Alumnus of the Year
Each year the De La Salle High School community honors a Distinguished Alumni of the Year. Anyone is welcome to submit a nomination for the Alumnus of the Year award.
We welcome the names of Spartan graduates who have lived out the school’s core values of faith, integrity, and scholarship, and who have been outstanding in their achievements -- in their careers, in their service to others, and in their dedication to De La Salle and its Mission.
Below is a list of the past winners of the past recipients of the De La Salle High School Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award and a nomination form to submit nominees.
- 2022 - Kent Mercer '87
- 2020-21 - Rick Freeman '86
- 2019-20 - Mike Mitchell '75
- 2018-19 - Richard E. Koch '73
- 2017 - John R. Burk '80
- 2016 - Christopher J. Crespi '81
- 2015 - Brigadier General Timothy P. McGuire '83
- 2014 - Sean Farnham '96
- 2013 - Thomas a. Baldacci '77
- 2012 - Rev. LaSalle Hallissey, O.P. '69
- 2011 - Steve M. Abreu '83
- 2010 - John Hallett III '97
- 2009 - Robert Montgomery '70
- 2008 - Nels D. Dan Niemi '81
- 2007 - Stephen Lilly '93 and Kelly Trevethan '81
- 2006 - Rev. Mark Wiesner '91
- 2005 - Faculty Alumni Group
- 2004 - Philip D. Donahue '78
- 2003 - Christopher D. Bruni '76
- 2002 - William D. O'Malley '74
Kent Mercer ’87 – A Distinguished Spartan Life
The De La Salle Alumni Association, along with the entire De La Salle community, is proud to honor Kent Mercer ‘87 as the 2022 De La Salle High School Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
Kent’s ties to De La Salle go back 40 years when his oldest brother Eric ’84 started at high school and his dad would take him to watch games. Soon, the entire family was spending a lot of time on campus as the other Mercer boys (Brian ’86 and Craig ’90) went through their high school years.
Sporting events, fall festivals, fundraisers, the “DLS 200” horse races featuring Christian Brothers racing around the cafeteria – the Mercers enjoyed participating in them all, making De La Salle almost like a second home.
“It was a place where you came to just be yourself and enjoy being there,” Mercer recalls. “It helped to shape who I am. That’s what is so unique about this place.”
Mercer, who captained the first water polo team at De La Salle and also was on the swimming team, says his parents valued the great education and the school’s Lasallian values. His father, Bill Mercer, had graduated from another Christian Brothers school, St. Mary’s College High School in Berkeley. (The family started an endowment at De La Salle in Bill Mercer’s memory after his death in 1990.)
“It was a very caring and safe environment where you felt free to be yourself,” Mercer says of De La Salle. “It was a great experience.”
Along with playing sports, Mercer also took a sports medicine class, sparking his interest in a career that led him back to the school as its athletic trainer. He graduated in 1993 from Chico State University, where he met his wife, Kim, in his senior year, with a degree in exercise physiology. He later got a master’s in kinesiology at Cal State Hayward (now East Bay).
He was an exercise physiologist but jumped at the chance to return full-time to De La Salle in 1997 in the football and basketball programs. In 2000, Mercer was hired as the athletic trainer, and he’s been at De La Salle full-time ever since.
Mercer says he loves the school and its mission in developing boys into young men in the Lasallian tradition of promoting faith, education, service, and commitment to helping those who are less fortunate.
Mercer and his wife also sent their two sons to De La Salle – Tanner, who graduated in 2019 and is now a pre-med student at Duke University, and Zachary, a current senior who is on the baseball team.
His commitment to De La Salle has now led to him being named Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, a well-deserved honor, says Alumni Director Tim Roberts ’88.
“You could just tell Kent was one of the guys who had a very high moral compass,” says Roberts, who first met Mercer when they were both students at the school. “He’s just one of the finest humans that you’d want to come across.”
Roberts says that along with being a strong supporter of De La Salle, Mercer is also an outstanding athletic trainer whose door is open to anyone on campus who needs his help - from a theater student who gets hurt, to a star athlete.
“I’ve watched him with a freshman who just wants to be a fly on the wall, and a 285-pound football player who wants to go to Notre Dame. Each gets the same level of concern from Kent,” Roberts says.
Mercer says he loves being the athletic trainer at De La Salle, especially with the dedicated and caring people who lead and coach the athletic programs.
