By:  Bill Pierce, BHS Class '67
March 18, 2002


It was 35 years ago today that Bramwell High School completed its first and only undefeated season capturing the state Class A basketball championship. Winning the state championship was a thrill, but doing so with a perfect season made it a rare and special achievement.

Winning championships in sport presents a challenge, regardless of how good a team may be.  The pressures of single-elimination tournaments in basketball make them particularly exciting.   The week-to-week tension builds as the drama of the tournament unfolds.  Trying to protect an undefeated record for an entire season creates a tournament-like excitement over several months.

Many sportswriters and coaches say that it is good to lose a game during the season prior to tournament time to reduce those pressures and tensions that result from trying to maintain perfection.  Few teams at any level are able to achieve perfection.  Even the most celebrated teams in sport have a bad game.  It is special when a team is able to go through a season without a loss.  Talent and dedication, along with luck, are needed to win them all.

In the fall of 1967, no one was talking about a state championship, and certainly not an undefeated season.  The 1965 team had been the first BHS team to make it to the state tournament.  That team lost by one in the semifinals and had been generally considered to be Bramwell's best hope for a championship.  The following year the 1966 team was somewhat of a surprise going 20-3 and losing in the regional finals.  However, with the graduation of four-year starter and Bramwell's all-time leading scorer, Joe Lambert, the 1967 team was not considered to be as strong.

High school teams can be surprising from year to year because players are at an age where they grow, develop, and mature.  The 1967 championship team benefited from such development and maturation.  Rickey Stores and I were the two returning starters from the 1966 team.  Rickey, at 5'9", had started at forward as a junior, but Coach Bill Norton decided to move him to join me in the backcourt.  I had been named to the All-State team and chosen as the county's MVP as a junior so the team had a strong backcourt nucleus, but what about the frontcourt?  With no returning frontcourt starters and none with any varsity experience, the team's inside game was definitely expected to be a liability.  Summer development and maturation changed that.

The unexpected development of senior Charles Davidson, junior Tommy Gravely, and sophomore Dennis Hood was responsible for the formation of one of West Virginia's record-breaking teams.  Charles Davidson had struggled to make the varsity team the previous season.  Tommy Gravely had quit the team in pre-season his junior year.  Dennis Hood had no varsity experience. However, Charles practiced relentlessly and developed into a steady, dependable defender and rebounder.  Tommy Gravely, at 6'5" and 200 lbs., gave the team the big man to match up with other teams' inside size. Finally, Dennis Hood was asked to play the post position, which was the pivotal position of Bramwell's reputed "side offense."  This central position had been played by all-stater Joe Lambert for four consecutive years.  It required the ability to pass, shoot, drive, and rebound.  Dennis proved to be a fast learner.

Let me share with you how that season unfolded game-by-game.

#1 BHS 79  Matoaka 69

The first Saturday afternoon in December had become the traditional opening
game at Matoaka.  The bus ride through Montcalm, McComas, and over the
mountain to Matoaka could definitely be unsettling to a body already jittery with opening-game nerves.  The sight of snow laying on the ground outside and the smell of popcorn inside were familiar signals that it was time for the season to begin.  The 2-3 zone employed by Coach Joe Allen of Matoaka and their fan-shaped backboards always made playing the Indians tough.

We were down at half-time, but came back to win in the second half.  Even
though we had escaped with a win, there wasn't a feeling that this was going to be a special team.  We had struggled to execute the offense and defense that we had practiced every day for the past three months.

After the game we stopped in Princeton at the only fast-food restaurant in the area.  For the rest of the season, post-game trips to Kinney's in Princeton became part of our routine.  Hamburgers and fries became our way of celebrating.  In 1967, fifty-five cents at Kinney's would fill a hungry player.

#2 BHS 109 Montcalm 60

We crushed our rival with a pressing defense that would become our hallmark
throughout the season.  During pre-season we worked constantly on a half-court man-to-man pressing defense that resulted in lots of steals and easy lay-ups.  Coach Norton had devised the defense back in October and weworked on it daily.  I still recall Charles Davidson's asking Coach Norton after several weeks of pre-season if the first team would ever get to work on offense.  Certainly that defense paid dividends throughout the winter. Scoring over 100 points in 32 minutes seems impressive today, given that the average NBA team averages only 90 points per game in 48 minutes.

#3 BHS 85 Athens 29

Bramwell's nemesis throughout the 1950s and 60s had been Athens.  With Athens' having a down year and BHS stronger than usual, the result was a huge disparity in score.  What I remember about this game is that Mr. McCormick, our venerable principal who had suffered mightily over the years from defeats to the Trojans, came to our locker room at half-time, with the score 54-15, and said to Coach Norton, "don't let up!"

