Struthers’ 1978 title team reunites
By Greg Gulas
Inspired by the presence of the 1978 state champion Struthers girls basketball team, the 2017-18 Wildcats played like state contenders on Saturday against Niles.
Khaylah Brown scored 12 points in the 57-33 win over their All-American Conference White Tier opponent. Trinity McDowell scored 11 points and Michelle Buser 10 to pace the Wildcats (12-2, 6-1) in their fifth consecutive victory.
Forty years after winning the Class AAA state crown, the 1978 team was honored by the school. Struthers defeated Columbus Bishop Watterson in the state final to finish 25-1.
Seven players and head coach Dick Prest gathered at mid-court for a plaque presentation. Bonnie Beachy, the 1978 team’s best player, died of ovarian cancer on Oct. 13.
“Forty years ago, it was a magical time for all of us,” said Jackie Beachy, a sophomore on the championship team and Bonnie’s sister. “When we got back to the school, there were over 4,500 people in the stands at the fieldhouse awaiting our arrival.”
Beachy, a retired middle school teacher and coach, came up from Houston for the ceremonies. She was her sister’s primary caregiver, noting that Bonnie would have loved to have been a part of Saturday’s program.
“Bonnie was a very special person and athlete,” Jackie Beachy said. “We spent a lot of time together over the past four years and she always talked so highly of her alma mater, the team and her many teammates and friends.
“She loved the game, the team and everything about basketball.”
Prest, who was 59-6 during his tenure as Struthers head coach, recalled that there were a lot of question marks that needed answered heading into the 1977-78 season.
“I had no idea what to expect because we lost so many players from the previous season,” Prest said. “We lost to Campbell Memorial in the third game of the season and that was our wakeup call.
“It was definitely a season to remember,” Prest said. “It sure is great so see so many of the players and while we are missing some that I would have loved to also see, this was absolutely great.”
Buser’s two triples, five points from McDowell and four free throws by Brown staked the Wildcats to a 19-10 advantage after the opening quarter.
“We definitely drew inspiration today from the women on that state championship team,” Brown said. “We played hard for them today.
“We hustled, fought for every loose ball and didn’t want to disappoint them with our effort,” Brown said. “They are the ones who made all of this possible for us.”
The Wildcats built a 31-15 halftime margin, increasing their lead to 45-21 after three frames when a stingy Struthers defense held the Red Dragons (4-9, 2-3) to just six points in the quarter.
“Coach [John Grandy] told us to play hard and go all-out the entire 32 minutes for the ’78 team,” McDowell said. “They started it all and we finished it for them tonight.”
Grandy’s team wore throwback tops from the 1978 season during pre-game warm-ups and all season their uniforms have displayed a No. 13 patch in honor of Beachy.
“I wasn’t here in 1978, but the girls playing today owe a great deal of gratitude to that state championship team because they put our school and area on the map,” said Grandy, who assumed the program’s reins in 2004. “I told our girls that the 1978 team set the standard by which future teams would be judged.
“Today, the difference was our intensity and aggressive defense,” Grandy said. “We made it difficult for them to score, shut them down both inside and outside and didn’t allow very many good looks at the bucket.”
The Red Dragons lost for the sixth time in seven outings and fell to 1-7 on the road.
“We had several players sick over Christmas break and are still trying to get back into a rhythm,” Niles head coach Doug Foster said. “We lost to a good basketball team today.
Lindsay Hayes led the Red Dragons with nine points.