“The goal of our program is to keep (students) healthy, keep them safe, and keep them inspired to be active,” he says, adding that coaches and staff “hold people accountable and have expectations. They develop boys into young men who go out into society and contribute.”
Mercer says the biggest changes in his decades on campus have been social media and the competitiveness over getting into college. He advises students to pursue the college that is right for them, not just the biggest name schools.
The coronavirus pandemic led to a new role for Mercer, who was put in charge of the school’s response. A major accomplishment, along with devising hybrid education and testing programs, was developing an app with a Duke University friend of his son Tanner to systemize pre-screening and tracking COVID on campus. The app was picked up by other schools.
“This has been very challenging,” he said of his role as “COVID czar.” “I tried to stay up to date on what was going on. Our goal was to get people back on campus.”
Mercer says he’s proud of the school for how it responded to the challenge when it kept caring for and educating students in a safe environment. Just like De La Salle always strives to do.
The De La Salle Alumni Association and the entire De La Salle community is proud to honor Rick Freeman ‘86 as the 2021 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
Rick’s parents were big believers in Catholic education, so when their five children were of age, there was no question where they would go to high school. Their two sons, Rick and Dan, attended De La Salle and their three daughters, Molly, Michelle, and Lisa, attended Carondelet. Rick married Tammy Anderson Freeman (Carondelet, Class of ‘86), and all five of their children Maria, Luke, Julia, Michael, and Catherine attended either De La Salle or Carondelet, because they believe so strongly in the value of the education and experience, both academically and spiritually.
Looking back on his days at De La Salle, Rick had a number of influential teachers who impacted his high school education. Like Mrs. Anne Koch, his English Literature teacher, who required a high volume of quality work, taught him to think critically, and read rapidly while improving his understanding of the material. There was Larry Dean, Rick’s “nutty professor” Physics teacher, who was interesting and engaging, and would read passages from Robert Frost before every exam, just to get students in the proper mindset. Charlie “Chaz” Nolan, who taught World Religions, was so excited and invested in what he was teaching, that it was hard not to be engaged and love the class. And Rick credits Mark “Snake” McKinnon, who taught his English class “Tough Guys and Mean Streets” and started each class with a trivia competition, for his love for reading – especially hard-boiled detective novels.
Four years playing football and baseball at De La Salle were also impactful for Rick and taught him so much about himself, challenged him, taught him to face fears, make goals, and work harder than he ever thought he could. Hard work, determination, Brotherhood, teamwork, accountability, and sacrifice, he witnessed and learned every day from his teammates, coaches, and everyone involved with the programs. To be a part of something bigger than himself, to sacrifice and never give up, were things invaluable to him.
After Rick graduated from Occidental College, he made a list of attributes that he wanted for his ideal career. These included: to be part of a team, challenging, exciting, personal interaction, community oriented, service to others, mentally and physically challenging; basically doing something good and positive that he could be proud of, and to be “hands on” mostly outside of an office, and a cool uniform was a bonus! He also loved the excitement of not knowing what each shift would bring. The fire service checked every box.
Rick was hired as a Firefighter/EMT at Daly City Fire Department in 1995 and became a California licensed firefighter/paramedic in 1999. After leaving Daly City Fire, Rick was hired by the Contra Costa County Fire Protection District, and in 2009, he was promoted to Fire Captain/Paramedic. Currently, he is the Fire Captain/Paramedic in downtown Concord at Station 6, where he is fortunate to have two other Spartans working with him, Andrew Desmond ‘03 and Brian George ‘07.
During this time of COVID-19, Rick feels very fortunate and humbled that his job is considered “essential”, and there’s a renewed emphasis on making sure that first responders stay as healthy as possible. As a supervisor, it's his responsibility to make sure all the safeguards are in place and adhered to by their crew. This past fire season was extremely busy, there was an increasing number of individuals who are unsheltered, and of course COVID-19 response. He takes pride in helping others in his community, often on their worst day, and credits De La Salle for preparing him well for the challenges of his profession.
Rick stays in contact with a number of close De La Salle classmates and friends, and remains best friends with a number of Spartans he met in the fall of 1982. Rick is who he is because of these men; who epitomize what it is to be a Spartan. Their kids have all grown up together and some are even best friends and classmates at De La Salle today. It helps to have so many great Spartan role models for his kids.
