GREENFIELD — Michael Jordan has a reason. Wayne Gretzky? He has a reason too.
No matter how skilled or famous an athlete might be — or not be — deep down they have a particular reason for choosing the number on the front of their jersey. And each number has a story.
Sometimes, athletes are forced to pick the last number in the pile on picture day freshman year. Other times, a player feels a special connection to those digits — maybe his or her dad wore that number or even their favorite superstar.
Family seems to be the biggest trend, but nothing can be ruled out. Take Greenfield-Central’s Andy Kim for example.
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“I chose the No. 47, because Reece Greene, my linebacker coach, actually played at Greenfield and was an All-American at Marian (University),” Kim said. “He’s someone I look up to and has always been someone I go to for advice about football and just about anything else.
“And I get the cool nickname, AK-47, with it.”
According to an article from 2013 on csnchicago.com, Jordan’s favorite number in high school was 45. He wore that when he switched to baseball. In basketball, he chose 23 because his older brother got the first choice of 45, and 23 was half of that (rounded up).
Each reason is certainly unique. Some numbers can even signify greatness.
According to Mt. Vernon girls soccer coach Steve Williams, the No. 10 is worn by only the greatest soccer players in the game — a sign of respect and a notion towards legendary status. Williams always took a fancy towards that number but also liked No. 7 (Mickey Mantle), although in wrestling, the sport he played most as a kid, there are no numbers.
In the end, though, he always goes back to a number worn by his son.
“When it breaks down to one number, I would have to go with family,” Williams said. “Ryan wore that number (9). His favorite became mine.”
LET’S BE FRIENDS
Katie Helgason No. 2, Madison Wise No. 3 / Greenfield-Central
Madison Wise and Katie Helgason have been playing basketball together for so long, they have this numbers game figured out. And from it, a special friendship was formed.
“The one I wear for school ball, No. 3, is because that’s the number I got on my first AAU team with Katie Helgason, and she is No. 2,” Wise said. “So we’ve always been 2 and 3.”
The pair, years later, now leads the Cougars in scoring 1-2.
Wise also wears No. 10 during the summer like her older brother and sister.
For Helgason, however, No. 2 happened to be the one basketball jersey that fit.
“No. 2 was the smallest jersey they had,” Helgason said. “I have had No. 2 ever since.”
She also wears No. 23 in soccer because it has a “2” in it.
YOUR BIGGEST FAN
Tate Hall No. 24 / Greenfield-Central
Hall didn’t need much time picking his No. 24. Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers is the senior’s favorite player.
“He has the best work ethic in the league, and I really try to base my work ethic off of his,” Hall said. “He has the desire to be the best, and that’s how I approach the game.”
Addison True No. 21 / Eastern Hancock
For True, it started in a sport he loved as a kid.
“When I was 5 years old, I started racing go-karts, and my favorite race car driver was No. 21,” he said.
A PERFECT FIT
Joe Izbicki No. 42 / New Palestine
Izbicki was hesitant at first. He originally wanted No. 15, although it was very rare for a linebacker, so coach Kyle Ralph suggested No. 42 — the same number of an all-state player the year before.
“He recommended that number and that I try and live up to the standards of that number,” Izbicki said.
Blaire Viehweg No. 14 / Mt. Vernon
Viehweg, a defender, actually didn’t pick her number either. Was it fate?
“Freshman year I didn’t know what to get,” she said. “The assistant coach pulled me over and told me 14 would be a great number for me. He told me that player who wore that number before me had the same drive, mentality and work ethic.
“Kind of cheesy, but I have a lot of respect for the players before me.”
Carly Hacker No. 23 / New Palestine
Some responses have even been comical — like Carly Hacker’s from New Palestine.
“Honestly, during little league, I was the biggest kid, and that was the largest jersey they had,” Hacker said with a laugh. “I wish I had a deeper and greater reason as to why I chose 23, but I’ve always had it.”
Alex Neligh No. 11 / New Palestine
Neligh was just trying to stir up some family commotion when he switched from No. 14 to No. 11 his freshman year.
