Commentary | Braden River's Courtney Mirabella joins group of athletes with retired numbers; who's next?

adell@bradenton.comMay 26, 2013 

Courtney Mirabella soon will find herself in some rarified air, up there with Manatee hall of fame football coach Joe Kinnan and others whose athletic achievements have become local folklore.

The softball pitching phenomenon will become the second female athlete from Manatee County to have her number retired and the first from a public school during a ceremony Aug. 31st at the Braden River football team's home opener.

She joins Kinnan, basketball stalwarts Wilmore Fowler (Palmetto) and Jessica Magley (Bradenton Christian), and Paul Mardis Jr., a former Palmetto football player who made the supreme sacrifice when he lost his life in Iraq.

That's a handful of some pretty select company. Mirabella's No. 3 will be encased and hang in the hallway in the Braden River gym above the trophy case.

"We had a meeting and the administration at the school was 100 percent behind doing it," Braden River athletic director Bob Bowling said. "She set a standard that will be hard for anyone to break. She is an exemplary person and does an excellent job in the classroom."

Mirabella was pleasantly surprised when the school announced its decision last week. The ace righty had no idea she and Kinnan now share a rare accomplishment.

"It's a great honor and puts a cap on everything I've done. It means all the work I put in was worth it," the N.C. State signee said.

Mirabella is believed to be Manatee County's career strikeout leader. Fowler is Palmetto High's career scoring leader, and Magley is the county's female career basketball scoring champ.

Kinnan, who wore No. 65 when he played for the Hurricanes, has won five state football titles. Fowler wore No. 24, Magley 52 and Mardis 54.

Mirabella's number has some personal history to it. Her father Tony wore No. 33 when he played basketball for Manatee High, and her sister Heather was No. 3 when she was Braden River's top basketball player.

"When I was younger, I wore number 13, but switched to 3 when I got older. If I can't get 3 in college, I would like number 7. Three has always been important to me because of who wore it in my family," she said.

Who's next?

Despite their rich football traditions, Southeast has never retired a player's number, and Kinnan is the only Manatee High grad to receive the honor.

"Everyone wants to be the first," says Paul Maechtle, Southeast's longtime head football coach.

If Southeast ever decides to retire a player's number, most would argue for Peter Warrick, though you could make a good case for Adrian McPherson, the only person in state history to be named Mr. Football and Mr. Basketball.

Manatee might be a little harder to figure.

Tommie Frazier and Willie Taggart gained their fame in college. Henry Lawrence only played one year for the Canes, earned his fame in the NFL and prefers to be considered a Lincoln High alumnus.

The Canes' Shevin Wiggins, Manatee County's career rushing leader with an astonishing 4,451 yards, deserves consideration. And let's not ignore Manatee quarterback Cord Sandberg, but allow him to go through the five-year obligatory waiting period that is common in these situations.

The leading candidate at Bayshore would have to be John Garvin, who amassed 3,709 career rushing yards though some might want to push for Fabian Washington. It's early for young Lakewood Ranch, but Rocky Schwartz and kicker Gary Cismesia are strong candidates.

We cannot forget the Lincoln High era.

Standing at the top of the list is Ray Bellamy, who broke the color barrier for major college football in the South and is in the University of Miami Hall of Fame.

Lincoln grads argue passionately that Eugene Hart was the best to ever tote a ball for a Manatee County prep team. Eddie Shannon, his hall of fame coach, claims he rushed for more than 6,000 yards, though there are no official records.

The other great Lincoln High athletes whose names have been enshrined in the school annals are basketball greats Waite Bellamy, Neil "Chip" Nelson and Marvin Clemons.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112. Follow him on Twitter at @ADellSports.

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