Naperville North's Thompson earns Heart and Soul Award
As a decorated Vietnam veteran who also served 28 years in the Illinois National Guard, Neal Thompson knows about acting under adversity.
He sees those virtues in his son, Nick.
"I was very proud of him," Neal Thompson said. "I think he did the right thing and he did it without hesitation."
"It" was an act of heroism that earned the Naperville North senior volleyball player a 2019-20 Daily Herald Prep Sports Excellence Heart and Soul award.
On the night of Oct. 4, 2019, the 6-foot-4 right-side hitter was washing dishes at his job at Jet's Pizza in Naperville when his manager noticed flames coming from a car that had struck a traffic signal across the street at Ogden Avenue and Columbia Street.
Thompson's fight-or-flight instinct emerged in a life-changing instant.
The manager yelled for someone to call 911. Thompson executed the order while running out of the store toward the accident, along with a fellow Jet's employee. They were met by another person at the vehicle, which had split in half by the force of the crash.
The driver was still behind the wheel of the vehicle -- "just a hunk of metal," Thompson previously told the Daily Herald -- suspended upside-down by his seat belt.
The rescuers released the belt and cradled the man while pulling him from the car. The crash was fiery enough to cause minor burns on Nick's forearms.
"I honestly thought he was dead for a minute, because when we were dragging him he wasn't moving and his eyes were wide open," Thompson said then.
The driver was transported from the scene with non-life-threatening injuries. After an investigation, on Oct. 25 Naperville Police charged the driver with five violations. The case is still in court, its next hearing July 8 in Wheaton.
"I realized I had the ability to do something that mattered without really thinking about it," Thompson said.
"I chose to fight, to pull him out of the car instead of standing on the corner like all the other people were doing. There's never been a specific moment in my life where I've been able to prove to myself that I was able to choose to fight in that situation.
"There's obviously those situations in athletics, where you dive (for a ball) or something like that, but I think it's different when there's someone's life in your hands," he said.
At a subsequent Naperville Unit District 203 meeting, Superintendent Dan Bridges presented the senior with a D203 Mission Maker Award, a monthly award "given to students who live the District mission in exemplary ways."
Thompson, who also played with the Sports Performance Volleyball Club, had little chance to dive for a volleyball this season. Naperville North practices were suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Thompson is considering playing for the club team at the University of Alabama, where his strong academics merited a full-tuition scholarship to the Culverhouse College of Business.
At times Nick Thompson's intestinal fortitude will be tested in that setting. He has proved his mettle.
"I'm not the kind of person who would fold under pressure," he said. "I learned that about myself."