Aberdeen's state-winning basketball team from 1973 reunites for the first time in 40 years - East Idaho News

Aberdeen’s state-winning basketball team from 1973 reunites for the first time in 40 years

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ABERDEEN — For only the second time since their title run 50 years ago, the surviving members of the 1973 Aberdeen High School 2A State Champion basketball team gathered for a reunion Friday.

The only previous time the team had reunited was in 1983, when team leader Steve Hayes was a member of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics.

Together for the first time in 40 years, they shared memories of their time as student athletes.

“We’re having an amazing time together,” said Layton Anderson, a member of the ’73 team. “It’s great to see each other. It’s like seeing our best friends that we haven’t seen for a long time.”

They spoke fondly of intense Nerf basketball games that filled the team bus and hotel rooms. They also remember going home from practice with welts on the tops of their heads, compliments of the 7-foot Hayes.

They laughed about the time someone poured sugar in their gas tank after a game in Malad, stranding the entire group until 5 a.m.

“It brings back a lot of memories — the gym, and being together, it brings back the things that we forgot,” former teammate Mike Cardona said.

Members of the 1973 state champion Aberdeen HS basketball team.
Steve Hayes shoots the ball as his teammates watch. Mike Cardona joked that this was the offensive game plan for the 1973 title run. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Following the reunion celebration, which brought a packed house to Aberdeen’s High’s Tiger Den gymnasium, the 2023 team claimed a 73-47 victory over the Malad Dragons.

The Tigers are 12-7 this season (5-1 in conference), good enough to keep the school and town’s dreams of another state title intact.

Prior to Friday night’s game, senior guard Brody Beck told EastIdahoNews.com that having the school’s last title team in town brought added inspiration to a group which had just suffered defeat to Declo.

“I want to take state even more now because of these guys,” Beck said.

Head coach Ryan Wahlen, who grew up in Aberdeen and remembers going to the Steve Hayes basketball camp as a child, said his memories of the ’73 team is something he’s told his players about over the years.

“We’ve talked a lot about that team,” he said. “Steve’s a cult figure in Aberdeen, and that team has an iconic status in our town. We can use those guys as inspiration to get where we want to go.”

The '23 Aberdeen HS basketball team greeted by the '73 team after a win.
Members of the 1973 team congratulate members of the 2023 team (including Brody Beck with the headband) following a win over Malad. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Laughing at the past

While sharing their stories with EastIdahoNews.com, Hayes and his teammates — Cardona, Anderson, Dan Fehringer and Jeff Isaak — got hearty laughs out of the time Aberdeen lost to American Falls, due in large part, to a death threat received by Hayes.

Prior to the game, Hayes received a call claiming that if he showed up for the game, he would be shot.

Though they laugh now, at the time it was no laughing matter. City council members were deputized that day to give the local police enough manpower to secure the school and gym.

Hayes was escorted by the chief of police and, as Isaak recalled with further laughter, the entire team chose to warm up on the opposite side of the gym from Hayes.

Hayes struggled that game, Isaak recalled, posting his lowest scoring output of the season. Though, Anderson added, he was still the game’s highest scorer.

“I mean, he was averaging 31 for the season and I think he had about 29,” Anderson said, still laughing.

Hayes joked that while shooting free throws he felt himself shake. When someone sneezed, he threw the ball wildly off the backboard.

The memories the men shared weren’t all seeded in stress, though. They had a title-winning run to recall.

As Hayes remembers, the entire town was in Boise to support them during the state tournament. He learned later that the radio broadcast of the game included a request for the last person awake in Aberdeen to turn off the lights.

Aberdeen high basketball legend Steve Hayes hounded by autograph-seekers
Autograph-seekers hound Steve Hayes during the pre-game festivities. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

Teamwork and camaraderie

The team describes their victory as “the most dominant state tourney run in Idaho basketball history.” After knocking off the reigning champions from Gooding, Aberdeen won its final three games each by 30-plus points. That run culminated in a 74-40 victory over Grangeville, in which Hayes scored more points (43) than the entire Grangeville team.

Ever a modest, team-first player, Hayes insisted though that it was his team that outscored Grangville.

All five men even offered some advice to this year’s team. The key they passed along is dealing with adversity.

“Just keep fighting,” they all said.

Cardona added his own insight, though.

“Remember the things that you do, that you say, the camaraderie,” he said. “Remember those things, they’re amazing.”

Aberdeen HS Tigers vs. Malad HS Dragons
An Aberdeen Tigers player shoots a free throw. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com