Reliving the dream

 

For a moment Friday, it felt like the 1970s all over again.

Head coach John Averett embraced Harold Jones and the player smiled happily at the coach. It could have been any moment of a joyous 1972 season that saw the Culpeper County High School Blue Devils win the state championship – but this time it was in the school library and more than 40 years had passed.

The boys 1972 championship team, the girls state title teams from 1976 and 1979, all the all-state players from CCHS and the school’s 1,000 point scorers came together last Friday to celebrate the school’s basketball tradition before the current Blue Devils defeated Manassas Park 64-40.

For some, it had been nearly 40 years since they had seen their teammates, as they dominated the competition and brought CCHS their only basketball state titles. No matter how many years had passed, there was still that bond and camaraderie that comes in accomplishing a common goal.

Averett was awash in hugs as each player entered the library for the reception prior to the teams being honored in front of the crowd at the CCHS gym. He had special words for each player, noting that they’ve stayed in touch with the coach who now lives near Richmond.

“It’s just unbelievable,” Averett said. “It means the world to me.”

He pointed out how the team still takes care of one another, telling about how the past two Christmases he’s received a call from Chip Utz and his wife who had taken full Christmas dinners to Robert Long, who now lives at a facility in Fredericksburg.

“They all care about each other,” Averett said.

That was evident as players laughed about old times, recalling fond memories of swished shots and big rebounds.

Averett never thought he’d see the day that a full, proper reunion was held.

“At first I said no way it’s going to happen, but then I found out if you want something done, get Gary Deal on it,” Averett said.

Bringing it all together

Deal, the West Fairfax representative for the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors, said a constituent came to him with the idea. He quickly approached CCHS principal Danny Soderholm and a committee was born to track down players from all the teams.

“It’s a great community event that I’m proud of,” Deal said. “It took a lot of work to come up with the addresses and the contact info.”

He worked with Vanessa Allen and coach Averett to find the players and he marveled at how the former CCHS coach still kept track of where his charges lived.

“It shows a bond you have when you win a state championship,” Deal said. “He’s stayed connected.”

Another familiar face made an appearance as well – longtime team doctor and the namesake of Broman field – Dr. George Broman. He moved away from Culpeper in 2004 but returned from Lynchburg with his son Jeb to share in the memories.

“These are our kids, all of them,” Broman said. “I’m getting hugs all over the place from people I haven’t seen for 20 years.”

One of those hugs came from quite arguably the best player in Culpeper history – and that’s saying a lot with the talent assembled in that room. However, Keith “Mister” Jennings had the stats to back it up. Jennings went on to play in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors and He spent three seasons with the Warriors (1992–95), playing in 164 games and averaging 6.6 points and 3.7 assists in 18 minutes per game.

He coached at Highland School from 2004-2007 and now coaches the women’s team at Lees-McCrae College in North Carolina. He received a large standing ovation as Deal read off his accolades to the Blue Devil faithful.

“I’m very excited to be a part of it,” Jennings said. “There’s some tradition here in Culpeper and it’s good to see these people come back.”

He marveled at the talent assembled, pointing over to Jones and fellow 1,000 point scorer Terry Hoffman.

“It’s special to me, as a basketball player that’s probably one of the milestones people recognize a lot,” Jennings said of being in the 1,000 point club. “Just the fact I’m in that club, it’s a pretty good feeling.”

Before walking onto the court, Jennings reflected on what it meant to come back to his alma mater.

“I’m sure all kind of memories will flood through my head,” Jennings said. “It will be good to see all the fans that support this school.”

Hoffman returned to CCHS for the first time in 20 years, and remembered what it meant to be a Blue Devil.

“My senior year, we went 21-3 and the last time they had a celebration like this was my senior year,” Hoffman said. “They did it during halftime of a game. That was one of the things we talked about was winning a state title.”

They weren’t able to that year, but he still went on to a successful college career at Marymount University. He coached for 10 years at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School and now coaches his son’s club team in Springfield, Md.

Betsy Spencer was a member of the 1979 girls championship team and she was thrilled to reconnect with many of her teammates.

“It’s great to relive it all,” Spencer said. “It was one of the best memories of high school and it feels like it was just yesterday. It was just a great time.”

That year, the state tournament was held in Culpeper, so it was always a home field advantage for the Devilettes.

“It made it more special, we had a ton of fans here and family,” Spencer said. “Just to win in front of all of them was just amazing.”

Like all of the girls, she had fond memories of the late-great Kate Carter.

“It was the best, she knew how to bring the best out of every single player,” Spencer said. “She was the type of person, you wanted to play your best for her. It was a thrill to play for her.”

Sharon Allen followed in her mentor’s footsteps, coaching the Devilettes for three years.

She recalled playing basketball in the fall, while the boys would play in the winter season. She said the bond the 1976 championship team had was one that will never be broken.

“We grew up together, we played in the offseason together,” Allen said. “We knew how to work hard, we had very good family. Our parents raised us the right way and we loved competing. Then we got here with Coach Carter and we had athletic discipline.”

Barbara Thompson was on the 1976 state title team and said it’s been 30 years since she’s seen many of her teammates.

“It’s great,” Thompson said. “Being on the team and being young, playing basketball for me was a hobby. I just enjoyed doing it. I didn’t realize until some years later how good I really was.”

Thompson shared a hug and laughs with Allen and Vera Drumgoole. Drumgoole said she hadn’t seen her teammates in 39 years.

“This is exciting,” Drumgoole said. “At first I wasn’t going to come, but then I decided to go. It’s kind of neat.”

Drumgoole played on the 1976 and 1979 teams.

“It was awesome to me,” Drumgoole said. “It was a blessing and it gives me goosebumps every time we talk about it.”

For Spencer, playing on the team was like playing with your sisters.

“We just had the bond like sisters,” Spencer said. “That song, ‘We Are Family,’ we were always singing that.”

As members of the CCHS culinary arts class, taught by chef Jay Cohen, served finger foods, teammates reconnected over shared memories.

Mike Kincer moved back to Culpeper 20 years ago and said that state title – and the ones he won as a member of the cross country teams in 1972 and 1973 – are fond memories.

“I think winning the basketball state title was the highest moment,” Kincer said. “When we first won the state title for cross country, that was exciting because we finally brought a state title to Culpeper County High School.”

For Jones, coming back and being celebrated allieved a fear he had 46 years ago.

“It’s special because I didn’t all of this stuff would happen,” Jones said. “When we won the state championship it was a 45-mile parade (back home.) We had 2,000-3,000 people out here when we got home. I was kind of sad because I felt proud to be able to wear my uniform. I said ‘I hope you don’t forget about us.’”

Judging by the crowd that came out Friday, they didn’t.

About Jeff Say 221 Articles
Jeff Say is the editor for the Culpeper Times. He can be reached at jsay@culpepertimes.com

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