SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga Prep retired former star football player Steve Gleason’s jersey number Tuesday afternoon in a special ceremony at the school that honored not just his play on the field, but his special battle to fight ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis) and bring awareness to the disease.
PHOTOS: Football career through the years
Gleason was a two-time GSL Defensive MVP as a dominating Bullpup linebacker in the mid-90’s and is a member of the Gonzaga Prep Hall of Fame. He went on to star at linebacker at WSU and played for the New Orleans Saints from 2000-2008 as a standout special teams player and safety.
Gleason was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, in January 2011. ALS is considered a terminal neuro-muscular disease. He has since dedicated his life to Team Gleason, an organization created by him, his friends and family that generates public awareness for ALS and raises funding to empower ALS patients.
Gleason’s jersey number 34 was retired Tuesday at Gonzaga Prep since he will most likely be back at his home in New Orleans when the public jersey retirement ceremony will take place at Gonzaga Prep’s football field on October 5th when the Bullpups take on Mead at 7 p.m.
Gonzaga Prep head football coach Dave McKenna presented Gleason with his old jersey. McKenna said he talks about Gleason almost every day to his team, not just about Gleason’s great play on the field but how Gleason has lived his life as a father, husband and a person for others.
McKenna said initial conversations with Steve about retiring his jersey didn't go very far. "It's never about Steve," said McKenna, so it was hard to proceed.
Eventually Gleason asked that the number be passed along to a special player each year, but McKenna said, "In 21 years of coaching I don't know of anyone who could earn that honor, so that's why we're retiring the jersey."
Gleason becomes only the sixth athlete in Gonzaga Prep history to have a jersey retired. The others are football players Rob Hedquist and Tim Lappano and basketball players John Stockton, Lisa Oriard and Terry Kelly.
Gleason thanked the Gonzaga Prep community by saying through words spoken in a synthetic computer voice and typed by his eyes, "I think more than any other organization, Gonzaga Prep has done more to make me into the man I am today."
After Gleason graduated from Gonzaga Prep he helped lead WSU to the Rose Bowl while also playing left field for the Cougar baseball team.
While waiting for a shot at the NFL he would come back to Gonzaga Prep and help coach defensive backs. He has spoken to many players and addressed the team several times since graduating. The team's annual t-shirts in the last few years are designed by McKenna and include a saying by Steve. This year's theme is "Awesome ain't easy".
Gleason also presented three checks worth $93,000 total at Tuesday’s ceremony from funds raised from his Steve Gleason Classic golf tournament on June 24 at the Golf Club at Black Rock south of Coeur d’Alene. Recipients included the Evergreen Chapter of ALS which helps ALS patients across the state of Washington and Catholic Charities of Spokane that provides assistance for Spokane area ALS patients. The third check is for a scholarship for a Gonzaga Prep student that requires financial assistance and who either has a spinal injury or has a family member with a spinal injury.
Gleason will host another fundraiser on Saturday in Spokane. It's an indie music festival called Gleason Fest and features local and national bands and even a special Team Gleason beer. It runs from noon to 11 p.m. Saturday outdoors at Main and Division in downtown Spokane. Proceeds benefit the Gleason Initiative Foundation.
The New Orleans Saints are planning to honor Gleason at a special event in the Superdome on Sept. 6th before the team’s home opener on Sept. 8th against the Atlanta Falcons.