“Freshman year, there was a guy in front of me with it (14),” Neligh said. “I ended up picking No. 11 because that was my little brother’s number (Zach) at the time. I really did it to see if it would end up getting under his skin, which thankfully it did.”
All IN THE FAMILY
Alexi Hardie No. 2 / Mt. Vernon
Hardie follows the family motto, but she didn’t do it to make a sibling mad (See Neligh).
“I pick the No. 2 because when my sister (Alisha McQueen) played that was her number,” she said. “I’ve stuck with it ever since.”
Leah Ferguson No. 21 / Eastern Hancock
It’s quite common for athletes to change numbers multiple times, depending on the level of play, throughout their high school career.
Take Ferguson for example, who represented No. 10 for her brother before switching to No. 21 this season.
“This year I wanted to switch, and I chose 21 because that was my mom’s basketball number when she was in high school.”
Alex Quillen No. 92 / Eastern Hancock
Some athletes, like kicker Alex Quillen from the Eastern Hancock football team, choose their numbers for deeper, more personal reasons. The choice takes time.
“I kind of felt like I was picking my name in our family,” Quillen said. “I knew when I played, I would play for them because they are my brothers. So the nine comes from the nine main people in my blood family. The two comes from the two families I have, my football and blood family.”
SOMETIMES, IT JUST STICKS
Kari Kramer No. 13 / Mt. Vernon
Often players like Mt. Vernon’s Kari Kramer, unfortunately, didn’t have that big of a say when picking their number. Freshman usually get the short end of the stick.
“I don’t really have a reason why I chose it,” she said. “No. 12 and No. 13 were the only two left (freshman year), and a former player had stretched out 12 in the armpits, so I chose 13.”
Jaclyn Bulmahn No. 11 / Mt. Vernon
Bulmahn began sharpening their skills at a young age. She chose No. 11 in her early club days.
“When I played club when I was younger, we were picking numbers and 11 was one of the only ones left so I just chose it,” Bulmahn said. “But now I try to keep it as much as possible.”
Sydney Shelton No. 4 / Mt. Vernon
Shelton has had the same number since her very first basketball team.
“It was the very first number I ever had,” she said. “I was given No. 4 when I was 5 years old on my first team at the Boys and Girls Club.
“I considered No. 4 mine ever since.”
Hope Spaulding No. 34 / Eastern Hancock
Spaulding never expected to wearing the number she still wears today.
“My freshman year about halfway through the season, my team took a toll with ankle injuries,” she said. “I was pulled up to full varsity for a couple games and once everyone was healthy I split. The only varsity numbers that were left were 34, 44 and 53, so I thought I should probably take the smallest jersey.
“I wanted to start and end in the same number.”
COACHES HAVE FEELINGS, TOO
Shari Doud No. 5 / Eastern Hancock
Doud, who coaches girls basketball, wore No. 5 for most of her playing days, but it wasn’t necessarily her first choice.
“No. 11 was my first choice, which was worn by my childhood hero, Barb Skinner (Mt. Vernon all-state),” Doud said. “But she was so good they retired her number. I selected that (5), because I was a big Johnny Bench fan. He was a fierce competitor.”
Kelli Whitaker No. 9 / New Palestine
Whitaker has no memory of how she ended up with No. 9, but she did like the nickname that came with it.
“I don’t remember picking it the first time,” she said. “Ed Marcum started calling me K-9, so it stuck. In college, someone had 9, so I chose 6.”
Matt Mayhew No. 12 / Mt. Vernon
Mayhew, the boys’ soccer coach, always was a big Steve Alford fan. He wanted No. 12 in basketball like Alford at Indiana University.
“When it came to soccer season, I just kept that number,” he said.
Kyle Ralph No. 91 / New Palestine
There really aren’t too many similarities between Ralph and former NBA star Dennis Rodman — besides the number. However, as a multi-sport athlete, he envied Rodman’s heart and desire.
“In baseball, I played pitcher, first base and third base,” Ralph said. “I picked No. 91 because my favorite basketball player was Rodman, and I wasn’t allowed to wear 91 in basketball season.”