Rick is a former De La Salle Alumni Board member, and he helped coordinate the “Every 15 Minutes” program at De La Salle. He loves to attend the De La Salle Crab Feed and Auction, and other school fundraisers with family and friends, while Tammy sponsors golf tournaments and fundraisers through her company every chance she gets.
Rick would tell younger alumni exactly what he tells own sons, Luke and Michael, “Stay close with your friends. Make an effort to stay involved - you get back more than you give. Go to De La Salle sponsored events and support the Spartans at athletic events and games. Put a foursome together and play in the annual Brother Maris Alumni Golf Tournament. Attend fundraising events when you can. Give where you can and be generous with your time. Time is our most precious commodity and sharing your time means a lot. You never know how your act of involvement will inspire someone else. Typically, there is no perfect time to give back, so do it when you can, but start now. You will not regret it.”
The De La Salle Alumni Association and the entire De La Salle community is proud to honor Mike Mitchell as our 2020 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Mike Mitchell, Class of 1975, is the founder of Project Play Soccer.
During his time at De La Salle, Mike was surrounded by friends and treasures his lifelong classmates from both De La Salle and Carondelet.
Playing soccer at De La Salle was very important to Mike. He was so excited and motivated to be the best player possible, he would train before the season began on his own. His senior year, his older brother Paul came from Ireland and joined the De La Salle soccer team and they were able to play together, surrounded by great coaches and teammates. Soccer would become and continue to be Mike’s passion for years to come.
Mike was fortunate to play with his two brothers (GG and Paul) in college at Chico State. In 1980, all three brothers started and wound up in the NCAA final four, where their team came in third place. Mike also played in Niger, West Africa (1984) and was one of a few westerners in the country playing soccer. Ironically, the team he played for (Team Hope or Equipe Espoir in French) wound up winning the Nigerien National Championship in which he met the president of Niger after the game who said to him while shaking his hand, “look how the BALL brought us together Mike”, thus the beginning of Project Play Soccer.
Mike went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from Chico State and then joined the Peace Corps Niger for two years (1983-85). Mike completed his master’s degree in sports psychology at Chico State, and his thesis, PROJECT PLAY NIGER’ laid the groundwork for Project Play Soccer (www.projectplaysoccer.org).
Project Play Soccer is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives of children through the sport of soccer. Mike and Project Play Soccer started out delivering and implementing organized soccer programs to impoverished nations of Niger (2008) and Benin (2010) with the goal to help eliminate poverty and violence starting in the poorest region on the planet, the Sub Saharan Africa. Project Play Soccer currently has 1,700 schools and 100,000 kids in Niger actively involved in education with the help of the beautiful game, soccer.
Eventually, Mike moved to Brazil (1994-2016) where he met his wife (Maristela) and had their only child Keegan. Mike started out in Brazil as the Athletic Director at the American School of Campinas for four years then went on the open Body & Soul Adventures, an active retreat on the island of Ilha Grande not far from Rio de Janeiro for seven years. Mike still runs these retreats here in Santa Cruz, Calif., but now all donations from this retreat go directly to Project Play Soccer and other non-profit organizations.
Mike decided to give back to his community through soccer because he found his calling in life which is to HELP = his acronym – honesty, energy, life and passion. He believes we are all here to help each other and it starts with YOURSELF. He is also celebrating 30 years of sobriety, this choice saved his life.
When Mike was leaving Niger in 1985 he saw how the soccer ball can stop suffering instantly. When he saw the kids’ faces light up with joy because he let them play with a real ball, said to himself when he was ending his Peace Corps service, “the least I can do is try and get as many soccer balls here as possible as this ball brings instant joy in the mist of so much suffering.”
Project Play Soccer has provided over ½ million dollars of soccer balls to world’s poorest regions, while helping in Kenya, the San Francisco Bay Area and Mexico.
One piece of advice Mike shares with our students is to be a giver, and not a taker, and you will find that you connect with your highest purpose. Mike says that he was privileged to attend De La Salle and with privilege comes responsibility.
