Thirty years later, Wayne Wiseman’s words still ring true.
“They’re still No. 1 as far as I’m concerned,” the former coach said in 1984 about his record-setting South Wildcats boys basketball team.
Perhaps no team in Clark County is more beloved than those 1983-84 Wildcats. Recognized for their charm off the court as much as their state title chase on it, they won the Miami Valley’s admiration with a 20-0 run through the regular season and Clark County’s first Associated Press state poll championship.
Tonight at Springfield High School they will be reunited as the 1984 Wildcats are inducted into the Springfield High School Hall of Fame. They will be honored at halftime of Springfield’s varsity game against Centerville, which is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m.
The 1984 Wildcats had their stars, most notably forward Jayson Gee and guard Karlton Clayborne. But the starting five of Gee, Clayborne, forward Dillard Leslie, center Robbie Jackson and guard Darin Johnson were as formidable as any team the Miami Valley has seen. Add in super sub Mark Banks, and with Jesse Bray among others off the bench, the Wildcats were nearly unstoppable.
The Wildcats secured the city’s first 20-0 season, won the Western Ohio League, that AP poll championship and a sectional title before falling to Cincinnati Woodward 65-57 in the district championship.
“Being inducted together is very special because that’s what they were, a team,” Wiseman said earlier this week. “It was a total team thing. It was a very memorable time for the Springfield South Wildcats.
“I still feel to this day we should have won the state tournament. I think by being undefeated the regular season and going into the tournament, I think they got tight. We were afraid of losing one instead of going out and playing ball.”
A regular season that started with an 80-59 win over Cris Carter-led Middletown ended with a 72-56 win against Wayne. In between there were autograph requests, an invitation from a 7-year old fan asking them to attend his birthday party, restaurants offering team meals and fans with no affiliation to South hopping on the bandwagon and enjoying the ride.
“They were all very humble kids and down to earth,” Wiseman said. “They would talk to anyone. Kids looked up to them. … People just liked the (players) because they were very personable, very humble. People appreciated what they were doing.”
Thirty years later, they still do.