Bradford, Niven recall championship season
Ken McLemore, Hope Public Schools

HOPE – Players and coaches from the legendary state championship 1986 Hope High School Bobcat basketball team reunited here recently to be recognized in the 30th anniversary year of their magic season as the current HHS squad amasses a playoff-quality resume of its own.

Billy D. Williams, Kevin Talley, Jimmy Jackson, Reginald Donaldson, Dartelli Kight, Stacy Epps, Boomer Brown, Ken Bishop, Louis Allen, Terry Wesley, and Bart Bledsoe returned to Jones Field House on the HHS campus Friday night, greeted by former coaches Bill Niven, and current Bobcat coach Sam Bradford.

The 1986 squad piled up a 27-3 record to win the state 3A basketball championship.

“That ’86 team was a senior-based team,” Bradford recalled. “That was back when we had an overall tournament.”

He said state tournament play was divided into classification play, with Hope winning the state 3A classification, and overall tournament play, with classification winners playing each other for the overall title.

“We got beat in the finals by Dermott,” Bradford said.

He said Wesley was named most valuable player at the state tournament.

Bradford said all of the five starters for the team, Wesley, Bishop, Allen, Phillip Roland and Antonio Dennis, went to college after they graduated, with Allen studying on a football scholarship rather than basketball.

“I feel fortunate that group of seniors, that I was with them from the sixth grade,” Bradford said. “I moved right along with them and when they moved to senior high, I moved to senior high.”

Bradford became head coach at HHS after the state tournament upon the departure of Niven, who became head coach at Pleasant Grove, Texas.

“After that group graduated, my first official game after becoming head basketball coach, we ended up playing against Coach Niven’s team at Pleasant Grove,” he recalled.

Bradford said the senior corps of the 1986 team compiled a record from 7th-12th grade with only 10 losses overall.

“They were great team players,” he said.

The 1986 team was recognized at center court in Jones Field House at the half of the Ladycats-Lakeside game; and, prior to the Bobcats-Lakeside game, Bradford and Niven both addressed the team with the 1986 squad members present in the Bobcat dressing room.

“These guys laid the path for you,” Bradford said. “I’ve talked about these guys time after time.”

Niven recalled how the team had to sacrifice in some areas to get equipment or other needs; but, those adversities only drove his team to excel.

“I spent 12 of the best years of my life right here,” he said. “You have an opportunity; take advantage of it. Don’t let it get away.”

Niven said the reunion was a special treat for him.

“When they told me they were going to have the ’86 team here, there was no way I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Allen, who still lives in Hope, said the reunion was memorable for him.

“It does bring back memories to see the Bobcats running up and down the court,” he said. “It was very important to be acknowledged after all these years.”

The Bobcats won against Lakeside, 68-51.