COOLIDGE — As a team goes through the ups and downs of a regular season, it’s helpful to be reminded that it is capable of doing anything.
The Coolidge High School basketball teams got that shot of inspiration last week when they hosted a ceremony honoring the 20th anniversary of the back-to-back state championship the Bears boys won in 1998 and 1999 under head coach Dave Glasgow.
Coaches and players from those teams lined up at center court during halftime of the Coolidge-Florence boys basketball game, reuniting a group that made two inspiring runs in the state playoffs.
The 1998-99 team has been touted for its relentless defense, including its signature full-court press that stifled teams around the state. One of the leaders of that defense-first mentality was Valentine Rodriguez III, who was one of the scrappier members of the team.
“We clicked, through blood, sweat and tears,” Rodriguez said. “We worked hard and we ran a lot.”
That team finished the season 25-8, eventually defeating Alchesay in a tight 56-53 game to win its first championship in over a decade. Drew Youtsey and Maurice Gants were named to the first-team all-state team that year.
“They kicked the door down,” Glasgow said.
The follow-up campaign didn’t start of as planned, though it’s notable that many of the games they lost came against much larger 5A schools. However, behind a now legendary duo of Mike Smith and Terrance Gant, the team quickly rebounded and finished the season on a 22-game winning streak.
They rode that positive momentum to crush the field in the playoffs, defeating Benson 79-56 in the state championship game.
That team would leave a lasting impact, particularly on its freshman players, who would grow up to lead a team of their own to a state runner-up finish in 2001, then a championship trophy in 2002, the last time the Bears have taken home the title in boys basketball.
Glasgow remembers tough games played against the likes of Globe, Seton Catholic and especially Santa Cruz Valley Union, which at the time was led by star Reggie Neal. Throughout it all, he remembers the rowdy atmospheres at the Roundhouse.
“It’s almost the same now,” he said. “Not quite but almost. It’s a very small town, full gym, and I miss it.”
Rodriguez said a lot of players from those teams have kept in touch on social media, but this is one of the first times so many of them have been together since those championship days. He said the night meant a lot, particularly seeing those coaches again.
“They were a big part of all of our lives,” he said. “They made us the champs that we were.”
His son, Valentine IV, now wears the same uniform as a member of the boys basketball team. What’s more, he’s the star quarterback of the football team, a sign that the championship legacy of these teams is living on.
“It’s every dad’s dream to see your son follow in your footsteps,” Rodriguez said. “But not just follow them, be better. It makes me really proud to see him out here.”