One of Newport's finest classes to gather

From the Sidelines: Don Cantrell for Sat. Many high school classes come and go with flair and finesse, but draw little national fanfare, yet the dynamic Newport Harbor High Class of '55 blossomed out with prized athletes who drew state and national spotlights from prep days through college years.

In fact, one named Tod White and three others at Occidental College in '57 shined on the international scene by breaking the world record in the two-mile relay at the L.A. Coliseum. White ran his best-ever mile in college, clocking 4:08.

There were times when a number of the '55 stars would be performing before thousands and millions when their sporting events were being televised across the country.

And they'll all come together at the 50th class reunion at 6 p.m. tonight at the Newport Harbor Yacht Club.

One noteworthy figure many have not seen in 50 years is the former pro basketball ace Paul Neumann, who has been involved in the missionary field throughout Europe, Africa and Asia for decades. He played pro with the Syracuse Nationals for more than seven years.

Neumann had followed his teenage hero, pro basketball Hall of Famer George Yardley, also a Newport grad, to Stanford and impressed pro scouts, being an adept scoring threat.

His sterling teammate all the way back to Harbor Area Boys Club days was Dennis Fitzpatrick, who paced Orange Coast to a cage crown in '57 and then helped Cal to the '59 NCAA championship against an elite West Virginia team that featured All-American Jerry West. It was the classy Fitzpatrick who was e.g. given the challenge of slowing West down. And he did.

White, who also played football, shattered the national prep mile record in 4:20 flat at the L.A. Coliseum in June '55. White's record held for six years.

Fullback Bob Milum headed to the Rose Bowl with Oregon State College in '57. A fine runner and punter, Milum and his team were inducted into the OSC Hall of Fame.

Jim Newkirk pitched OCC to a state JC baseball title in '57. His remarkable pitching record at OCC for two years was 19-1.

As a rugged lineman at OCC in '57, Newkirk helped lead OCC to a stunning defeat of No. 1 nationally-ranked Santa Ana College Dons and won the title with a 13-7 mark on the scoreboard.

And Glenn Thomas, an all-league guard at Newport in '54, shined as a top lineman at Occidental College with future pro Jack Kemp and Jim Mora before advancing as a head coach to Magnolia High and coaching the school to two winning seasons.

Passing on the strain of head coaching, Thomas became a brilliant assistant at Loara High for nine years and Fullerton JC for 24 years. Both schools were consistent champions on the turf.

Bill Wetzel was in the Orange Coast College champ circle as a noted basketball player and baseball pitcher. In time, he was chosen to serve as the cage mentor at Estancia High and he served more than 30 years in that post.

From another angle, there was a sharp low hurdler and an exceptional quarterback named Bruce Knipp. One of his finest nights found him starring for OCC champions in the second half against Stockton JC in the Potato Bowl, Bakersfield although OCC lost 20-12. Knipp went on to become a fine FBI agent.

Neumann, deemed " a very humble person" by Milum, was also a high jumper in high school. He played Bee football as a sophomore, but finally faded away because he felt "basketball was more fun."

Fitzpatrick did a commendable job coaching Santa Maria JC for two years, but finally turned to enter the investment banking field. Today, however, he is involved with real estate development.

White earned his doctorate in psychology at the University of Minnesota, then worked for 25 years in the management education business training field in Princeton, N.J. before returning to Balboa for retirement.

Some of the impressive coaches who tutored these athletes in early years were: Reed, Al Irwin, Wendell Pickens, Jules Gage, Stu Inman, Pete Newell, Don Burns and John McGowan.

Basically, the '55 athletes were all unique individuals with admirable humility, high leadership ability and were devoted to quality teamwork.

They were simply: champions.

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