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By Mindy Crandall
A timeline is a project artifact and a way to highlight certain dates in history over a long period of time. Ava Bear basketball has been making history since the 1920’s when the first organized basketball team for Ava High came into existence and is still making history today. History cannot be erased and as they say, history has a way of repeating itself. This seems to be true when talking about Ava Bear basketball as over the years, many trophies and plaques have been repeatedly brought home and placed in the trophy case along side others, proclaiming Ava as District and SCA Champs. When visually seen from a timeline, there is no doubt that we are the champions!
In the earlier years, Ava won three district champs, one in the Altitude League during 1945-1946 and two as SCA Champ, Co-Champs in 1953-1954 and 1954-1955. Ava fans witnessed the hard playing and excellent shooting of player, Don Sallee. After his playing career in the late 1940’s, he returned as a coach and coached for many years up until 1960. Besides Sallee, Ava has been lucky enough to see several players return as coaches.
Since that time, Ava basketball has been exposed to several different coaching techniques by such coaches as Elmer Beard, George Godwin and Dale Russell.
Ava was considered District Champions for three consecutive years, in 1970-1971 with a winning record of 23-7. They won districts that year, but lost in the first round of competition to Dixon. They also picked up a district win in 1971-1972 with a 19-11 record. Ava defeated Camdenton 61-52 but later in the first round of state playoffs were taken out by Willard, with a 63-40 loss. It wasn’t until 1972-1973 that Ava was able to once again reign as district co-champions. The coach at the time was Truman Smith and he had already been signed on as Ava’s head coach for a couple of years prior, but it took time and patience to improve, and the trust of the players to believe that Truman had the ability to bring them to victory.
This team had an outstanding season with a 27-2 record. This is the best win-loss record in Ava history. The only two losses Ava had that year were to West Plains and Webb City. They were both very close games as Ava always seemed to play a very nice and controlled game of basketball. Their loss to West Plains was 47-45 and they were beaten by Webb City in the Quarter Finals with a score of 29-28. This team averaged 60 points per game while giving up only 39 points. Those players who were on the winning team that year were Jim Mackey, Sam Fossett, Steve Faszholz, John Logan, Ron Allen, Terry Ewing and Troy Pierce. Only three of these boys returned from the year before. Senior, John Logan was the leading scorer for the team and was named SCA Most Valuable Player. He is one of only two in Ava history to ever hold that title thus far.
Since joining the SCA in 1950, only seven athletes have been honored as part of the 1,000 Points or More Club. John Logan and Terry Ewing, both are a part of this elite club and played during this time.
Many players during this era later advanced into playing college ball and made career choices in this field, whether as coaches or athletic directors.
Truman Smith, was a coach to treasure. It is said that he had it all, the ability to pull outstanding efforts out of athletes, was stern and strong, but also held a great personal relationship with the boys. He was selected as SCA Coach of the Year, twice in 1970-1971 and 1971-1972. When asked what made his team so successful he replied, “I was lucky. They all worked well together, were disciplined and just loved to play. They also had a bond based off of a lot of trust and I respected that.” Truman mentioned that, Mona Decker, wife of high school principal at the time, Max Decker, commented that they were a winning team because of their success on and off the court. Most all the players were honor roll students as well.
Truman Smith coached at Ava High School for five years and left with a record of 97 wins and 40 losses. After leaving, he took a head coach and athletic director position in Salem. He had one district win while coach in Salem and is now retired.
Coach Truman, I heard nothing but good things about you. My mother was in awe at the mere mention of your name. I along with many others, thank you for your dedication to Ava and for creating a legacy of such. I wish you nothing but luck in enjoying retirement.
It was several years later before Ava saw another District Championship win. After the coaching days of Truman Smith came Don Morris, Marvin Hartzler, Richard Broekhoven, Don Sallee, Terry Ewing, Jesse Blevins, Mike Murphy and onto the coach who brought the winning streak back, Mike Dryer.
