The Arizona Interscholastic Association will soon honor Payson High School's only state basketball championship team.
During halftime ceremonies of the Class 3A boys state championship game Feb. 28 at America West Arena in Phoenix, the 1979 Longhorn team that played its way into the hearts of fans by winning the Class B state championship will be recognized.
Payson High athletic director Dave Bradley, then the head coach of the championship team, said he believes 11 of the 13 players on the title crew will be on hand at the ceremony.
During the season of 1978-79, the Longhorns compiled a 20-5 overall record and captured the B Central Division championship with a 7-1 mark.
In the state tournament, Payson opened with a quarterfinal 77-63 victory over Antelope. In the semifinals, the Horns scalped the St. Johns Redskins 61-46. With the two state victories, the Longhorns qualified for the championship showdown against a talented Williams team.
On the Viking roster were two of the finest athletes to ever come out of Arizona -- brothers Johnny and Billy Hatcher. Billy went on to have a long professional baseball career with the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs.
Chuck Hardt, then a young assistant to Bradley, remembers well the gold-medal game played at Arizona State University.
"We are up one (point) with three seconds remaining and Williams has to foul Jeff Pettet," he said. "Then they call a time out to ‘ice' him."
During the time out, Bradley and Hardt gathered their troops on the sideline.
"Jeff comes over (to the bench) with (Beau) Bobier and stands outside the huddle," Hardt said. "I ask him if he's having fun."
"He senses my nervousness and says ‘Coach, don't worry, I've been in this situation a 100 times in my back yard.'"
With the outcome of the game on the line, Pettet went to the line and calmly sunk both free throws.
Because there were no three-point shot attempts in 1979, the Horns strategy was to give up an uncontested two-point lay-up and let time run out.
Williams' last-gasp lay-up pulled the Vikings to within 49-48. Following the score, a Payson player cradled the ball out of bounds while the final few ticks of the clock wound down.
Once the buzzer sounded, the Payson bench -- accompanied by Longhorn fans -- erupted in a wild celebration.
Although the final moments were crucial in the Horns' victory, Bradley remembers it was a basket in the first half that set the stage for the win.
"With two seconds remaining just before halftime, Beau Bobier hit a rainbow from beyond half court to put us up by one point," he said. "I turned to coach Hardt and said that would make a difference for us and we would win."
Hardt recollects that during the regular season, he didn't think the team was championship material.
"But the kids kept finding ways to win," he said.
In addition to the Longhorns being honored as part of the AIA's 25-year celebration, 1979 state boys champs from Phoenix St. Mary's (Class 5A), Winslow (4A), Wilcox (3A), and McNary (1A) will be recognized at the state tournament finales.
Girls 1979 teams from Scottsdale Coronado (5A), Winslow (4A), Morenci (3A), Florence (2A), and Joseph City (1A) also will be honored, as will Phoenix West (Class A) and Phoenix Carver (Class B) --tate champs from 50 years ago.
In notifying the members of the 1979 Payson High School state boys basketball championship team about the upcoming AIA reunion and celebration, Dave Bradley and Chuck Hardt have not been able to locate two players from that squad. The coaches are asking if any reader knows how to contact either Mike Kindred or Jody Henderson, they call Bradley or Hardt at 474-2233.