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The Dream Season

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40 years ago, Bellefontaine’s boys basketball team gets to the Final Four

A picture of the 1972-73 Bellefontaine boys basketball team sits in a crowded trophy case at the school, mixed with trophies and photos of other standout Chieftain teams.

The color has been dulled by the 40 years that have passed since the photo was taken, but the memories created by that squad remain vivid.

A gritty group of young men with various backgrounds and a passionate second-year head coach found a magical formula, one that resulted in Bellefontaine earning a trip to the state tournament for the first time in 33 years.

73 Team

The members of the 1972-73 Bellefontaine basketball team, front the left, front row: Dallas Williams, Don Gould, Joe Beaver, George Smith, Dave Short, Keith Ross, Tom Marine, Joe Wish and Robin Long; and back row: head coach Will Collins, manager Steve Adams, Chuck Hildreth, Randy Roberts, Mike Gould, Larry Ratleff, Willis Payne, Bobby Henry, manager Zach Berry and assistant coach Charlie Rader.

1972-73 TEAM ROSTER

Keith Ross, 6-3, senior, guard

George Smith, 6-3, senior, forward

Robin Long, 5-10, senior, guard

Tom Marine, 6-2, senior, forward/guard

Alvin Warner, 6-1, senior, center

Dave Short, 6-5, junior, center

Joe Beaver, 6-0, junior, forward *

Joe Wish, 6-2, junior, forward

Don Gould, 6-1, junior, forward *

Bobby Henry, 5-10, junior, guard

Chuck Hildreth, 5-7, junior, guard

Dallas Williams, 5-11 sophomore, guard

Willis Payne, 6-0, sophomore, guard

Randy Roberts, 5-9, sophomore, guard

Mike Gould, 6-1, freshman, forward

Larry Ratleff, 6-3, freshman, forward

Head coach: Will Collins *

Assistant coach: Charlie Rader

* - deceased

“It was a life-changing experience for all of us,” said Keith Ross, who was a senior guard on the squad. “It was something we’ve carried with us the rest of our lives.”

The Chiefs showed what can happen when a group of players buy into a team approach.

“It was an all-for-one, one-for-all attitude we had,” said Dallas Williams, who provided a boost off the bench as a sophomore guard. “We all bought in and good things happened.”

Bellefontaine’s top five scorers that season were separated by only six points.

“The most important thing about that team was we did not care who got the credit,” said Robin Long, who was a standout senior guard for the 72-73 team. “That has stayed with me my whole life. It is amazing what you can accomplish when no one cares about who gets the credit.”

The tale of the Chiefs’ run to the 1973 Class AA Final Four in Columbus was filled with gripping storylines. There were nail-biting come-from-behind wins, upsets over bigger and faster opponents, and an overwhelming sense of teamwork and pride.

What makes the story so remarkable is that not a lot of people saw it coming.

The Chiefs were coming off an 8-13 season, which was the first at Bellefontaine for late head coach Will Collins. Bellefontaine went 1-9 in the Miami Valley League that year.

Bellefontaine also lost its top scorer and rebounder, Scott Jeffrey, to graduation.

But to those inside the program, there was hope.

“We had four starters coming back, so we felt we could be pretty good,” said Ross, who moved to Bellefontaine from West Virginia prior to his junior season. “I don’t think any of us were crazy enough to think about going to the Final Four, but we had pretty high expectations.”

With 6-5 junior center Dave Short anchoring the paint and the athletic duo of Long and Ross leading the charge in the backcourt, Bellefontaine had a talented nucleus.

The Chiefs got their season off to a good start, beating Kenton 67-42 in the season opener.

After a 51-50 loss to Wapakoneta, the Chiefs reeled off wins over Piqua, Lima Central Catholic, Urbana and Benjamin Logan to move to 5-1.

Bellefontaine then took a step back, suffering four straight losses at the hands of Springfield Catholic Central, Lima Shawnee, Piqua and Springfield North.

