Publication date: Dec. 29, 2013
The hallways at Wooster High School are lucky.
They’ve seen a future three-time Tour de France champion (Greg LeMond) and a future Hall of Fame golfer (Patty Sheehan).
They’ve also housed a future Super Bowl-winning quarterback (Glenn Carano), a future X Games gold medalist (David Wise) and a future All-American softball player (Brianne McGowan).
The school, founded in 1962, has as rich a history in developing world-class athletes as any in Nevada. But Wooster is far from alone in being the one-time home to great athletes, which got me thinking.
I wanted to know who the best athletes at each local high school were.
I ended up with The Mt. Rushmore Project, a long-term research project, identifying the top four athletes at each large-class high school in Northern Nevada.
It was one of the most fun projects I’ve done in my 11-year tenure at the RGJ and also one of the most illuminating. In short, Northern Nevada has plenty to be proud of when it comes to its athletic heritage.
The area has been home to dozens of future Major League Baseball and National Football League players; future NCAA champions in swimming, volleyball and track and field; future Olympians in skiing, cycling and many other sports; future forefathers in extreme sports; and future national record-holders.
So many great athletes have come out of this area that it was difficult to pare down each school’s list to four. Take Reno High, which has had endless star players over its 134 years of existence.
The Huskies can boast a three-time Olympic cyclist (Inga Thompson), an NFL head coach (Ray Handley), a Hall of Fame skier (Dodie Post Gann), an original member of the Raiders (Don Manoukian), a nine-year MLB veteran (Shawn Boskie), a three-time NCAA discus champion (Kami Keshmiri), a McDonald’s All-American high school basketball player (David Padgett), an elite cross country runner (Mel Lawrence) and a quarterback who finished 10th in the 1976 Heisman vote (Jeff Dankworth).
That’s just scratching the surface, and I’m supposed to cut that down to four athletes? Good luck.
Some of our schools are loaded with quality athletes, so much so I couldn’t find a place for NFL player Josh Mauga on the list for tiny Fallon (population 8,606) or a spot on Hug’s list for Armon Johnson, one of just two locals to play in an NBA game. Some of these decisions were gut-wrenching.
Take a look at McQueen, a football powerhouse loaded with Chris Carr, Jeff Rowe and Kyle Van Noy. But only one of those players made the list (Carr) because of track and field star Ali McKnight, wrestling/UFC champ Ryan Bader and slugger Chris Aguila, who set the national record for single-season prep homers.
If you take Northern Nevada out of the equation, the sports world obviously wouldn’t fall apart. But it would look different, which is a hat-tip to our little region of the map.
Take away Wooster’s LeMond and America would still be winless in the Tour de France (dopers like Lance Armstrong and Floyd Landis don’t count).
Take away Wooster’s Sheehan and the LGPA would have been without one of its most gracious winners and a quiet champion of LGBT advocacy.
Take away Carson’s Matt Williams, a five-time All-Star, and the strike that ruined the 1994 season and cost Williams a shot at Roger Maris’ single-season homer mark wouldn’t have stung so much.
Take away South Tahoe’s Shaun Palmer or Douglas’ Matt Buyten and you lose two great extreme sports personalities, including one of the founding fathers of the X Games (Palmer).
Those are the big names, but there are plenty of oft-forgotten figures who left imprints locally and nationally, like Sparks High swimmer Brian Retterer, a 15-time NCAA champ who set two U.S. records, and high jumper Coleen Rienstra Sommer, a three-time college champ who held the U.S. indoor mark.
The names go on and on. The accomplishments stack up in impressive fashion. The decision on who did and did not make the cut for their school was difficult.
While you may or may not agree with some of my picks, we can probably agree on one thing: Northern Nevada has produced some great athletes and that isn’t going to change.
Contact Chris Murray at email@example.com.
HOW WE DID IT
Reno Gazette-Journal sports columnist Chris Murray set out to identify the top four athletes in the history of Northern Nevada’s large-class high schools. The project took more than 80 hours to complete and included feedback from the athletic directors of each school, although the final (and often difficult) decisions came down to him. Murray started with a list of 10-15 athletes per school before whittling it down to five each (four honorees and one honorable mention). He took into consideration the athlete’s complete career, including high school, college and professional levels. Coaches were not considered for this project. Murray included each of the current Division I Northern Nevada schools in addition to schools that spent a good chunk of their time at the state’s largest classification.