Worthington Christian to celebrate the anniversary of boys basketball team’s 1998-99 state championship
By Paul Batterson, Contributing Writer
[Editor’s Note: In addition to this article, we have created a special page on the website which includes links to read what the players are doing today and to register for the January 12 event.]
When Dan Weston (WC ’00) looks back on the Worthington Christian High School boys basketball team’s unlikely run to the 1998-99 Division IV state championship, he doesn’t go back to the 95-90 triple overtime win over Fort Recovery in the championship or even its 68-64 victory over Cardington Lincoln in the regional finals.
What he remembers is a seemingly meaningless 59-58 loss to Delaware Hayes on January 19, 1999, as the date when the Warriors came together as a team. “I distinctly remember that game,” said Weston, a health data specialist at Cleverley & Associates. “I kept waiting for my family to arrive at the game, but they didn’t show up until later. They told me after the game my grandfather had died unexpectedly. The sting of that loss and the funeral a few days later hurt but having the entire team show up in Marion for the funeral made a huge impact on me. It drew us even closer. We began to play with a fresher bond and we carried that with us until the end of the season.”
Weston will be reunited with members of that team on January 12, nearly two decades to the day, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the boys basketball team’s first state championship. That reunion will be one of the highlights of the celebration that includes the annual alumni basketball games, introductions of the players and coaches at halftime of the varsity boys game, and a viewing party with free treats for the entire Worthington Christian community.
The Warriors that season were guided by second team all-state selections Sam Smith and Jason Weakley. Smith scored 28 points to lead Worthington Christian, but Weston played an important role in the overtime victory over Fort Recovery, one of two state championships ever to reach a third overtime. Weston recorded a key block at the end of regulation and scored eight of his 10 points in the overtimes to help Worthington Christian cap off a 23-3 season. Smith led the Warriors in scoring 18 of the 26 games and Weakley had top scorer honors six times, but coach Ray Slagle said having someone like Weston play a big role on a big stage wasn’t that unusual that year.
“We had a lot of outstanding players on that team,” said Slagle, who was 194-50 overall while coaching Worthington Christian from 1991-2000. “That team was very selfless. They didn’t care who got the credit for the success. We had two guys who went on to be the Central District player of the year (Sam Smith in 1999-00 and Scott Hadley in 2001-02 season) but we had so many people who made a steal here or a block there. They didn’t try to do what they couldn’t do.”
“I just remember the chemistry of that team,” said Hadley, who teaches math at Dublin Sells Middle School. “We were not just close on the court, but we were close off the court as well. That’s carried over to my teaching now. It’s not about what I teach the kids; it’s the rapport I have with them and the relationships I have with them.” Hadley, who coaches the eighth-grade girls basketball team at Sells, is one of a handful of players who went on to coach. He joins Smith and Adam Heath.
Hadley said that being a part of a state championship team gave him a little bit of street cred when he was a boys junior varsity coach at Dublin Coffman as well as with the Sells Middle School team. “Being a part of that team taught me the life lessons of work ethic, the real meaning of sports and what it teaches you. It taught me the physical component and the mindset you have to have to be successful,” Hadley said. “Winning it all lets you experience what it is like to be at the top, but I’ve also been on the complete bottom. When I started coaching, I think I won five games in my first three years.”
Hadley, who was a sophomore on the 1998-99 team, was part of three of Worthington Christian’s four runs to the state tournament. His junior year, the Warriors went 26-1 overall, losing to St. Henry 54-53 in a state semifinal. When he was in elementary school, Hadley was a ball boy for the 1993-94 team that lost to McGuffey Upper Scioto Valley 56-54 in the state final. Hadley grew up as the next-door neighbor of Jason Weakley. Their older brothers, Kevin Weakley (the current Warriors basketball coach) and Craig Hadley, were members of the 1993-94 state finalist team.
“My brother Craig and the class above his both went undefeated when they were in eighth grade and then they went to the state championship game,” Scott Hadley said. “When we were in middle school, Jason’s class and my class both went undefeated in eighth grade, so I had this feeling that our high school team might do it again. It’s still crazy to think about.”
“I think (watching Kevin go through a state tournament run) helped,” added Jason Weakley, who is a nurse anesthetist in Western Massachusetts. “Kevin was five years older than me, so I really looked up to him. I remember more about his state championship run than mine. I was more impressionable at that age. It lit the fire in me.”
Jason Weakley expects to see some of those embers still burning when that 1998-99 team reconvenes on Jan. 12. “Looking back on it now, it was just a special time in life,” he said with a chuckle. “To be honest, I don’t remember much about the regular season. I remember a few of the games in the tournament and the final. Mostly I remember the little moments, and usually those revolve around the camaraderie of being together. It was unique. I was just fortunate to be around a team with good players and Coach Slagle.”