Cliff Little has very positive memories when he looks back on his time in St. Helena and as a three-sport athlete at St. Helena High School.
It’s where he grew up as a fourth-generation of the community.
It’s where he formed friendships with those around him – the teammates that he played with on football, basketball and baseball teams and so many others in his class.
It’s where he learned “valuable life lessons” from playing sports as a year-round athlete.
“I loved the camaraderie and I loved the spirit,” Little said in a telephone interview from Chico, where he has made his home for the last eight years. “The relationships and the friendships that you make when you’re part of a small school program, that’s really what makes it so special in a lot of ways. I’m still in contact with a lot of those athletes for that reason, because we really looked out for each other.
“That’s the benefit of a small community. You get to grow up with families looking out for each other and with teammates looking out for each other.”
Little, a 1999 graduate who has four school records in football, will return to town next month when he is inducted into the St. Helena High Athletic Hall of Fame.
The 2018 class also consists of Harold “Toppa” Rutherford, from the Class of 1941; Brian Smith, from the Class of 1971; Lisa Carston Lyon, from the Class of 1988; and coach Roger Snipe, who was St. Helena’s track and field coach from 1961-1971.
This is the sixth year of the St. Helena Hall of Fame, whose motto is “Preserving History, Honoring Excellence, Connecting Generations.” Ceremonies honoring the newest inductees will be on Oct. 13 at Native Sons Hall in St. Helena.
“As I’ve thought a bit about what I might say, I think one of the resounding memories and thoughts that I have had is that I’m very thankful to have come from a small school, because it gave me the opportunity to play multiple sports, to be with a lot of my same friends through that,” Little, 37, said. “Growing up in a small town, you know everyone and everyone knows you. You know that everyone is looking out for you.
“A big portion of the community was coming to the games and I was also fortunate to have a very close family that also attended games – my parents, my grandparents, my aunts and uncles.”
Little is expecting to see a lot of family members at the Hall of Fame event. Two of his uncles, Mike and Bob Milat, played football at St. Helena.
He had the support of his parents, Cliff and Marilyn Little. His father passed away in 2005.
“My father was my biggest advocate. My dad was there for about every game. He was the guy that all the kids on all my sports teams knew and he cheered them on just as much as he did for me,” he said. “For me, I think one of the things that I’m the most proud of going into the event is that I can honor him.
“I don’t think my mother missed a game, from elementary school until I finished high school.”
Little was a wide receiver and free safety in football. He played center on the basketball team. He pitched and played first base and shortstop in baseball.
He has football school records with 104 pass receptions, 2,012 yards receiving, 30 touchdown receptions, and nine games with 100-plus yards receiving. He was also a standout on defense, intercepting seven passes, the fourth-most in school history.
Twice named as All-Napa County, Little set school records with 55 receptions for 1,246 yards and 19 touchdowns during his senior season. He set another school record with 196 yards receiving in a game against Bret Harte-Altaville in 1998.
Little scored 889 career points in basketball, the 10th-most in school history, and averaged 15.4 points per game, the eighth-best in school history.
A two-time All-Napa County selection, he scored 528 points, the second most in school history, as a senior and 361 points as a junior.
As a senior in baseball, he batted 379 with 13 RBIs and a .530 slugging percentage. He hit .310 as a junior.
“Basketball, football and baseball … that was a big part of my life,” said Little. “For us, it was a pretty special time, because we were able to have some successful years in the class that I was in, in a lot of sports.
“It was a really strong athletic class, and that was something we hadn’t had for a while, so I felt like there was a lot of good energy around sports during our years. We were playing some big schools, which was a challenge, but it was also pretty fun and unique because we were a small school.”
Little played one season of college football at San Diego State as a strong safety in 2000. He graduated in 2004 with a degree in economics.
He is the president of Agromillora California tree nursery. It’s a division of the Agromillora nursery group, according to agromillora-ca.com.
Little and his wife, Stephanie, have three children – Henry, 8, Charlie, 6, and Lucie, 3.
“Now that I have children, I appreciate all the effort that my parents put in to be there for all the games and a good part of the practices as well,” he said. “The support of my family was extremely important.”