HARLINGEN — He can fire like a bullet across the court, zipping past his opponents toward the hoop and grabbing the ball.
“Boom, boom, boom.” The echo sailed across the gym, announcing once again Esteban Vela had taken possession of the ball for the Harlingen Cardinals.
Esteban, 18, was recognized recently at the Harlingen Hoopsters Association Basketball Banquet. But it wasn’t just for his prowess on the basketball court. He was recognized for being a talented student as well as a star basketball player.
“I also won the most spirited for the Harlingen Cardinals basketball team, and then also a University Interscholastic Scholar Award for having the highest academics on the team,” he said.
Esteban said he maintained a 93 grade point average all four years of high school.
The Scholar Award, which honors high school athletes who demonstrate excellence in the classroom as well as in sports, was also presented to HHS seniors Juan Cerrillo and Elijah Rhodes.
The Texas High School Coaches Association also named Cerrillo and Vela to its 2nd Boys Basketball Academic All-State Team.
Esteban began playing basketball when he was about 5 years old. His father and grandfather both showed him some initial moves such as dribbling and shooting.
“They definitely taught me all the fundamentals that I needed to know,” he said. “My older brother played for four years and I guess I grew up really close to him. So that always inspired me to keep on going.”
He enjoyed playing the power forward position, which requires an especially spirited player. The power forward must be a good rebounder and able to maintain possession of the ball after securing it.
“The reason I’m good for that position is that I was one of the more aggressive ones on the team,” he said. “Even though I’m not necessarily as tall as the other kids, I definitely made the biggest effort to go up and get the ball when needed.”
Besides his advanced skill in the classroom and on the basketball court, Esteban has also demonstrated his leadership ability. He’s in the National Honor Society and serves on the student council. He’s also been the class president this year. He and the class are making plans to leave their legacy to future generations.
“We are going to be leaving memorabilia down to the upcoming classes,” he said. “We are going to leave two graduation table cloths for the Harlingen High School campus.”
The tablecloths will be draped over two six-foot-long tables at graduation ceremonies. He hopes the tablecloths will remind future classes of the contributions made by the Class of 2016.
Esteban has made definite plans to study business at the University of Texas at Austin.
He credited his father, Manny Vela, for encouraging him in that direction. Manny Vela is the president and chief executive officer of Valley Baptist Health System.
“Being in business, you can go into a lot of different things down the road, whether it be in regards to health care,” Esteban said. “It just supports different industries.”
He’d like to use his business degree in the health care industry.
“That’s definitely my number one interest, currently,” he said. “It would be similar to operating a hospital.”