The Neal episode was hogwash from the start - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Ahwatukee Sports

The Neal episode was hogwash from the start

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Jason P. Skoda is the sports writer at the Ahwatukee Foothills News. Contact him at (480) 898-7915 or jskoda@ahwatukee.com

Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 6:23 pm | Updated: 1:59 pm, Wed Feb 22, 2012.

Davonte Neal's day was billed as an assembly that was going to fill children with hope that they too would fulfill their dreams.

It turned into a sad, rude and classless display. When it was done, no one should want to be like Davonte Neal.

At least not the way he, and his father, Luke, acted on Tuesday when they filled a room of children - per the Neals' request - with excitement and hope only to send them back to class with what one could only think of as confusion and disappointment.

Close to 600 children sat in a multi-purpose room at Kyrene de la Esperanza Elementary in Ahwatukee waiting to see their "hero" (even though few, if any, had ever met him). They were told they had a chance to be just like him, repeatedly by principal Cheryl Greene, while they watched a video of Neal; they chanted "just like me" as his accomplishments were displayed.

But at least the students, from kindergarten to fifth grade - taken out of class for the assembly - got a lesson in how not to do things.

Neal, a Scottsdale Chaparral star athlete who was expected to announce his college choice for football, failed these kids by not living up to his words.

Never mind that the whole idea was probably his father's. He should have found a way to break from the day and say he wasn't ready to make a decision.

They couldn't care less about where he was going to play. They just wanted to see him on the stage that was created just for him. His decision was meaningless, his presence was everything.

Instead the children waited as they celebrated their propped up hero. They cheered his video, his former teachers - like Martha Takacs, who still teaches third grade at the school - and the fact that Fox Sports and ESPN were in attendance.

When it became evident that the Neals were running late - even though Fox Sports Arizona's online production showed a FedEx envelope that supposedly contained Neal's letter of intent - the staff, especially Greene, handled it well as the stall tactics began.

Green did everything she could to keep the kids excited and attentive.

"It is very emotional," said Greene, who filled the gaps with talk of perseverance and resiliency. "I know the family is very torn. They wanted to be here and I just kept hoping to very end that they would walk through the door and we could make it happen."

Kudos to her. She took them at their word after Luke Neal contacted her.

Her display of grace and ability to change on the fly was great.

It was the only good thing to come of the day, even though Neal eventually made his way back to the school and asked to go room to room and apologize. The school was smart, not bringing the kids back out for the assembly, and he announced in front of little more than a dozen people.

Apparently the delay - and egg on everyone's face - was because Davonte wanted to go to Arizona, while his dad wanted Notre Dame.

Chaparral teammate and Arizona recruit Cody Ippolito was in attendance. He said the two would fight each other tooth and nail until the very end. He also said Davonte would never end up at the school his dad wanted, simply out of spite.

But apparently in the end, Luke's plan won out and Davonte eventually announced Notre Dame as the choice.

All indications are that Luke brokered this deal from the start regardless of who he squashed - including his son's apparent desire to be a Wildcat and the hopes of 5 year olds - along the way.

It was a disgusting display of what has become of the world of recruiting. Me, me, me - a little mom and dad mixed in - and the dog and pony show that networks like ESPN and Fox Sports love to air.

This was a disaster from the very start. The father has used a heavy hand to get what he wants for his son, going from high school to high school.

They wanted to celebrate the day in Ahwatukee, but why didn't they attend a local high school if they loved it so much?

Davonte went to Centennial Middle School, which is a feeder school for Mountain Pointe and also the school his sisters attended. I was told by a coach that his dad had a meeting with Desert Vista officials to see what kind of playing time he'd get as a freshman.

After not hearing what he wanted, he ended up at Cesar Chavez in Laveen. After two years, he left his teammates when the school was placed on probation (in part, reportedly, because Luke was trying to lure other athletes to the school) and ended up at Chaparral.

It appeared to be a great landing place as he flourished, won state titles and got plenty of college attention.

Then again if it was great at Chaparral why did he end up with this so-called assembly at Esperanza.

Why indeed.

Then the 600 kids would have never been through this crazy episode.

They would have continued on with their normal studies and not be introduced into this self-absorbed, idiotic and ignorant process that leaves you wondering why so much is made of a decision that should be a private, family matter.

Unless of course your intent is to rile a bunch of elementary students up, fill them with hope and send them packing without the payoff.

It would have been easier to hand them all ice cream and smack it out of their hands.

Contact writer: (480) 898-7915 or JSkoda@ahwatukee.com. Follow him on Twitter @JSkodaAFN.

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