Virgen: Timmons, simply the best

The Long Grey Line, that’s the nickname for all those athletes who have competed at Newport Harbor High.

Whenever I hear about Steve Timmons I think there should a big, red splotch on that grey line, a symbol for the greatest athlete to come out of the Newport Beach school.

With all the elite athletes to come out of Newport Harbor that is a bold statement. Nevertheless there’s no denying Timmons’ greatness. On Friday night it was time to honor the redhead at his alma mater during the Sailors’ boys’ volleyball match against powerhouse Huntington Beach.

While attending Newport Harbor in the mid 1970s Timmons admits to being an “average” athlete. But it’s what he accomplished after high school that’s so great and that led to now having his U.S. No. 6 jersey displayed at the school’s little, old gym.

“There have been a lot of great athletes to come through this school,” said Timmons, who won two gold medals and a bronze during three consecutive Olympics 1984-92. “To be honored here means a lot.”

Timmons said it was safe to describe himself as a late bloomer with regard to athletic ability and learning the game of volleyball.

“I’m just an example of those athletes who are trying a sport for the first year and I did have some athletic ability,” he said. “I was an example that if you pursue something and you’re willing to work at it hard enough and you want it bad enough that you can be successful.”

Timmons didn’t compete in volleyball until his junior year at Harbor. Coach Charlie Brande asked him to play on his junior varsity team when Brande was beginning his impressive career.

Timmons lasted only a couple months before he was pulled up to the varsity, Brande said. Getting Timmons to play volleyball did take a little convincing.

Brande said Timmons feared he wasn’t very good at passing and he didn’t really care for some of the diving that took place.

“I told him, ‘Don’t you worry, you won’t ever have to do either one,’” said Brande, the director of Orange County and Balboa Bay Volleyball Clubs. “Later, in the 1984 Olympics I was a scoreboard operator. Steve was the MVP there. After that I had this store. He brought in a picture of himself hitting over the Cubans. I said, ‘Steve, I saw you play every game and every point. You still don’t dive and you still don’t pass and you were the MVP!’”

Timmons took a year off after Newport Harbor and grew four inches before heading to play basketball and volleyball at Orange Coast College, Brande said. He won a state title in basketball and reached the state finals in volleyball at OCC, where he’s in the Hall of Fame. He’s also in the Volleyball Hall of Fame. He won a national title with USC after playing for the Pirates.

Brande talked about that as he was the announcer who introduced Timmons during a ceremony before the third set. Coach Dan Glenn, who played with Timmons at OCC, also said a few words, stressing how valuable Timmons has been to the game as Timmons is considered the pioneer of back-row hitting.

“I told them I’m very uncomfortable with it being about me because I don’t ever feel comfortable about it being about me because I’ve always played team sports,” Timmons said. “Working together as a team is the greatest challenge and the greatest experience you can have but it’s really nice to be honored tonight.”

Timmons sat in the stands with his wife, actress Debbe Dunning, and children Spencer, 18, Stoney, 14, and Sysco, 6, as well as his coach at OCC, Bob Wetzel.

Timmons saw his former high school team struggle, as this year’s Sailors are a young group.

He offered some advice. If the Sailors want to be great, they might want to use it.

“Just learn as you go and keep trying to improve every day,” Timmons said. “I’m coaching now for the girls’ 16 team for the Wave in San Diego. You can get pretty good to a certain point and then the games you play can be minimal. You have to take the games as they come. It’s a difficult game to get better at because you can’t just hang on to the ball and get really comfortable with it. It’s off your hand in a split second so it takes a lot of context and a lot of practice to get better at.”

Timmons certainly improved.