#4 BHS 85 Herndon 58

Beating Herndon at home had traditionally not been a problem, at least it hadn't been since the opening of the D.J.Sexton Gymnasium in 1964.  Winning at Herndon had been a different story. Why had Bramwell found it difficult to play well at Herndon?  I offer that the bus ride over the mountain to get there was enough to cause even those with a strong constitution to play less than their best.  A hostile Wyoming County crowd could be intimidating.  In fact, several years before the fans had been more than intimidating, they had been violent after the game, punching players as we raced to the bus. And besides, Herndon's gym had those fan-shaped backboards!

Because the trip to Herndon took forever and a junior varsity game was played prior to the varsity's, we boarded the bus soon after school was dismissed for the disquieting trip. Coaches Norton and Phelps sat together in the right hand front seat with the three cheerleaders - a senior, junior and sophomore -- sharing a seat right behind them.  Fraternization between cheerleaders and ball players was not expected.  Players were to be "thinking" about the game. There was always a serious mood on the bus as we traveled to games.

We dismantled Herndon's two-three zone with ease. Maybe we should have
realized that winning by such a substantial margin at Herndon was a sign that this team was going to be special.  If you ask any player from Bramwell what he remembers about playing Herndon, other than the torturous bus ride, I assure you he will mention that they fed you hot dogs and milk in the adjacent cafeteria after the game.  Questionable cuisine for the long bus trip back home.  However, after a victory, those bus trips were fun as we recounted the highlights of the game.

#5 BHS 75 Park Central 65

This game was special because it was played during school time, so that those in the student body who couldn't make it to night games could see the team play.  Once each season we would have such a game.  Park Central was one of the few teams that year to play us a man-to-man defense.  They had several all-state track and football players on their team.  Beating them was a significant win and one that hinted that we were good.

#6 BHS 70 Gary 56

Gary had beaten us twice the previous season, the only team we had lost to in the regular season.  Beating them in the last game before Christmas vacation left us undefeated and atop the Daily Telegraph's area ratings.

#7 BHS 83 Athens 56

We traveled to Athens for our first game of the New Year.  We weren't as sharp as we had been in the first game with them, but we still won easily.

#8 BHS 91 Montcalm 64

Montcalm played its home games at the Brushfork Armory.  It was fun beating our rival in front of a large crowd.

#9 BHS 74 Pocahontas 33

After some bitterness between the two rivals in the early 1960s, the series was renewed the year before.  We clearly outclassed our Virginia neighbor.

#10 BHS 73 Matoaka 40

It was clear that we were getting better as we easily handled a team that had battled us closely in the season opener.

#11 BHS 103 Spanishburg 41

We were winning by big scores over county rivals.  The pressing defense was
creating steals and easy baskets.  Most of the local Class A schools played us a 2-3 defense. The zone was not effective against us because Rickey Stores was a tremendous threat with his quick-release, long-range jump shot, Gravely and Hood were developing into consistent scorers down low, and Charles Davidson was pulling the defenses out with his 12-15 foot jump shot.

#12 BHS 86 Pocahontas 49

Another big win away from home.

#13 BHS 86 Greenville 50

We traveled to the Monroe County Swiss-like village, which was covered with
6 to 10 inches of snow, to play an undefeated Greenville High School. Greenville High was led by an all-state center.  Before the game there was a lot of excitement on the part of the fans from this small town. We were definitely worried that this would not be like the previous six games, which we had won easily.  Winning this game started the papers to speculate about how good we were.

#14 BHS 69 Northfork-Elkhorn 55

A hard-fought game against a strong Jennings Boyd coached team left us 14-0! Note that we were under 70 points for the first time of the season.

#15 BHS 86 Spanishburg 54

The only decisions to make that night were deciding whose turn it was to score.

#16 BHS 79 Park Central 65

We played well against a good team in their gym.  What I remember about that game is that their fans waited for us to come out of the locker room and then they stood and applauded.  How gracious they were!  Many came up to us and congratulated us on such a fine game.  We had earned their R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

#17 BHS 77 Northfork-Elkhorn 71

What a game!  Playing at Northfork was tougher than playing in Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium.  I know because I played in both.  Northfork's gym
was dark, loud, and intimidating.  The game was physical.  I shot a dozen
foul shots in the fourth quarter.  The Daily Telegraph had speculated that
Bramwell would find it difficult to stay undefeated with games against
Northfork and Gary in the same week.  Both had recently defeated Bluefield
and Princeton.

#18 BHS 64 Gary 63

Because of the strong spectator interest in this game it was held in the Welch National Guard Armory, which was packed full of fans, not only from Bramwell and Gary, but also from Welch, Bluefield, and the surrounding area. Because my father worked in Welch, it was an extra special game for me. Gary was led by All-State 6'7" Jim Gregory, whom later I would play against in the Southern Conference where he was a standout for East Carolina University.  The game at Welch that night came down to the last second.  No win in my career was ever more meaningful.  We could have been State Champs without winning that game, but we couldn't have been undefeated.

#19 BHS 89 Herndon 58

A good performance at home enabled us to beat a Herndon team that with a series of upsets surprisingly made it to the state semifinals.