Facing a turning point in their season, the Chiefs regrouped.

“Those boys just didn’t quit,” said assistant coach Charlie Rader. “They were tremendous competitors and they were coachable. They did everything we told them.”

Bellefontaine snapped out of its slump by winning six out of its last seven regular-season games. That stretch included a thrilling four-overtime victory over Lima Shawnee.

Every coach talks about getting his team to peak at the right time. Collins truly accomplished that as the Chiefs entered tournament play bursting with confidence.

THE RUN

GAME 1

Class AA sectional semifinal

Bellefontaine vs. Northwestern

Tuesday, Feb. 27, 1973

Urbana College Community Center

Bellefontaine put forth a workmanlike effort in its tournament opener.

The Chiefs grabbed a 31-23 lead at halftime and led 49-33 after three quarters.

The glaring theme for the 1972-73 Chiefs was balanced scoring. That was evident against the Warriors as three players were in double figures.

Joe Beaver, a 6-foot junior forward, scored a team-high 13 points. Short contributed 11 points, Williams had 10 points, Ross and Long scored eight each and George Smith and Tom Marine chipped in six apiece.

Long, the team’s sparkplug who went on to be named honorable mention all-Ohio that season, grabbed the attention of Northwestern coach Jim Legg that night.

“Long has my vote for one of the best guards in the entire district,” said Legg to Examiner sports editor Jerry Turner.

With the win, Bellefontaine advanced to play Logan County rival Benjamin Logan in the sectional final.

GAME 2

Class AA sectional final

Bellefontaine vs. Benjamin Logan

Saturday, March 3, 1973

Urbana College Community Center

In a much-anticipated local showdown, the Chiefs and Raiders waged a memorable battle in Urbana for the sectional championship.

The Raiders took a 14-4 record into the contest and had Bellefontaine on the ropes late in the game.

Ben Logan led 44-32 with 6:10 left in the game.

Bellefontaine turned the tide with a 16-3 run to end the game.

The Chiefs took their first and only lead of the night when Ross, who was Bellefontaine’s lone first-team MVL selection that year, hit a pair of free throws with 1:09 remaining to put Bellefontaine up 48-47.

Neither team scored again.

Bellefontaine’s defensive pressure got to the Raiders down the stretch.

“When you make mistakes like we did in the fourth quarter, somebody is making you make those mistakes,” said Ben Logan head coach Tommy Lawrence after the game. “You have to give credit where credit is due. Bellefontaine’s pressing tactics weren’t good enough to affect us in the first three quarters, but it was good enough in that fourth quarter.”

Bellefontaine was not surprised to get such a tough test from its rival.

“That was the best team Tommy ever had,” said Ross. “They had a really good team. They had pretty much the same group of guys that we have played four times before. It is a hard to beat a good team like that five times.”

Long had a big hand in the Chiefs’ rally. He scored 12 of his game-high 16 points in the fourth quarter.

“The impression I get is Long just doesn’t want to lose,” said Collins in an Examiner story about the game.

The win gave Bellefontaine its third straight Class AA sectional championship and sent them to the district semifinal contest against another rival.

Sectionals Slideshow

(Click on an image to open slideshow)

 

GAME 3

Class AA district semifinal

Bellefontaine vs. Urbana

Wednesday, March 7, 1973

Urbana College Community Center

Following a tight win over Ben Logan, the Chiefs faced the arch rival Hillclimbers for a chance to get to the district championship game.

It was a classic Bellefontaine-Urbana battle, with Bellefontaine overcoming a three-point deficit entering the fourth quarter to snatch a 47-44 victory.

Bellefontaine also beat the Hillclimbers by three points in a regular-season matchup.

Urbana, which finished the season with a 13-8 record, led 33-30 at the end of the third period.

Bellefontaine fought back in the final eight minutes. With the score tied at 37-37, Ross converted a three-point play to put Bellefontaine in the lead for good.

