They are still unbeaten and they are still the champion.
Lincolnview’s 1997 boys basketball team was the winner of The Lima News Bracket of Champions competition in which readers voted round by round to see who they thought was the best team of the 24 area boys basketball teams which have won a state championship in the last 50 years.
Lincolnview’s 1997 state champions finished 27-0 and defeated Fort Jennings, Upper Scioto Valley, Delphos St. John’s, McComb, Leipsic, Norwalk St. Paul and Zanesville Rosecrans in its tournament games on the way to its state championship 23 years ago.
In this year’s mythical run to a championship, the Lancers started with a bye, then beat 1981 Kalida in the second round, 2016 Lima Central Catholic in the third round, and 1983 Delphos St. John’s in the semifinals.
That set up a championship game match-up with 2004 Ottawa-Glandorf.
The Titans also started with a bye, then won match-ups against 2014 Crestview and 2019 Crestview to get to the semifinals, where they defeated 1979 St. Henry.
In the championship round voting, there was apparently a strong turnout in the Lincolnview precincts and the Lancers emerged as the champion with 70 percent of the votes.
When informed their fans had made them champions again, players from the 1997 team remembered the kind of support they got in high school from Lincolnview’s fans.
“The fan base there really is something. The community backs them good or bad. When we were there we were really good, obviously, but the same people go to games now,” said Brandon Pardon, who was the Division IV state Player of the Year in 1997.
Lima Central Catholic boys basketball coach Frank Kill, the MVP of the 1997 Division IV state tournament, said, “It’s amazing the magnitude it (the state championship) had on that community. The experience was awesome and the reason it was awesome was because of the community we lived in.”
Lincolnview’s 1997 team was one of those teams people started talking about as future state champions when they decimated opponent after opponent in junior high school.
After an 18-5 season in 1995 that ended with a two-point loss to Ottoville in a district championship game, the Lancers won 26 games in a row the next season before losing to Springfield Catholic Central in the Division IV state championship game.
Springfield Catholic, led by future NBA player Jason Collier, pulled away in the fourth quarter to take a 75-52 win. But Pardon was playing hurt after suffering a nasty cut on his eyelid in Lincolnview’s semifinal game. And Wes Dudgeon, who suffered a concussion in the semifinal, tried to play but had to leave the game.
With four starters and seven of the top eight players back from that team, Lincolnview was well positioned for another run at a state championship in 1997.
“The first time no one from our school had done it and there weren’t too many teams from our area who had been to Columbus so it was kind of a new thing. We obviously expected to win but with me getting hurt and Brandon getting hurt, I don’t know if you’d call it having a chip on our shoulder, but we felt like we didn’t get our fair shake,” Dudgeon said.
“We wanted a shot at full strength to see if we could win it. I think we were pretty motivated that ‘97 year to see if we could make amends,” he said.
Pardon said, “The difference between the junior and senior year — both were unbelievable — was that there was an unknown when we were juniors. You just don’t know what it’s about. You grew up watching it and you want to become part of it. And then coming so close and having a lot of our core back, I knew we should be back there.
“I think the idea you should be somewhere put a little more pressure on us, but we were so in synch that year from beginning to end, we kind of expected to be where we were and do what we did.” he said.
Maybe the most pressure Lincolnview faced in 1997 was in a 60-52 district championship win over Delphos St. John’s. The Blue Jays got the game into a slower tempo than the Lancers wanted and it wasn’t until around four minutes left to play that Lincolnview took the lead for good.
They also were tested in the regional championship game when they won by seven points over Leipsic. But their two wins in the state tournament were by 39 points over Norwalk St. Paul and by 16 over Zanesville Rosecrans.
Pardon averaged 21 points a game. Dudgeon scored 16 points a game and Chad Pollock scored 14 points a game. Kill and Kyle Rabe averaged 9 points a game.
Pardon, a 6-1 guard; Dudgeon, a 6-6 forward; and Pollock, a 6-7 post player, all scored more than 1,000 points in their careers.
Pardon originally signed with Wright State and played one year there before transferring to Bowling Green, where he played three years. Dudgeon played at Malone University and Kill played for Defiance College. Pollock played basketball and football at Ohio Northern.
Dudgeon said, “The big picture was how did we get a group of us to come together who were talented and worked hard and got along well enough and not have personal differences come into play. There was no selfishness, nobody ever put themselves in front of the team. I think sacrifice would be a good word because I think everybody’s stats took a back seat because we won and got to play so much.
“As you get older I think you appreciate things more. Just looking back and remembering how few disputes we actually had, maybe Coach (Dave) Evans was a better psychologist than we gave him credit for. We got along well and we were all motivated and winning was the ultimate goal.”
Kill also said team chemistry played a significant role in building a team that went 53-1 in its last two seasons together.
“Our chemistry was always there. I remember going into the summer leagues our coaches didn’t have to coach us. We coached ourselves. I think the leadership and experience helped us down the stretch. We didn’t panic. Going into the state tournament it was kind of , ‘Hey, we’ve been here, done this and now it’s time to cut the nets down,’ ” he said.
Pardon said, “I think it was the camaraderie and doing it with your buddies. When we were in elementary school we were OK players but when we got to junior high we were kind of best friends and that was all we did — played together. To be able to experience those last two years with guys you grew up with and they’re your buddies, those are the memories that come back to me mostly.”
A full bracket of the competition and all the teams in it can be viewed online at limaohio.com/bestbasketball.