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Book tells stories of retired numbers of Arizona high school athletes

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LISTEN: Retired Arizona high school jersey numbers

PHOENIX — Scott Hanson has been an Arizona high school baseball umpire and football referee for 30 years.

In May of 2015, he wrote a book called “Who is Gym?,” which revealed stories about the people that Arizona’s high school gyms, football and baseball fields are named after.

He hadn’t planned on writing a second book, but that all changed one day.

“My baseball umpire partner and I were umpiring a game at Paradise Valley High School,” Hanson said. “About the third inning, he came down and said ‘Hey, Scott, I’ve got the idea for your second book.’”

The partner showed him eight numbers that were displayed in right field and said, “Who are those numbers and who do they belong to?”

That started Hanson on a yearlong quest to find about the retired numbers of Arizona high school athletes. He’s compiled them into stories for his new book, “What’s your Number?”

“Overall, in the state of Arizona, there are 71 high schools who have retired numbers,” Hanson said. “There are 186 individuals in Arizona who have had their high school number retired.”

St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix has the most retired numbers at 21, including number 44, worn by basketball player Channing Frye, who eventually played for the Phoenix Suns.

“He was a tremendous high school athlete,” Hanson said. “He was an All-American, he played at the University of Arizona and in the NBA. He played on the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA title team in 2016. He was the first basketball player ever retired at St. Mary’s High school.”

Then there’s former Arizona Diamondbacks’ pitcher Curt Schilling.

“He was in the class of 1985 at Shadow Mountain High School. His number 19 is retired,” Hanson said. “(He was) a six-time All-Star and a 2001 co-MVP with Randy Johnson in the 2001 World Series.”

Singer Jordin Sparks’ school number isn’t retired, but her dad’s is.

“Phillippi Sparks played football at Maryvale High School,” Hanson said.

“He was a high school All-American in three sports: football, basketball and track. He went on to Arizona State University and then had a tremendous career in the National Football League.”

Then there are the numbers of players that were retired because of what they did after high school.

“At Queen Creek High School, they retired number 61, Nathan Martens. He was killed in action in Iraq in 2005,” Hanson said.

“At Tucson High, they retired No. 11, Chris Moon, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2010.”

And then there’s Lee Williams High School in Kingman.

“Number 11 is not issued there in any sport,” Hanson said.

“Eleven represents the 11 volunteers and full time firefighters, including Principal Lee Williams, who lost their lives in 1973 when a propane tanker exploded at a fire that they were fighting.”

There’s a saying at the school. “Their school motto is ‘We can, we will.’ And the will there is (spelled) W-I-1-1.”

Hanson said, unfortunately, the numbers and the stories behind them are often forgotten.

“It’s not a fault on the school, or the administrators, or the students, it’s a generational thing,” Hanson said.

“Some of these people that were recognized with their names on the buildings or their numbers hanging in the rafters happened a long time ago. As new administrators and teachers come in, they don’t know the history (of the school). They weren’t there for that history. Maybe they should know. Maybe they should take the time to find out.”

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