It is indeed as the saying goes, “All good things much come to an end.” In terms of Oakdale educator Pete Simoncini, some might say “All great things.”
This Friday night Simoncini, lovingly known as “The Voice of the Mustangs” will have his voice fill the Corral one final time before entering retirement after more than two decades as an educator at Oakdale High School.
“I was 50 when I started, I just turned 71,” Simoncini shared.
Beginning his OHS career in February of 2001, the history and political enthusiast’s first career was with the US Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.
“I got my Masters in Political science,” he said of his education.
The army veteran completed his Bachelors at University of San Francisco, then he was presented with the opportunity to continue on for his Masters, which he completed at Georgetown.
“I was actually set up to go right into the lobbying industry because my last job in the army was Congressional Relations,” Simoncini stated. “I didn’t wear a uniform my last two years. I was a congressional fellow for Senator John Warner through the American Political Science Association. That was a hard thing to get.”
Yet as he looked at his future opportunities within his government job, he began discussing retirement and his next career move with his wife Becky. According to the educator it was his wife who challenged him by asking him what was most enjoyable to him during his 23 years with the US Army.
“I said I love teaching,” he recalled, “and she said ‘yes you do’. I come alive when I teach.”
In 1999 he got a job at Edison High School teaching Junior ROTC and worked on acquiring his social studies credential at the same time. By either coincidence or fate the teacher learned of an opening in Oakdale, where his family had bought a home when they relocated to California for his Edison job.
“I believe that life is like a big jigsaw puzzle, every day everything you do is a piece of the puzzle,” he said, reflecting on his journey thus far. “I honestly believe that the good Lord put me on this path, the army, University of San Francisco, Georgetown, all those years in the Army. Everything I’ve done was pointing me at Oakdale High School. For some reason, I just honestly believe this is where I was meant to be, in classroom F11.”
Classroom F11, one of the “newer” classrooms on campus, has been his home away from home since March of 2006. Countless students have passed through since that time, each holding a special place in the educator’s memory and heart.
As tribute to those students, one can’t help but notice a rather large College pennant display at the front of the F11 classroom. Pennants from Yale, Claremont McKenna, Notre Dame, Stanford, Fresno State, Boise State, USC and countless others; all given to him by former students.
“Every one of those pennants has been given to me by a student that I’ve had that has gone to that particular college. This is the Oakdale High School legacy,” he said.
“There is a pride in in our teachers, and to me the unsung heroes are those elementary teachers. They’re the ones who build the base,” he continued, noting the high standard and quality of Oakdale students and sharing the analogy of a strong house being built on a strong foundation and those teachers being that foundation.
“We are a one high school town and we are a one district town and everything comes together,” Simoncini added. “It’s just the sense of community and the sense of professionalism among the teachers.”
Loved and admired by many past and present Mustangs, the teacher shared mutual feelings.
“I love these kids,” he said when asked what he would miss most in retirement. “I remember a number of years ago in 2009 I was county Teacher of the Year from high school. They were interviewing me and I said, the best thing about my job is going to be coming through that door in about 15 minutes. It’s the kids. I will miss the kids.”
A fun fact which many may not realize is it was this love for the kids and desire for connection, which brought Simoncini to the microphone.
“My announcing was to get me close to the kids so I’d be a more effective teacher and it worked,” he said, indicating his original interest in announcing girls volleyball while his daughter played for OHS.
After announcing that first game he was approached by former Athletic Director Mike Hogwood and asked to provide commentary at Mustang football games.
“That first night I thought I’d lost my job,” Simoncini shared, as the team was making a comeback against Turlock and he mistakenly called out the Oakdale Bulldogs. “The place went silent. The whole place and every eye turned away from the field and up at me.”
But lose his job was the furthest thing that would come from that night. For the past 21 years Simoncini’s voice has been heard calling 11 different sports, as well as providing morning PA announcements and serving as emcee at many community events as well.
“I think I gave myself the name, ‘The Voice of the Mustangs’ and it kind of stuck,” he confessed, chuckling. “It’s time for other people to move on. It’s time for somebody else to do it. Can I do it? Could I do it? Yes, of course I could. It’s a great gig, but it’s time to move on.”
As he looks to “moving on,” his eyes light up as he shares his future plans. While his wife Becky will continue her career at OHS, Simoncini is set on making home life all the better for them both.
“It’s time for me to go and spend time with her,” he said of leaving his Friday night gig. “We have five grandkids now, two live here in Oakdale. So it’s time.”
Family has been a big factor in the decision to leave the classroom and the announcer’s booth.
“I have a brand new three-week-old grandson and he’s got a five-year-old sister who will be going to kindergarten next year, so here’s my goal,” he confided. “I want to be the best dad, best husband and best grandpa I can be. I want Miss Becky to come home from work every day and that house is standing tall looking good, the yard … that everything’s clean. And this is the hardest part – I’m going to try to learn how to cook and occasionally have food on the table for her and treat her like a queen.”
One thing continues to be clear as the educator speaks, his love for the students and how they have touched him as a teacher.
“I guess I’m a dinosaur, because I honestly believe if you show love to these kids, if you show them that you love them, that you take the time to become an expert in what you’re teaching, and that you truly have what we call expert power,” he noted. “And then you are willing to take the time to give it to them. And take the time to know each kid, what each kid’s shtick is.”
Yet the time has come for the sun to set on that piece of the educator’s life and pass the torch to the next generation of teachers.
“I have had such a wonderful time here … and I think kids have gotten a lot out of it and I know I’ve gotten a lot. It’s been fun. I just feel so blessed as I look back now,” Simoncini summarized. “But it’s time for a new generation to take over. It’s time for new blood and I just hope the new blood will continue to take us in the right direction and I think they will. I’m optimistic.”