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When Your Number's Up : Some Hang 'Em High, Others Aren't the Retiring Type


They are some of Orange County's best known names.

No. 11 . . . John Huarte of Mater Dei.

No. 44 . . . Tony Gonzalez of Huntington Beach.

No. 15 . . . Ann Meyers of Sonora.

Like dozens of others countywide, they have had their number retired by their alma mater.

"It is a tremendous honor to be selected to have your number retired," Tustin Athletic Director Al Rosmino said. "It's something not to be taken lightly. It's not something you just do every five or 10 years."

The criteria for retiring numbers varies from school to school, but an informal survey by The Times Orange County turned up a veritable Who's Who of retired jerseys.

Or should we say, Who Was Who?

Huarte, a quarterback, went on to win the Heisman Trophy in 1964 at Notre Dame.

Gonzalez, who led Huntington Beach to Southern Section finals in both basketball and football, is playing both again as a sophomore at California.

Meyers was better known for playing basketball at UCLA than she was for the eight sports she played at Sonora in the early 1970s.

The survey was just as revealing for what it didn't turn up.

Among the Who's Not: Newport Harbor.

One of the oldest schools in the county, Newport Harbor has never retired a player's number, despite graduating players such as football standouts Shane Foley and Dave Cadigan and volleyball player, Misty May, now at Long Beach State. She led the Sailors to the mythical national title last season.

"It's never happened and we just don't know why," Athletic Director Eric Tweit said. "Way back when there may have been a reason to do it, but it just hasn't been done."

Five of the seven schools in the Garden Grove League are without retired numbers, including Santiago, which produced retired Angel pitcher Bert Blyleven. Blyleven, however, has been inducted into the Orange County Sports Hall of Fame.

It's awful tough for school administrators to do something to recognize standout swimmers since Speedos don't come with numbers. Woodbridge High Athletic Director Dave Cowan found that out the hard way when the Warriors decided to honor swimmer Chad Hundeby. Hundeby, a four-time high school All-American as a distance swimmer, graduated in 1989 and has gone on to set several rough-water swimming records. About a year ago he swam the English Channel in a record, 7 hours 17 minutes.

"We plan to give him a jersey with a swim logo on it and to hang it [up in the gym]," Cowan said.

A large majority of the numbers that have been retired have come in the last 10 years. That means athletes such as Norm Veeh, who wore No. 31 for Tustin High, are a rarity in the county, a throwback to when this place had more of the fruit trees for which it was named than housing tracts.

Veeh, a fullback who liked to sneak in a running back pass or two when he caught the defense napping, was the 1943 Southern Section player of the year. He also threw the shotput for the track team.

Those early years in the county were a lot different than today, Veeh said.

"It was good football, we used to give it our all," said Veeh, who still farms oranges in Orange Cove, a small community 30 miles southeast of Fresno. "We had some pretty fair teams around the county, but you can't compare the ages because things change so much. They're doing so much weightlifting today, but for our day, we were pretty good."

Some pretty strange traditions have developed around the retired numbers.

At Anaheim, where the exploits of the Colonists in football during the 1950s and mid-1960s are near legendary, the hallowed jerseys of Mickey Flynn (No. 25), Joe Aviga (No. 24), Tom Fitzpatrick (No. 34) and Gerry (Moon) Mullins (No. 86) are visited by members of the current football team in a bizarre ritual before and after each game.

Players gather in front of a trophy case named for longtime Coach Clare Van Hoorebeke (another legend who, no doubt, would have had his number retired had he worn one). It rests in a tiny hallway adjacent to the locker room.

Someone turns on something called the helmet light, which is "an actual Anaheim helmet signed by Van Hoorebeke with a light bulb in it," said Deborah Fee-Carter, a longtime Colonist volunteer and wife of current Anaheim Coach Allen Carter. It hangs from the ceiling on a chain.

"The players hit their knees, say a prayer, turn on the light and go off and play their game," Fee-Carter said of a tradition that began nearly 25 years ago when her mother, Betty Fee, made the helmet light for Van Hoorebeke.

"When the players come back at the end of the game, they hit their knees again, thank God for no injuries and they turn off the light," she said.

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