The Chiefs were again balanced in the scoring department. Short finished with 12 points and eight rebounds, while Long and Ross each tossed in eight points.

Bellefontaine’s victory over the Hillclimbers secured a spot against Tipp City.

GAME 4

Class AA district final

Bellefontaine vs. Tipp City

Friday, March 9, 1973

Urbana College Community Center

Bellefontaine embraced its underdog role against the mighty Red Devils, knocking off the top seed 65-56 for the Chiefs’ first district title in 33 years.

Tipp City had only one previous loss that season, entering the game with a 20-1 record.

In what became a trend in the tournament, Bellefontaine had to fight from behind for the win.

“Tipp City came in with a real air of arrogance,” recalled Ross. “We were outmanned size-wise, but we really embraced the challenge.”

The Chiefs trailed 39-31 with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter.

Bellefontaine cranked up both its offense and defense from there.

The Chiefs held Tipp City scoreless for a 4:43 stretch in the fourth quarter, while the offense got rolling to overtake the Red Devils.

Short provided the offensive spark, scoring six straight points at one point during the final period.

The balanced attack was led by Long and Short with 14 points apiece.

Ross and Smith scored 11 apiece and Marine added six points.

“We kind of hit our stride against Tipp City,” said Marine. “That felt good since they had been a nemesis in Bellefontaine’s past.”

The win over Tipp City catapulted the Chiefs into the regional tournament at the University of Dayton, where Bellefontaine tangled with two more powerhouses.

Districts Slideshow

(Click on an image to open slideshow)

 

GAME 5

Class AA regional semifinal

Bellefontaine vs. Wyoming

Friday, March 16, 1973

University of Dayton Arena

Bellefontaine next took its tournament march to the sparkling 13,000-seat University of Dayton Arena.

Awaiting the Chiefs in Dayton was a 21-2 Wyoming squad that featured 6-4 standout Steve Bell, who was averaging 20.9 points and 17.7 rebounds per game.

Dramatic wins had become the norm for the Chiefs, and they had another one in store against Wyoming.

Bellefontaine trailed 55-52 with two minutes left in the game, but Long buried a 25-foot jumper with 1:57 remaining to pull his team within a point.

Marine followed with a bucket at the 1:22 mark to give Bellefontaine a 56-55 lead.

Wyoming then scored with 1:06 remaining to regain the lead at 57-56.

Bellefontaine came up with two big baskets in the final minute to pull out the 60-57 win. Dave Short put in a layup with 58 ticks left on the clock to put the Chiefs ahead 58-57.

Joe Wish, who had a season-high 12 points, added an insurance bucket with 17 seconds remaining to help send Bellefontaine into the regional final.

Head coach Will Collins also noted Wish’s defense on Bell during a postgame interview. Bell was limited to 14 points.

“Wish did a very good job on Bell,” said Collins. “Wish is quick and we always noticed that Bell took a quick step to his left before he got ready to shoot. We thought Wish could counter that.”

Short scored a game-high 14 points. Like Wish, Marine dropped in 12 points. Long and Ross contributed nine points apiece.

The come-from-behind win over Wyoming put the Chiefs on the brink of their first trip to the state semifinals since H.A. Dodd led Bellefontaine to the state tourney in 1940.

In order to get to state, Bellefontaine was faced with the challenge of facing a talented and athletic Jefferson team.

GAME 6

Class AA regional final

Bellefontaine vs. Jefferson

Saturday, March 17, 1973

University of Dayton Arena

A winter storm hit Logan County with seven inches of snow, preventing many fans from making the return trip to Dayton to see the Chiefs attempt to win a berth in the state tournament.

With many of their faithful listening at home on the radio, the Chiefs put on a dazzling show against state-ranked Jefferson.

The Chiefs lit up the nets for a 64-percent shooting effort to cruise to  77-64 win in UD Arena.

Bellefontaine made 30-of-47 attempts from the field.

“If Bellefontaine plays like they did tonight, they will win state,” said Jefferson coach Charles Rinehart following the game. “There’s no question about that.”

