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Jersey stored

Garrett Callahan is just the fourth athlete at SHS to have his jersey retired by the school.
Garrett Callahan is just the fourth athlete at SHS to have his jersey retired by the school.

Of the 111 varsity boys basketball games Seneca High School won during Garrett Callahan's career, a 46-42 defeat of St. Anne March 5, 2005 was among the biggest.

The victory, which came at the Class A Clifton Central Sectional, gave the Fighting Irish their first boys sectional championship since 1990-91. It was an upset of a team that had advanced to the state quarterfinals one year before. It allowed them to go on to finish third in the state that season. One year later, they won their first state championship.

Hours after the game ended, Callahan was back at SHS. He had no responsibility to the team, which would play at the Olivet Nazarene University Super-Sectional the following Tuesday. There was nothing, really, mandating his presence at the school.

"One of my favorite memories of Garrett was when he was a junior. We had just won a sectional over St. Anne, which was ranked 1 or 2 in the state, on a Friday night," SHS Athletic Director Steve Haines said. "I don't think anybody in the gym that wasn't from Seneca gave us a chance. ... It was an unbelievable game, and we pulled it out and won.

"The next day, Seneca High School was hosting a solo band and ensemble contest, and he was here to help Mr. (Mark) Victor here, to volunteer and help escort students to their rooms. The very night before, he's on top of the world, and he turns right around and goes out of his way to help Mr. Victor. He's not in band, he's not in chorus, but he's still here to help Seneca High School."

Haines says that the fact that Callahan was a two-time All-State selection in basketball in itself might not earn Callahan the honor of having his jersey number retired, as it will be Saturday night. Part of the reason Callahan is the fourth SHS student-athlete to have such an honor, Haines says, is that he is an "All-State person."

Callahan says that the phone call from Haines to tell him about the honor was a surprise.

"I didn't believe it," Callahan said. "I still don't. It's still surreal to me. I don't think I even truly understand how much this means to me. Maybe I will down the road. ... That I'm shocked and in awe that they would think to do this for me is really the only way I can put it."

A ceremony will be held between the sophomore and varsity boys basketball games between SHS and Rockford Christian. Callahan's No. 33 will be the first jersey hung permanently in the SHS gymnasium, though in time it will be joined by the school's other retired uniforms belonging to Mark Aubry, Paul Bauer and Cindy Kaufmann.

"Where (the jerseys belonging to Aubry, Bauer and Kaufmann) are now isn't a very high-trafficked area with the new construction we've done here, so we're looking to have them somewhere more prominent," Haines said. "We'll move those others into the gym at some point in the future, but not yet. Saturday is all about Garrett."

Callahan, Haines and former SHS basketball assistant Jeff Stenzel are expected to give speak briefly during the ceremony.

"I've been thinking about what I'm going to say, about how blessed I am and how truly fortunate I am for all the help I've gotten," Callahan said. "It's not about putting myself first. ... I have to say that, without the other people that were there helping me, there's no way I could have had as good a career as I had."

Haines says that a committee which works with him on a number of athletics-related issues at SHS is responsible for the retirement. The committee had wanted to honor Callahan for some time, Haines says, but doing so was logistically difficult when Callahan attending and playing basketball for South Dakota State University.

Callahan currently lives in Iowa, though he says he returns to the area "as much as I can" to watch younger brother Conlan play for the Irish and for the local AAU team he runs, the Illinois Ambush. With the Irish scheduled to play Westmont and Rockford Christian in a two-day stretch, Callahan says he had planned to return anyway and attend both games.

"We're so honored and happy Garrett found the time to come back and be here on a Saturday night in a short amount of time so we can do this for him," Haines said.

Because Callahan and many of his former teammates will be in attendance anyway, Haines says, SHS will take the opportunity to honor them for the 2006 team's upcoming induction into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. A short ceremony will be held at halftime of Saturday's varsity game.

"I was really happy about that," Callahan said. "It's something I want to share with my old friends and teammates. It will be nice to see some of the guys back and be able to share that moment with them. They all were a huge part of my success."

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