perfect, it's always in math," he said.

His course load includes advanced placement classes in calculus, computer science, English, physics, Spanish and government.

His parents have always stressed academics.

"I remember in elementary school, I had to write book reports and my parents would make me write them over and over again until I got them right," he said.

Tennis has been important to Shin in building friendships and testing his physical boundaries.

He has developed a close relationship with Coach Clyde Richards, who returned for a 15th and final season as coach despite suffering from cancer.

"The only reason I'm coming back is because of the seniors this year," Richards said. "I've had some outstanding individuals, but [Eugene] is just a dream to coach."

Said Shin: "[Richards] always stresses how academics is more important than tennis, even though he's the tennis coach. He tells us the bonds we make on the court are what we're going to remember, not the wins."

If all goes well, Shin will soon receive an acceptance letter from Stanford and finish No. 1 in his class at Burbank.

Then he'd have to address classmates at graduation.

"I would tell them to believe in themselves," he said.


In the spring of 1988, the top pitcher in the City Section was Greg Nealon, a crafty left-hander for Poly. He was 10-1 with a 1.02 earned-run average.

Nealon's father used to tease Coach Jerry Cord of Poly about Greg's 3-year-old brother, telling him, "Hey, we got another Nealon growing up."

The little brother has grown up. Chris Nealon, 15, is the starting shortstop as a sophomore at Moorpark High. After five games, he's batting .563 with three home runs.

Left-handed pitchers, beware. Nealon's big brother might be 28 and retired after playing at Hawaii and UC Santa Barbara, but Greg still throws batting practice and is preparing Chris for the battles ahead.

"He's definitely ready to hit left-handers," said Greg, who lives in Simi Valley and is the father of two boys, 4 and 2.

There aren't many shortstops more fundamentally sound than Chris. It might have something to do with all the ground balls his two older brothers hit to him as a young boy.

"My brother, Ryan, would take a tennis racket and hit the ball as hard as he could on the ground and Chris would be able to catch it," Greg said. "He had good hand-eye coordination."

There's nothing Chris likes better than playing baseball.

"I just like working hard and doing everything right," he said.

He should know that getting a hit off his brother in batting practice is no small feat. In the old days, Greg allowed few, if any, hits.

"It's fun hitting off him," Chris said.

Big brother likes what he sees.

"He's got a great disposition about him," Greg said. "I'm definitely proud of him. He's a good kid."


When it comes to impact transfers, John Voita is in a class by himself.

He left El Camino Real for Granada Hills just before the season began so he could play catcher, and what a difference he's making.

Voita is batting .533 (eight for 15) with five home runs and eight runs batted in.

Granada Hills, which was not expected to challenge favorites El Camino Real, Chatsworth and Birmingham in the West Valley League, is 3-2.

"He's fit in real nice," Coach Steve Thompson said. "He's doing a great job."


Eric Sondheimer's local column appears Wednesday and Sunday. He can be reached at (818) 772-3422 or

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