Richard E. Koch, Spartan class of 1973, is the Distinguished Alumnus of the Year for 2019. Rick is the Owner of All City Fence Company in Seattle Washington. Rick graduated in 1973 from De La Salle High School. After graduating from De La Salle, Rick attended Gonzaga University in Spokane Washington. He graduated from Gonzaga with a degree in Business Administration. Rick then went on and spent a 32 year career in the Coin Operated Machine Industry in Distribution, Operations, and Manufacturing. He worked for a division of both Bally Manufacturing, and Crane before retiring in 2007.
After retiring, Rick purchased All City Fence in 2008 and has been owner ever since. All City Fence is proud to serve the local communities of Seattle, Everett and Tacoma and the business communities on the Eastside including Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland, with fences for protection, privacy and ornamentation.
Rick gives back because De La Salle High Scholl played an important role in his life growing up during his formative years. He has stayed involved with the De La Salle Community for almost 40 years, because he enjoys seeing young men grow, and achieve beyond their dreams as he did from humble beginnings. Classmates Rick still stays connected to consist of Louis Zocchi ‘74, Dave Gerard ‘74, Dan O’Malley ‘74, Chuck Enea ‘74, and Sal Aiello ‘73. Some of the De La Salle teachers, administrators and coaches who made a huge impact on Rick’s life include Brother Norman, Br. Jerome, Brother John, Brother James, Br. Loren, Br. Edward, Br. Columban, George Sabbagha, Mike Still, Mr. Staszkow, Mr. Emeldi, Coach Chris Rye, and Coach Steve Quirico. Rick would say to De la Salle seniors “Learn the Art of giving back to your fellow man with Philanthropy. It’s better to go through life as a giver, and not a taker regardless of your economic background.” Congrats Rick!
Each year De La Salle recognizes an Alumnus of the Year for outstanding achievement in his vocation, in service to his community, and in service to De La Salle. We welcome your nominations for this award. Please tell us about a Spartan alumnus who has kept our core values of Faith, Integrity, and Scholarship at the center of his life, and who exemplifies the spirit of this school.
We are proud to honor John Burk, multi-platinum and four-time as our 2017 Distinguished Alumnus of the Year.
After graduating from De La Salle in 1980, Mr. Burk attended Chico State University and Cal State East Bay where he graduated with a degree in Music Composition and a minor in Business Administration.
Mr. Burk is one of the founding partners of Concord Music Group and President of Concord Records. Under Mr. Burk’s direction since 1995, Concord Records has grown from a boutique jazz label to become the largest independent music company in the word, with current artists including James Taylor, Paul Simon, Esperanza Spalding, and many, many more. As a producer, Mr. Burk has worked with artists such as Paul McCartney, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Norah Jones, Jill Scott, George Benson, and Al Jarreau, just to name a few.
Mr. Burk’s productions have earned a total of 23 GRAMMY nominations and 12 GRAMMY Awards, including Album and Record of the Year for Ray Charles’ Genius Loves Company.
In addition to his role at Concord Records, Mr. Burk is also very active with The Recording Academy/GRAMMY organization and MusiCares.
Chris Crespi, a De La Salle graduate of 1981, is the 2016 De La Salle Alumnus of the Year.
After graduating from De La Salle in 1981, Crespi went to UC Davis and graduated in 1985 with a BS in Electrical Engineering, specializing in microwaves, solid states, and quantum electronics. He then received his MBA in Finance and Marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.
Chris has worked 30+ years in the fields of engineering, finance and technology. He was most recently a Managing Director for Banc of America Securities. Chris served on a number of public and private company boards, including Sirenza Microdevices, Optium Corporation, and Ubiquiti Networks.
Chris has coached football at De La Salle since 2012. He was also a member of the De La Salle Finance Committee, and has recently worked as a member of the DLS Chemistry Faculty, and his two sons attended De La Salle as well. His wife, Marcela Alurralde, and he also have two older daughters, one who teaches elementary school in the Chicago Public School System and one graduated from the University of Southern California.
Timothy P. McGuire, class of 1983, was honored at the De La Salle High School Distinguished Alumnus of the Year in 2015.
Brigadier General McGuire is Commanding General of the Joint Readiness Task Force at Fort Polk, Louisiana, as well as Base Commander. He graduated from West Point in 1987 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army.
He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Diplomatic and Strategic History, a Master’s in International Relations as an Olmstead Scholar from the University of Chile, and a Master’s in National Security and Strategic Studies from the United States Naval War College.
