No Casa Grande High School boys basketball player will ever again wear No. 21.
The school officially retired the number worn so proudly by the late James Forni in an emotional ceremony prior to last Friday’s game against Montgomery.
Forni, an outstanding player at Casa Grande and later varsity basketball coach and physical education teacher at the school, died in June 2015 after losing a long fight against cancer.
The Montgomery game was chosen for the ceremony because Forni had a close personal relationship with former Montgomery coach Tom Fitchie.
The two coached against one another in Forni’s first game as head coach, and later in his final regular-season game.
The Montgomery coach presented a plaque to the Forni family commemorating Forni’s contributions to basketball and coaching. It will be displayed with a white traveling jersey at the school.
A black traveling jersey with Forni’s No. 21 was presented to his wife, Mary, for display in the family home.
Mary was accompanied at the ceremony by James’ mother and father, Jim and Jan Forni; his brother, Chris; his sister, Jill Fahey; and several other members of the Forni family.
Forni’s friend and assistant coach Rick Duarte described the late coach as “A man who changed so many lives by being a man of high character to everyone he came in content with.”
Forni, a 1998 graduate of Casa Grande, was one of the best all-around athletes ever at the east-side school. He excelled in football, basketball and volleyball.
Although he loved basketball, Forni played football in college, first at College of Marin, briefly at the University of Oregon and later at the University of Redlands.
After returning to Casa Grande, he took over the Casa Grande basketball program and coached until his illness finally forced him to step down following the 2014-2015 season.
He was an excellent coach, well liked and well respected by his peers, but it was as a man and a teacher that he is best remembered. He had a way to relate not just to his players, but to all students and to all who worked with him and knew him.
His enthusiasm for life was infectious and his courage and determination in the face of his illness inspired the school and community to adopt as its unofficial motto the coach’s expression, “Vincero.” Loosely translated into English, it means “I will win” or “I will overcome.”