'BB Gun' Beachy led first title team
Bonnie Beachy was in Struthers last summer attending a reunion when a guy walked up to her, smiled and said, "Congratulations!"
"For what?" she asked.
"For winning the state title!" he said.
"Well thank you," she said with a laugh. "That was a long time ago."
Doesn't matter. He remembered. Lots of people in Struthers remember.
In 1978, Beachy was a senior standout for the Wildcats, who won 23 straight games and defeated Middletown, 53-51, for the Class AAA state title.
They were the first area girls basketball team to win a state title and the only Struthers team to win one.
(The Wildcats won a state title in girls basketball in 1925, but it came before tournaments and is not officially recognized.)
"They were just an exceptional group," said Dick Prest, who coached the 1978 team and still lives in Struthers. "Very coachable. Very adaptable. I never heard one bad word from them. Just a great group of kids."
Thing was, the Wildcats weren't supposed to win the state title that year.
"The year before was when we were supposed to win it all, or at least go to state," said Beachy, now the girls basketball coach at Cy-Springs High School in Cypress, Texas. "We had made it to the state semifinals when I was a sophomore and were returning every starter. But we got knocked out in the district finals [to Warren Harding].
"We had a few returning players my senior year, but we weren't that great. We just started winning."
Things didn't start perfectly -- the Wildcats lost to Campbell in their second game. Then a funny thing happened -- they never lost again.
"We never felt like we were this superior team or anything," Beachy said. "I don't even think we were the best team in the state. I don't know if the best team usually wins state. I often wonder if there wasn't some divine intervention."
Maybe. Or maybe Beachy is just being modest.
"She was a very down-to-earth kid," Prest said. "Even when she was playing, she didn't know she was a star. She really only took over a game when she had to take over a game."
Beachy averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds per game that season. She was named Associated Press co-player of the year. She was first team All-Ohio. She was tournament MVP.
"She was definitely the star," Prest said. "But the team took Beachy for what she was. There was never any animosity.
"And when she was named player of the year, I told them point blank, 'She didn't get it by herself.'"
Her teammate, Patty Fitzpatrick, had 15 points in the state final and was also named to the all-tournament team. Cathy Miller (six points), Colleen Carnes (three points) and Becky Hanna (four points) combined for the other 13 points.
Since then, only one other area girls basketball team has won a state title -- Mathews in 1988.
"I think it was real uplifting for the city," Beachy said. "It kind of came during a depression because the steel mills weren't doing well in Struthers. The community really came together and supported us."
Beachy, nicknamed 'BB Gun' in high school, played at Kent State after graduation. She became the Flashes' all-time leading scorer with 2,071 career points, a record that still stands.
Kent held a recognition ceremony for Beachy on Feb. 23. While in town, she watched her niece, Boardman senior Bridget Beachy, play in the Spartans' 62-40 sectional win over Massillon Washington at the Canton Civic Center.
"I try to avoid coming winter time, but that's when I always end up coming back," she said.
She's shed her winter clothes in favor of southern heat, but she's picked up something new -- traces of a Texas accent.
"Oh no, don't say that," she said with a laugh.
It's fitting, though, since Beachy was once a star gunslinger.
Twenty-five years later, she finally sounds like it.
XJoe Scalzo is a sportswriter for The Vindicator. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.