At halftime of a football game that it trailed 28-0, Duluth High found a reason for celebration Friday night in two famous alumni.
Braves catcher Brian McCann and Red Sox shortstop Nick Green had their baseball jerseys retired in a midfield ceremony. McCann (No. 32) and Green (No. 20) both wore blue jeans that were soaked above the ankles from pacing the damp sidelines.
Several hundred fans with rain coats and umbrellas gave them more applause than Cecil Morris Field is accustomed to hearing lately.
“This means everything to me to come back and see a lot of people that taught here when I played here,’’ said McCann, who set school records in home runs (14) and RBIs (38) as a sophomore in 2000.
Among the former teachers who greeted McCann was Bunny Taplin, whose specialty is family and consumer science. Dressed in Duluth purple, she also was directing the cheerleaders.
“They’re the most mannerable, respectable boys I’ve ever met in my life,’’ Taplin said. “They’re just such role models. They’re still good guys.’’
Duluth’s football team is 1-8 after its loss to North Gwinnett. The sports program overall is respectable -- the girls basketball team made the state quarterfinals last year -- but not what you would expect for a school with a couple of active major leaguers among its alumni.
Former Heisman Trophy winner George Rogers also attended Duluth, which has occupied the same campus since the early 1960s, making it one of Gwinnett County’s oldest high schools.
McCann said the best thing about high school was being a baseball teammate of his brother, Brad, and getting to know his wife, Ashley. Brad McCann, a year older, was a star shortstop and a top prospect himself. He played a little minor-league ball.
“Being able to go through high school with the person you looked up to the most [Brad], that was the best thing for me,’’ McCann said. “And this is where I met my wife. My wedding was the best day of my life. I’m thankful for that and the whole baseball program here.’’
McCann and Green each played baseball and basketball at Duluth. Their basketball coach, Joe Marelle, remains close to both.
“To be honest, Brian will be the first to admit this, he has stole a couple of bases, but he’s not fleet of foot,’’ Marelle said. “He was leading the team in scoring and rebounding, but it wasn’t because he had the best vertical jump. He had the desire to compete. That’s what makes him an all-star.’’
Green, whose 111 career hits are a school record, was more athletic in basketball and was all-county in both sports, Marelle said.
“Nick was extremely fast and was always playing the game a frame ahead,’’ Marelle said. “He could play on the rim, which was amazing for his size [6 feet]. The similarity between Nick and Brian was when they stepped on the field, it was business. They were trying to perform their best every time.’’
Green’s teams had more success than McCann’s. Duluth failed to make the state playoffs in McCann’s four seasons but reached a state final with Green in 1995.
“I just appreciate the way my coaches handled situations with me and the way I was taught to play,’’ Green said. “They taught me to appreciate what I was doing and never let me get lazy. I take those lessons then until now and make sure I give it everything I’ve got.’’
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