This Numbers Game Has No Set Criteria : Preps: County schools have a wide variety of ideas about what it takes to deserve recognition in the rafters.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

At Mater Dei or Troy you must be the Southern Section player of the year or be named the top player in the county by a major newspaper.

At Magnolia a former player was honored for what he did after he left the school, not what he accomplished while he was there.

Across Orange County, there doesn't appear to be any clear-cut criteria as to how and why the jersey numbers of high school athletes can or should be retired.

Most retired numbers belong to football or boys' basketball players, although that appears to be changing. The countywide trend, fueled in part by the rapid growth and increased popularity of girls' sports, has seen about a six-fold increase in the number of jerseys hung up in gymnasium rafters and trophy shelves since the mid-1980s. Some, like the Cypress track program, prefer a wall of fame that features the names of top performers and school records. Servite retired the jersey of Bill Halligan, who led the Friars' basketball team to the Southern Section 2A basketball title in 1965. But since that time, Servite has opted to hang pictures of outstanding basketball players in the gymnasium.

There are, of course, a handful of county schools such as Newport Harbor, Laguna Hills and Corona del Mar that have never retired a number, although each has had its share of top performers. But at schools that have retired a jersey, most, if not all, of those honored were headline-making performers who have accomplished something of note.

Nevertheless, the line blurs after that.

For example, not every athlete with a retired number set the world on fire in high school. Brian Downing's No. 38 at Magnolia, for example, was retired a couple of decades after the former Angel graduated. Downing was not a standout player when he graduated in 1968. He went on to become a backup catcher at Cypress College, and only after a lot of hard work did he blossom in the professional ranks. On the surface, a football player from the school's glory days of the late 1960s and early '70s would appear to be more in order. But Downing, according to Sentinel Athletic Director Rick Penn, deserved to have his number retired.

"I'm thinking of impact here," Penn said. "Brian Downing gave the school visibility as a professional ballplayer."

Ann Meyers, whose No. 15 has been retired at Sonora, might fit into the "impact" scenario. She was a standout performer in the defunct Girls Athletic Assn. in the early 1970s. In those days, girls did not receive the headlines or attention that boys' sports did. Meyers, who is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., is better known for her exploits at UCLA. The Bruins retired her collegiate jersey number in 1989, six years before the Raiders did.

Some schools honor fallen athletes.

Magnolia retired the No. 30 worn by Mike Goff, a basketball player in the mid-1980s. He died suddenly of a heart ailment while attending Fullerton College in 1989. Again, according to Penn, "He had impact. He was a good, hard-working kid who had a real untimely death."

Brea honored soccer player, Brad Rusche, retiring his No. 14 after he died of a heart attack not long after he graduated a couple of years ago.

Making a statement or advancing a cause are other reason why some schools have retired a jersey.

Orange High retired the soccer jersey of No. 9 Ali Kazemaini not only because he was a standout striker who went on to play professionally indoors with the Cleveland Force, but also because, according to Athletic Director Dave Zirkle: "Soccer was a fledgling sport at the time and we wanted to do something to publicize it because we had been successful."

Some schools jump to select multitalented performers before the ink is dry on their diplomas. Marcy Crouch, a 1995 Marina High graduate, had her No. 7 from the girls' softball and her No. 22 from the girls' soccer team retired. Crouch, The Times Orange County softball player of the year last season, also played volleyball. She played on five Southern Section championship teams.

Then there's Tustin, where it took nearly 50 years between the retirement of the No. 31 worn by 1943 Southern Section player of the year, Norm Veeh, and the decision to retire the No. 50 worn by linebacker Aaron Gutridge, the 1990 Southern Section Division VI player of the year, who now plays at Chapman.

Tustin, which will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 1996, does not have a policy regarding the retirement of jerseys. It was only after a former Tiller football coach, Marijon Ancich, pushed to see Gutridge honored, that it occurred.

"Marijon felt very strongly that this young man deserved the honor based on his accomplishments," Tustin Athletic Director Al Rosmino said. "We don't take it lightly. We don't do one of these every five years or so. It's a tremendous honor to have it done."

Some schools have written protocol for considering a number to be retired. Such is the case at Mater Dei, which boasts one of the largest contingents of retired numbers in the county. The Monarchs have retired the numbers of 12 boys and two girls in four sports.

Perhaps the school that has taken the chore of deciding how to retire numbers most seriously is Trabuco Hills, where six athletes were honored in the school's first seven years. Trabuco Hills only began competing on the varsity level in 1986. But within a couple of years, the Mustangs had their first Southern Section football title. That stimulated coaches to develop a written standard by which all athletes at the school could be measured. One might otherwise question how such a relatively new school could have so many numbers worthy of retirement.

Trabuco Hills coaches nominate players for consideration based on career performances and awards, then school administrators take a look at how well the student did in school and, perhaps, which school functions other than athletics the player was involved in. The final decision is made by a panel of administrators and coaches.

"Obviously, when you retire a number you want to be very credible," Trabuco Hills Athletic Director Gary Sabella said. "You just don't retire the number of a good athlete. These were special athletes. We took into consideration their total career at the school. You can have a guy who was All-CIF and just that alone isn't going to cut it."

Woodbridge, which has retired two jerseys, looks for well-rounded students who continue to perform at a high level after they leave high school.

"Our criteria for retiring them," Woodbridge Athletic Director Dave Cowen said, "is someone who has distinguished himself by going on professionally, or going on and doing something that's world renowned."

All-Southern Section basketball standout Adam Keefe, currently a reserve with the Utah Jazz, wore No. 31 for the Warriors.

"Everything you would want in the way of traits and characteristics of a scholar-athlete, he emulated," Cowen said.

Woodbridge also has honored All-American swimmer Chad Hundeby, who has crossed the English Channel faster than anyone.

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