40 Years Ago, AJHS Ruled Class A Boys Basketball

Prospectors to Honor 1977-78 State Championship Team at Tuesday’s Home Opener

By Daniel Dullum

Enjoying his retirement, Cy Henry prefers life away from the limelight. But the limelight will find him one more time when Apache Junction’s 1977-78 State Class A boys basketball championship team is honored Tuesday prior to the Prospectors’ season opener against Phoenix Metro Tech.

Cy Henry

“I was glad they’re doing this,” Henry said. “After 40 years, I think it’s neat that they’re doing that.”

Henry, who coached the Prospectors to their only state basketball championship to date, admitted he doesn’t dwell much in the past, saying, “I think about the kids, but 40 years is a long time ago.”

Henry coached AJHS boys basketball 17 years, from 1976 to 1993, and taught there from 1976 to 1998, also coaching football and track until his retirement. And, he coached the AJ girls basketball program from 1996 to 2005.

THE RUNNING PROSPECTORS 

Apache Junction finished its championship season with a 15-4 record after losing the Class A 1977 title game to Coolidge 69-60.

“About half the team played the year before and lost in that championship game to Coolidge,” Henry said. “So it was neat that they got to come back and win that last game. It doesn’t always work that way, and that was definitely a motivating factor!

“We were very fortunate, and they knew it too.”

The roster consisted of seniors Chris Barwick, Jeff Hays, Randy Hays, Larry Karkos, Charlie Hunt, Kevin Lockard, Sam Marquez and Steve Terwilliger; and juniors Dennis Doerfler, Jeff Graffa and Tim Holder.

Jeff Hays led the team in scoring (12.0 points per game) and rebounding (12.0). As a team, the Prospectors averaged 56.2 points while holding opponents to 44.4 points per game.

“It was a great team,” Henry said. “They all played together really well.”

Henry said he had the personnel to play an up-tempo game.

“We ran a lot on offense, and we pressed on defense. We were pretty aggressive. Plus, we had nine or 10 kids who could play. So we kind of wore some teams out.

“You have to have the kids to do it with, and the bench depth. We could go 10 deep, and we did that the year before as well. We had a good JV program the year before too and wound up with 10 really good kids.”

The Prospectors finished the season with an 11-game winning streak. In the conference tournament, AJ defeated Ajo 54-39 and Coolidge 49-44. Moving on to the state Class A tournament, AJ beat Mingus 69-49 in the first round, and topped Morenci 49-44 in the semifinals.

“I don’t think I had any doubts that we would win those first two games,” Henry said. “Of course, we had played both of those teams before. And we were playing really well right then, the best we’d played all year long.”

AJ downed Fort Defiance Window Rock 57-36 in the championship game, played at the ASU Activity Center. Doerfler and Jeff Hays led the Prospectors with 23 and 14 points, respectively.

“We probably had the better team,” Henry said. “We shot really well, and shot better than we usually did – you always want them to do a little bit more. And we played great defense.”

One of the side benefits of winning the state tournament was receiving a congratulatory letter from Ned Wulk, the longtime Arizona State men’s basketball coach.

“Back in the old days, when Arizona was a little bit smaller, the coach from ASU would pay attention a little bit more,” Henry said. “That was wonderful. It still is. It surprised me.”

SLOW START

AJ got off to a slow start, losing its season opener to Gilbert and taking a .500 record into the Coolidge Christmas Tournament, where the Prospectors claimed third place.

“That turned the season around,” Henry said. “We played well there and started shooting a little bit better.

“Then we beat Coolidge and I really felt like we could do it. They won it the year before and they were always a good team. When we beat them, we felt like we could really win it all.”

Henry credited the state tournament experience of the previous season as a factor in the ’78 title, saying, “A lot of those kids played in the playoffs the year before, so they were pretty comfortable.”

Henry isn’t totally surprised that AJHS hasn’t won a state championship since his ’78 squad.

“You know what? It seems like AJ has kind of stayed where they were at and so many other teams have moved up,” Henry said.

“But we had some other really good teams, we were just playing other better teams.”

NURSERY BUSINESS

After retiring from education, Henry went into the nursery business in 2005.

“I was always into plants and so forth,” he said. “I got a good chance to get into it with a friend of mine to start doing that. I had always enjoyed it, and I was honestly kind of tired of teaching and coaching. It was something to do.”

Henry points out that, looking back on his career, winning the 1978 Class A title is a highlight, but not necessarily the only highlight.

“We had, probably, four or five other teams that could have competed with that team. And we had some great basketball players over the years. As far as that goes, I probably had as much fun coaching the other sports (football and track) as I did coaching basketball.”

Pictured above: The jubilant Prospectors celebrate the Class A championship win over Window Rock

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