It was magical. What trip to a state tournament isn’t?
But maybe this one was more magical than most of them because 1989 was the first time Lima Central Catholic had ever played in a boys state basketball tournament.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of LCC’s first state tournament, when it was runner-up to that era’s small school super power, Columbus Wehrle.
LCC has gone back to the state tournament six times since then — in 1992, 1993, 1994, 2000, 2010 and this year.
Obviously, 2010 stands apart from the rest because it was the year LCC won the state championship in Bob Seggerson’s final game as coach. But there is something to the idea that the first time is unique, if not necessarily the best.
“Wow, it’s been 25 years? It’s gone by fast,” said Eric Volbert, one of the starting guards on the 1989 team when reminded of the anniversary.
Travis Merry and Volbert were the guards for LCC (23-4) in 1988-89. Brett DeCurtins and Jimmie Freeman were the big men, or at least the biggest players in the starting lineup, at 6-foot, 4-inches and 6-foot, 2-inches. Matt Carder was the other starting wing and Pete Williams and Shawn Foster were the first two players off the bench.
LCC had gone to three regionals earlier in the 1980s but never got through to the state tournament.
In 1989, it beat 1988 Division IV runner-up Kalida in the Bowling Green regional championship game, then won its state semifinal 80-46 over Berlin Center Western Reserve before losing 83-81 to Wehrle.
“It was just a neat thing because we knew how many great teams had played at LCC and no one had made it. Just making history, knowing there had been so many other really good teams. We thought it was an honor, that we were fortunate that we got to be that breakthrough team,” Volbert said.
Merry played college basketball at Shawnee State University and scored 1,117 points in his career. Volbert played college basketball at Union University in Tennessee and has coached girls basketball for around 20 years, including a state runner-up finish with Milan (Tenn.) High School.
DeCurtins was No. 1 singles player on the University of Cincinnati’s tennis team. Freeman was a starting running back at West Virginia University and Foster played football at Bowling Green.
“We just had a bunch of athletic kids. Nobody was really tall or did anything great. We just kind of clicked as a team. It was special. I don’t know if we were the best (LCC) team ever, but chemistry-wise I think you could argue we were one of the best chemistry teams Seg ever had,” Volbert said.
DeCurtins said, “The whole season was magical. Travis and Eric were my two best buddies. We all had gone to St. Charles and played basketball together from the fifth grade on up. For it all to kind of come together our senior year, it had a really special feel.”
He was the tennis coach at the University of Cincinnati before the school dropped its program. He has been a teaching tennis pro and manages an indoor recreational facility in Cincinnati. He also is a partner in a take-and-bake pizza business with several locations.
When LCC won the 2010 state title game over Orrville, he was in the Value City Arena texting updates to Volbert, who was driving to Florida from Tennessee on a family vacation.
“The last 30 seconds he couldn’t take it anymore and he called me and put the phone on speaker phone and held it up between him and his wife and I did play by play,” DeCurtins said.
Seggerson called the 1989 team “probably the most popular basketball team that ever played at LCC.”
“That team captured the imagination of our whole community. They were so much fun to watch, they were so close and they still are. The other thing I remember is that when we got beat at state our entire section stood and cheered even though we lost the game,” he said.