#20 BHS 86 Greenville 69

The end of a perfect regular season, which we knew would be diminished without six more wins and a championship.  We had finished the regular season averaging 82.3 points per game and allowing only 55.3 points per game.  An average margin of victory of 27 points per game is an indicator of the team's dominance.

The Sectionals

#21 BHS 99 Spanishburg 71

We were playing well now and our principal goal was to avoid injuries and an
upset.  We managed both.

#22 BHS 76 Montcalm 54

We didn't pay much attention to the old saying that it's hard to beat a team
three times in a season.

The Regionals

#23 BHS 71 Ansted 53

The Regional Tournament was played at Hinton.  The gym sold out and the Fire
Marshall would not permit anymore fans in the gym.  Ansted was a strong, physical team.  It was a tiring game for us.

#24 BHS 58 Union 46

The game to determine who was going to Morgantown was another very physical
game against a Herman Lewis-led Union team.  Lewis was bigger and taller than Gravely.  I believe he left his hand imprint on all of us. The Red Devils prevented us from running our fast break, but we survived the slow and methodical half-court game.  Even in our exhaustion from the two demanding Regional tournament games, we were elated about going to Morgantown, which we had begun talking about in late January after beating Greenville the first time.

The State Tournament

#25 BHS 47 Piedmont 44

After a six and a half-hour trip on Thursday to Morgantown, we practiced at
Morgantown High School.  We watched one of the AAA games that night.  On
Friday afternoon we watched Bethany beat Herndon for a berth in the Class A
State Championship game on Saturday.  We were playing Friday night to
determine the other berth in the championship game.

Playing on WVU's home court where Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley played was enough to excite a school boy beyond description, but to do so for an
undefeated team against the defending state champs heightened the tension even more.  I'll never forget being in the locker room getting ready to take the floor for warm-ups as Coach Norton gathered us around him.  Expecting a motivational speech, telling us about how this was a chance-of-a-lifetime, we got instead from the master of psychology, a risqué joke that had all of us laughing and probably blushing.  He knew that there was nothing else to say.  We needed to relax and get on with business.

The game was nip-and-tuck all the way.  Perhaps both teams were too cautious
to really play their best.  There was too much on the line.  What I do remember is that the last two baskets we scored were Rickey Stores' bank shots from about 18 feet on the foul line extended.  He had hit those bank shots all year and he didn't hesitate to do so with the game on the line. What a money player!

#26 BHS 86 Bethany 49

On Saturday, we ate pancakes at a late-morning, pre-game brunch in the
Mountainlair (WVU's Student Center) for our 3:00 championship game.  We
watched the first half of the AA game and then went to the locker room to don the blue and gold for the final time. Bethany made two quick baskets and that was about their only excitement for the rest of the afternoon.  We ran and scored at will, setting a record that still stands after 35 years for the largest margin-of-victory in a championship game.  Everyone on the team got to play.  Somehow the ease of the win made it a little less climactic, but it did not diminish our satisfaction at having completed a perfect season.

When we returned from Morgantown on Sunday, there was a long line of cars
waiting to greet us at the Mercer County line.  The convoy of cars paraded
through Princeton and Bluefield before a downtown celebration in Bramwell. The rest of the Spring was filled with dinners, banquets, television appearances, and special events honoring our team.

All of the state newspapers carried an article about the state tournament. My favorite headline about our game - "Like A Million" -- came from The Fairmont Times.  All of the newspapers would mention our nickname and the insignia ($) on the breast pocket of our blazers.  Perhaps the best compliment we received was from the leading sportswriter from the Charleston newspaper when he said that the state tournament would have been much more interesting if Bramwell had been able to compete in the AAA tournament.

A perfect season requires extraordinary efforts and significant contributions from many people.  I have mentioned only the five starters and the coaches, but there were many others who made this season possible.  It was most apparent that our Principal, Mr. D. W. McCormick wanted BHS's first championship.  He was most supportive of the team and coaches.  The same could be said for the teachers, as well.  They were willing to make accommodations so that players could spend extra time in the gym practicing. Special privileges, such as going to the front of the cafeteria line, were extended to the players so that they could shoot free throws during lunchtime.  The cheerleaders led pep rallies, posted banners and signs and created spirit among the entire student body.  The players felt that everyone was pulling for them.  The eight non-starters on the team, of course, were critical to the team's success even though they seldom played meaningful minutes.  After all, they provided challenging opposition to the best team in the state every day in practice.  They did so dutifully without ever whining or complaining.

Much attention was showered on this team after the state tournament. Newspapers loved to tell about a team called the "Millionaires" that included students living in poverty and players who had to rely on townspeople to buy them presentable clothing to wear to Morgantown.  No one ever complained of being poor or disadvantaged.  I mentioned that we were seriously focused on winning, but I believe all associated with the team would agree that we had fun.  That's what I remember most.

( Material Furnished By: Bill Pierce, BHS Class '67. )