Editor's Note: Newsday.com is catching up with former Long Island homecoming kings and queens to reflect on being named royalty and see what they're up to now. If you're a former Long Island high school homecoming king or queen and would like to participate, email email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Athlete first. News man second. That was Joel Santisteban, who was elected homecoming king of Valley Stream South High School in 1978.
He was popular among peers in a school that placed students in grades seven through 12 in one building. He was a star running back for the Valley Stream South Falcons, a baseball player and a member of the track team.
Santisteban always had sports on the brain, until he met Hiram Rosov, the teacher who introduced him to news writing.
He began writing for the school newspaper, but focused on football and baseball when he entered C.W. Post in 1979.
“You only have a certain window of being an athlete,” Santisteban said. “To be a pro football player, you have a window. I went up to my window and felt like I was in the best shape of my life at 23 years old.”
That’s when Santisteban tried out for the Miami Dolphins. Before going, his college coach encouraged him to change positions, from running back to linebacker, to correspond with his speed.
But Santisteban said he just couldn’t make the switch “for the life of me,” and headed to training camp.
“I was down there for three months and then I got released,” Santisteban said. “That’s when I said, 'I can’t do this anymore.' But I always had that love of journalism and the news, and it all started at Valley Stream South.”
Santisteban later earned a bachelor's degree in media studies from Fordham University. He worked for ABC as a program coordinator before transferring to WABC national radio, where he worked various jobs, from advertising director to reporter, for nearly three decades. Through his diligent work, he eventually paid for the college tuitions of his three children and retired by age 55.
“They’re out on their own now and they’re all doing well,” he said of his children, Lisa, Michael and Joel. “That came with a lot of sacrifice on our part. We lived pretty much below our means and I sacrificed a lot with my work hours to pull that off. I rolled the dice and wanted to see if I could retire early, and I did. So now I’m going to make the trips and do things I wanted to do while I was working.”
Santisteban now spends his time kayaking, hiking and exploring parts of Long Island he’s never seen before. He recently kayaked the Nissequogue River for the first time. The Carmens, Connetquot and Peconic rivers are next on his “bucket list.”
”Because I worked so hard, I never saw the Grand Canyon, I’ve never been to any state or national parks out of state -- I’ve never done any of that,” he said. “Do you know how many times I’ve passed these places when I was traveling for my kids’ college games? I kept making a mental note to myself, one day I’m going to come back here, to Newport, Rhode Island, or I’m going to come back to Maine. There’s so much to see here that I never did.”
Next up, Santisteban will be trekking to Canton, Ohio, to visit the Pro Football Hall of Fame. That inner athlete is still there, active as ever. He doesn’t have any regrets about the way it all turned out.
“The only change I would have made: I still would have pursued football, I just would have changed my position,” he said with a big laugh.