Bellefontaine made 10-of-12 shots in the first quarter to jump out to a 22-17 lead. The Chiefs went on to lead 42-33 at halftime.

The third quarter was a thing of basketball beauty. Bellefontaine made every shot it took in the period, finishing 10-for-10 from the field to open up a 19-point cushion (62-43).

“That game will always stand out to me,” said Long, who is now a highly successful high school basketball coach in Florida. “Jefferson had Division I players all over the place. We just outexecuted them. They probably had better players, but we had the best team.”

Bellefontaine was spearheaded by Marine, who came off the bench to pile up a game-high 24 points.

“Tom was magnificent against Jefferson,” said Ross. “It always seemed like it was somebody different who stepped up and had a big game.”

Marine had a lot of help. Smith scored 15 points, Short tallied 11, Long had 10 and Ross tacked on seven.

Turner wrote the following about the Chiefs’ win over Jefferson in the Examiner:

“They will make the trip to the “big house” on the heels of what might be the finest performance by a Chieftain cage squad in the history of the cage sport at BHS.”

The regional championship sent the Chiefs to Columbus to take on defending champion Ready in the state Final Four.

Regionals Slideshow

(Click on an image to open slideshow)

 

GAME 7

Class AA state semifinal

Bellefontaine vs. Columbus Ready

Friday, March 23, 1973

St. John Arena, Columbus

It was not meant to be for Bellefontaine as it attempted to reach the Class AA state championship game.

The Chiefs were not able to follow up on their spectacular play at the regionals, falling to defending state champs 60-47 at St. John Arena in Columbus.

Bellefontaine put up a good challenge. The Chiefs trailed by just one point late in the third quarter. However, it was all Ready from there.

The Chiefs were outrebounded 47-33 and did not have an answer for Ready’s slick junior guard, Jimmy Jones. A third-team all-Ohio selection, Jones poured in 22 points.

Bellefontaine’s offense was unable to get into a rhythm against Ready’s pressure defense.

“I didn’t think they could keep the pressure on us the whole game,” said Collins after the loss. “Jones made us play differently than normal. He caused us to change our defense to try and stop him.”

It was a disappointing end to a thrilling ride for the Chieftains.

“None of us played well that day,” said Ross. “That was the tough thing about that loss. We didn’t play up to our potential. I thought we had beaten better teams in the regional than Ready. If a couple of us had good games, I think we could have won.”

Ready, which had nine players reach the scoring column, used its depth to wear down Bellefontaine.

“We played so many people in there, they got tired,” said Ready head coach Pat Penn in his postgame press conference. “We wore them down.”

Long was Bellefontaine’s leading scorer with 12 points. He was named to the all-tournament team for his effort.

Short also hit double figures with 10 points.

Ready went on to defeat Delphos St. John’s to claim its second consecutive Class AA state championship.

State Slideshow

(Click on an image to open slideshow)

 

Leaving a legacy

Upon their return home, the Chiefs were recognized the Sunday after their state semifinal loss with a homecoming rally in the high school gym.

During the event, assistant coach Rader stated, “This is the finest group of young men and women that we’ve ever had,” in referring to the players, cheerleaders and BHS students.

That season remains a significant chapter in Bellefontaine’s sports history. The team recently celebrated its 40th anniversary with a reunion in Bellefontaine. Many of the players from that squad attended and were recognized before a home Bellefontaine boys basketball game.

Collins, who was represented at the reunion night by his wife Karen, died at the age of 71 in 2006. He won 548 games during an illustrious 37-year coaching career.

Players Don Gould and Joe Beaver have also passed away.

State basketball tourney section composite available

A composite of the special Jan. 25 4-page section  detailing the Bellefontaine High School boys basketball team’s journey to the State Ohio High School Athletic Association tournament in Columbus in 1973 is available for $30. The composite is printed on 13x19 paper.

Contact the business office at 937-592-3060 x *110 to place an order.

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