As he looks back on the town where he grew up after all these years, Steve McConnell enjoys being able to say that he was in the very first graduating class of Vintage High School – the Class of ’73.
“It’s kind of neat, whenever you get the chance, to tell someone, ‘Oh, yea, we were in the first class of that school.’ ”
But it wasn’t easy for McConnell, who was a three-sport athlete for the Crushers.
After attending Napa High for two years, McConnell was in his senior year at a brand new school. He left behind friends and school staff that he had gotten to know so very well.
The athletic fields were not completed yet, requiring the Vintage football team to bus each day to Silverado Junior High School for practices.
“It was somewhat difficult in the beginning,” he said. “You get to Vintage … and really the only thing that was there were the buildings. I had a lot of friends (at Napa) that did sports as well. All of a sudden, we’re competing against each other.
“As hard as splitting schools was, a lot of our friends wound up at Vintage as well. We started building a culture at the school.”
Along the way, McConnell became a standout in three sports – football, basketball and golf.
He will return to Napa in September to be inducted into the Vintage High Athletic Hall of Fame, which is now in its sixth year.
This year’s eight-member class, chosen by a selection committee, also includes:
Jon Conner (1976 graduate), football.
Justin Dragoo (1990 graduate), football, basketball, track and field.
Paul Schreiner (1978 graduate), football, track and field.
Judy Shaffer (1976 graduate), volleyball, basketball.
Mary Sherwood-MacDonald (1978 graduate), volleyball, swimming.
Lonnie Spann Jr. (1975 graduate), football, track and field.
Pete Zopfi (1975 graduate), soccer, track and field.
The selection committee reviews the submitted nominations and makes its recommendations to the board of directors. The board approves the recommendation.
The mission of the Hall of Fame Foundation is to recognize and honor the outstanding achievements of individual athletes, coaches and/or special individuals who have contributed to the development, success, tradition and integrity of VHS athletics.
Individuals may be nominated in one of the three following categories: athlete, coach, or special/other.
Three-sport athlete for Crushers
In football, Steve McConnell was a running back, safety, kick and punt returner for coach Burl Autry in football. His 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown again Vallejo stood as the longest kick return by a Vintage player for over 25 years.
He played a guard position in basketball for coach John Tindel and received the team’s most inspirational player award.
The golf team that he played on was coached by Joe Marelich. He placed sixth at the North Coast Section Championships.
McConnell was named as the school’s Male Athlete of the Year.
McConnell’s presenter at the Hall of Fame dinner and ceremonies on Sept. 8 at the Elks Lodge of Napa, will be his older brother, Don McConnell.
“It’s an honor. It’s a privilege. I’m very much looking forward to it,” said Steve McConnell, 63, a resident of Livermore, who is retiring this month after 26 years at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab, a Department of Energy research laboratory. He manages the occupational safety and health program.
Don McConnell, from the Class of 1964, was elected with three others for this year’s Napa High School Athletic Hall of Fame. The new class will be honored at a dinner and induction ceremony on Oct. 13.
“I kind of grew up in the shadow of a guy that’s six inches taller than me, and a very good athlete in his own right,” Steve McConnell said of his brother in a telephone interview last week.
“I remember when I was young, he would throw me grounders from these baseballs that we used out on the street, in front of the house. They would start off coming at me, and then he would throw it toward the curb, and then the other curb.
“A lot of the skill set that I was able to attain is really directly related to having a brother like Don.”
Don McConnell was a starter and the leading scorer on the 1962-63 and 1963-64 basketball teams for Napa, and as a senior led Napa to the North Bay League title and was selected to the All-NBL team. Napa was invited to the Tournament of Champions in Oakland.
Don McConnell played basketball on a scholarship at San Jose State from 1964-68. He was a starter and co-captain.
He played for the U.S. Navy Sub-Pacific basketball team from 1969-1971 and was selected for the All-Navy team for both seasons.
Introduction to golf
Steve McConnell was introduced to golf by his dad, Ralph McConnell, who retired from the U.S. Navy as a lieutenant-commander. Ralph McConnell passed away in 1999.
“My dad is the one that I guess convinced me that if you can play golf, you’re going to play it the rest of your life,” Steve said. “And I certainly have. I’ve been playing golf for over 50 years.
“I can remember as far back as junior high school, we used to play every Saturday morning. It was a 7 o’clock tee time. It didn’t matter what was going on Friday night, I knew we were playing golf at 7 o’clock Saturday morning. My dad really, really liked the game.”
Steve and his dad won father-son tournaments at Napa Valley Country Club several times.
Steve is a Northern California Golf Association member and has a 7.7 U.S. Golf Association handicap index. He plays out of Las Positas Golf Course in Livermore.
He played two years of basketball and golf at Napa Valley College, and won a Golden Valley Conference tournament title.
He went on to play two years of golf at Sacramento State, graduating in 1978 with a degree in business.
Steve and his wife, Cathy, have a daughter, Jennifer Hayes, and a son, Jared McConnell, and two grandchildren.