Tim McGuire has had command assignments in the Armored Division (1994–1995), the 173rd Airborne Brigade (2003-2006) during its deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, and the 82d Airborne Division (2008- 2010) during its deployment to Iraq. He has also worked in Washington, D.C. (2010-2012) as Deputy Chief of the Legislative Liaison in the Office of the Secretary of the Army. His awards and decorations include the Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Defense Meritorious Service Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Expert Infantryman Badge, Master Parachutist Badge, Air Assault Badge, Ranger Tab, and Pathfinder Badge.
Tim’s Senior Legacy in the De La Salle Yearbook for 1983 shows many activities and honors, including academic awards (Biology, Geometry, Spanish, Chemistry, and Algebra); “Most Improved Player” in football as a junior; and the Brother Lawrence Allen Award. His senior saying: “Life is a series of problems to be solved, and there is only one solution: Linebacker Blitz! Thanks, D.L.S.” Tim McGuire and his wife, Susan, have four children: Tom, Maria, Erin, and Patrick.
Sean Farnham, class of 1994, was honored as the 2014 De La Salle High School Distinguished Alumnus of the Year. Farnham is currently a college basketball analyst for ESPN television and now occupies the first broadcast chair for SEC games. Sean joined the ESPN team in 2010, after a 10-year stay with Fox Sports. During his career in television, Sean has emerged as a well-known and highly regarded on-camera presence.
His love for sports blossomed at De La Salle. After a great freshman year in basketball, he joined the Varsity squad as a sophomore, started as a junior and senior, and was team captain as well as MVP for senior year. After his Spartan career, he journeyed to UCLA after being actively recruited and secured a basketball scholarship.
In 2009, his leadership resulted in the creation of the “Hoops from Home” program. This non-profit initiative brings basketball clinics to children of active military personnel. Of course, this very event, our Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, has benefited enormously from Sean’s generous service as Master of Ceremonies since its inception.
Sean grew up in a loving family with Mom Vicky, Dad Mike, and older sister Shannon, CHS ’93. Sean’s Lasallian roots are well established as his dad graduated from the Christian Brothers’ Sacred Heart High School in San Francisco, in 1965. Sean lives in the Los Angeles area where he and his wife Sarah, another UCLA graduate, (to be inducted into the Notre Dame High School, Sherman Oaks, Hall of Fame in March as a distnguished soccer player) are the proud parents of Jack, age 9, Morgan, age 7, and Kellen, age 3. Sean was the “Voice of the Spartan” as a senior and continues to be the epitome of Spartan values and loyalty!
The 2013 De La Salle High School Distinguished Alumnus of the Year, Tom Baldacci '77, is a principal of the Castle Companies, a home-building company “with the warm touch of a family business,” and a principal of Baldacci Family Vineyards, which “blends a deep passion for winemaking with the timeless traditions of family.”
Family is a major value for Tom and wife Brenda, and De La Salle High School has benefited from being part of the Baldacci family circle for years. Tom was the first Baldacci to attend, followed by brothers Louis ’82 and James ’83, cousin Philip ’94, and Tom’s four sons: Kevin ’07, Michael ’08, Thomas ’10, and Matthew ’13.
Tom has served DLS on advisory boards, campaign committees, and event committees, and remains supportive of the school’s mission, even though—as reported on the Baldacci Family Blog—he and Brenda are now empty-nesters: “After nearly 25 years of school, baseball, soccer, football, saxophone classes, packed lunches, swim meets, pool parties, weird friends, St. Isidore runs, broken arms, concussions, dinners, dirty dishes, and 72 pounds of laundry every day, Tom and Brenda have gotten all four boys off to college and on to bigger and better things.”
Receiving the 2012 De La Salle High School Distinguished Alumnus of the Year award is Father LaSalle Hallissey '69.
A freshman at De La Salle on its opening day in 1965, and a proud member of its first graduating class, Sean Hallissey entered religious life after high school, taking the name “Lasalle,” and after some years with the Christian Brothers, he discerned his vocation as a priest and was ordained to the Dominican order in 1979.
Father Sean spent his many years in service to the church in pastoral ministry in Los Angeles and most recently as an associate pastor at St. Dominic’s Parish in Benicia. As a lifelong loyal Spartan, Father LaSalle returned home to Winton Drive in the Fall of 2012 to serve his alma mater as chaplain.