It was his first year of coaching at Ava High School and actually his first head coach position. Never the less he led Ava to a District win with a record of 21-9 in 1995-1996. Ava won Districts that year and later advanced to the first round of State, but was beaten by Fulton, MO. It was mentioned that Fulton had some very well developed players with a lot of skill and their ability to move up and down the court was just too much for the Ava players. They also won second place in the Greenwood Blue and Gold. Players who helped the Ava Bears advance on were Zach Ewing, Brendon Cooper, Josh Dalton, Josh Fleming, Bart Ellison, Jarod Coberly, Shannon Pruiett, Aaron Dalton, Matt Wade, Michael Harvill and Heath Turner. Heath Roberts was the team manager at the time.
Heath Roberts remembers the game against Mtn. Grove that clenched Districts for Ava. He mentioned that Mtn. Grove was upset and a player off their team punched an Ava player in the stomach after the game. The player was crying and everyone just thought he was happy about the win. This victory was about more than just beating Mtn. Grove, our rivals, it was the honor of beating previous Ava head coach, Mike Murphy, who now coached Mtn. Grove. It was said that he took the game well, but for the players it was the icing on the cake.
Player, Aaron Dalton, also joined the 1,000 Point or More Club and was second leading scorer going into the 2010-2011 basketball season with 1,309 points. Although he didn’t receive All State that year, he did make 1st Team SCA and 1st Team All Districts. He later went on to College of the Ozarks, playing all four years and made the NAIA Division 2 All American Team. Later after his college career, Dalton was honored by C of O, and his jersey was then retired. He now has a coaching position at Gainesville.
Coach Mike Dryer left Ava after only three years of coaching.
From that point on, Ava experienced yet another wave of new coaching staff. Shortly after Coach Dryer leaving, Ava only saw one years worth of action out of Brent Blevins and Matt Moulder. Later Brian Hukel signed on and stayed for two years with Jeff Schnakenberg taking his place and staying at Ava for five years. Jeff Cope followed him with a two-year coaching stint.
In 2009-2010 Coach Cole Dishman joined the staff and became head coach taking the Ava Bears to yet another District Championship and SCA Conference Championship. Their record that year was 21-8. Ava defeated Herman in the 1st round of State, but later lost to Mt. Vernon in 1st round of State Quarter Finals. Members of the team were Pete Leonard, Trae Shelton, Josh Wendler, Brock Mitchell, Jacob Schneider, Zach Leonard, Austin Gastineau and Austin Clayton.
Coach Dishman is still the Ava Bears coach and continues to do a great job as he as led Ava to yet another District win during the 2010-2011 basketball season. The players seem to respond well to his coaching techniques. The Ava 2010-2011 basketball players are: Austin Casey, Austin Clayton, Brock Mitchell, Trae Shelton, Pete Leonard, Austin Gastineau, Jesse Johnson, Dexter Fish, Caleb Miles, Ben Loge, Zach Leonard, Kevin Philpot, Chase Dixon and Kody Kutz. The only two players who didn’t return from the previous year were 2010 Seniors – Josh Wendler and Jacob Schneider. Senior, Pete Leonard broke Ava’s all time leading scoring record under his instruction.
It is not often that I get the opportunity to sit down and learn such interesting facts about Ava’s history. This was one of those rare times that I didn’t get to experience as much, however, it didn’t take away from what I saw as interesting. As I looked over all the stats, figures and reports that were gently tossed about my desk, I thought about what was really behind all these numbers. It was more than wins and losses, it was lives being changed. People creating history and history is real!
People, in general, rarely ever understand how much they can impact people’s lives and what others see as pinnacle moments. So many times it takes opportunities like this for them to see – their names written amongst others in Ava Bear basketball history. I am certain the coaches of the past played a much bigger role in the lives of their players and every one of them hold dearly the memories so deeply etched in their hearts of their playing days. Once in a while, I am sure the burning flame of the glory days still burns brightly in their dreams. To all of you who once played, it is my hope that you will think about the person who helped inspire you to be your best and take the time to some day personally thank them.
We congratulate all the teams, past and present, for their winning seasons. Ava basketball now holds a timeline of history, one that we all can reflect on. Ava truly is a town of Champions! To all the players of the past, thank you, for being a part of something so magical and giving children today the opportunity to have something to look forward to – a notch on the timeline of Ava basketball history and setting the bar high allowing them to soar after what they may want to achieve.