A chance meeting with a coach at Roxborough High School has made all the difference in the world for Boys Latin senior David Ayala.
Ayala, who had just moved from Riverside, California, was enrolled at Roxborough to begin his high school career because it was his neighborhood school.
Enter former Boys Latin football coach Sean Diviny.
“One day I was at Roxborough’s football field because I lived right down the street from it,” Ayala said. “I was just training because I was playing Pop Warner in the Keystone League. So I was training there and I happened to run into (Diviny). He talked a lot about (Boys Latin) football and I wanted more than football. So when he brought up the education, I was like, ‘alright, this is definitely a better choice than going to Roxborough.’
“Because I came in not knowing about an application process – I didn’t know you had to apply to schools – I was automatically put into Roxborough because it was my neighborhood school. But I was lucky enough to get into a lottery for Boys Latin and be able to get picked for here.”
Ayala said he was a “C” student during his time in Riverside and during his two years at James Dobson School, but he has flourished in more ways than one since walking through the doors at Boys Latin.
Since his freshman year, Ayala has earned scholastic honors with a 3.8 grade point average and is enrolled in advanced placement classes. As a result, he is choosing from among three prestigious colleges in Susquehanna University, Ursinus College and St. Anselm College in New Hampshire.
He didn’t get to play football for Diviny who left Boys Latin after the 2015 season, but Ayala has excelled under Mark Rufo, Anthony Pastore and Pat Montgomery, earning first-team all-Public honors at linebacker. He also plays baseball for athletic director Joe Dunn and was a first-team all-Public selection at catcher.
But sports is just a piece of who he is and what he has done at Boys Latin.
For the last two seasons, he has participated in Practice 4 Peace, a program started by Pastore and his friend, Frankford football coach Bill Sytsma. Boys Latin and Frankford play each other on Thanksgiving every year, so Pastore and Sytsma wanted to do something since each team had lost a player to gun violence – Messiah Chivertron of Frankford and Jahsun Patton of Boys Latin.
So Practice 4 Peace was born. Both teams held joint practices at each other’s school in 2018 and last season, it extended to the NovaCare Complex where the teams got to interact with Philadelphia Eagles like Malcolm Jenkins, former Frankford player Shareef Miller, Vinny Curry, Brandon Graham and Mack Hollins. They were also able to help with a youth clinic.
“After we had our practice, we were able to help with a youth camp with the Eagles,” Ayala said. “It was a fun day. I’ve always liked helping kids. I used to coach my brother’s football team. So just being able to hype them up and get them all ready for the game, it’s just something I really enjoy doing especially because I love football.”
Ayala’s also involved with a leadership program with the Philadelphia Police’s 18th District. Captain Matt Gillespie put together a program where Ayala and other students meet with the police once a month when they talk about leadership and how to be a leader.
The police of the 18th district go out of their way to support Ayala and his fellow students. They came to the Practice 4 Peace, attend sporting events and hand out water ice at practice, forming a bond between the students and the police.
“I feel that I did become more of a leader,” Ayala said. “For example, when one of our classmates passed away, I had to step up and be there for some of my other classmates who were really close to him and being able to talk to them. When they did come in, they sat down and they were there to basically only to talk to us. They wanted us to show that they had somebody to talk to. So I guess just being with them, I learned that in any situation, there is a chance where I need to step up so I can help somebody else.”
He has taken that a step farther by participating in peer mediation for the last two years. In any school setting, there will be students who have a beef with another student. But Ayala and his fellow mediators are there to help smooth over any problems that may pop up.
“If there was a fight in school, we sit down, discuss some ways to help, just resolve the problem,” Ayala said. “Some people take it as they just want to stay away from each other. Other people want to make a bond. We put it in effect last year. Me and a couple of other classmates, we had to take a three day training program on days we had off. So we had to put some time into it.
“But I’m glad we actually started because we have some kids coming up to us some days in school, they’re just like ‘me and so-and-so have a good bond together. Now we’re hanging out.’ It’s just good to see because our core value here is brotherhood. That’s something that we want to continue building. And with peer mediation, that helps us grow.”
So because of a chance meeting with a coach he never played for, David Ayala has had an impact on his school and community. Sean Diviny probably knew he would.