BRADFORD, Pa. — Twenty-seven consecutive wins, a District 9 championship, a win over the state’s No. 1 team and trip to the PIAA quarterfinals later, Bradford’s 1994-’95 basketball team put together a season for the ages.
No Owls team has won 27 games since that year, and that win streak is likely the longest in program history. Only two Bradford teams have reached the state quarterfinals since that 1994-’95 season, and only one of those made it past that round — the 2003-’04 team that fell to Moon in the state Class AAA semifinals.
Also in that season, the Owls snapped a 12-game state playoff losing streak and picked up the program’s first PIAA win since 1969. The 24-0 regular season marked the first time the Owls ran the table since doing so in the 1941-’42 season.
And though it may have been cut short by the controversial charge call against Butler, the 1994-’95 “dream season” goes down as one of, if not the most historic season in BHS boys basketball history, and those ‘95 Owls left behind a legacy that endures even today.
“IN MY opinion, they are the best Bradford Owls basketball team in the modern-day era (1990-present) of Bradford High basketball,” then-head coach Dave Fuhrman said.
The team’s success started with a roster full of talented players. Three of them — Jerry Burgos (14 points), Andy Terwilliger (14) and Mike Manning (12) — averaged double figures on the year, while Nate Willson added 9.5 points a game and Cory Hayden chipped in eight.
The averages don’t tell the complete story of the team, though. Any of Bradford’s players could go for a big night, as evidenced by the fact that six different players led Bradford in scoring in at least one game that year.
“I think we were all unselfish,” Hayden said. “It didn’t matter who scored, as long as we won the game. We gelled well and bought into the system, and it worked out for us. We all played really well together.”
And that allowed the coaching staff — Fuhrman and assistant coach Mike Manning Sr. — to add a new look to the Owls’ defense. Manning in particular played a key role in developing Bradford’s vaunted pressure defense, which racked up 358 steals that season.
Fuhrman, meanwhile, spearheaded Bradford’s offense that outscored opponents by a per-game average of 71-45.
“With as talented as we were and as much time we spent together up until our high school careers, once we got involved with Coach Fuhrman and Dad, it was like the perfect recipe,” Manning Jr. said.
THAT TEAM chemistry wasn’t built overnight, according to many of the players. Much of the roster grew up in Bradford, and so many of those Owls grew up playing not just basketball, but other sports together over the years.
Basketball, though, reigned supreme.
During the offseasons, you could find any number of the players getting together at Callahan Park or the YMCA, among other places, to play pick-up games.
“We played together for so long, you’d know what the other guy was going to do and what he was thinking,” Wells said. “It was an absolutely fun time.”
Wells added that it wasn’t always just fun and games.
“Practices were tough; everybody was competitive,” he noted. “I remember a stint where I think in one week, three people went to the emergency room for stitches. It was that kind of thing, a serious and competitive thing … everybody understood what was at stake and why we were there.”
That proved crucial in some of the Owls’ closest games. Four times in the regular season, Bradford found itself in single-digit contests, but in each of them, the Owls found a way. The most exciting of those was a two-point comeback win in overtime at Elk County Christian to seal the team’s perfect regular season.
“Everybody was on edge the whole time, but those guys were cool and calm, even though it was a tough environment to play,” team manager Kevin Minich recalled. “They got the job done, and even in the playoffs when things got tough, they rallied together. They had so much success together.”
And with that success came plenty of community support, too. As the Owls racked up their wins, more and more fans started following the team.
BY THE time the postseason hit, storefronts all around the city were decked out in red and black, and people lined Main Street to send the team off and welcome the team home each time it traveled to a playoff game down in Clarion.
“Equally important to our on-court success was how the community embraced us and celebrated us,” said Tim Simons, a senior on that team. He added, “It was surreal. I’ve never seen anything like it when it comes to this community. I’ve never seen the community galvanize as much around a cause or group as they did 25 years ago with us.”
“The whole town was going wild,” Cory Mead said. “It was quite surreal. I had never seen anything like it.”
Indeed, according to many players, as the Owls left town, a line of cars stretched well behind the charter bus the team took — almost like a scene out of the famed basketball movie “Hoosiers.”
“We would have these games in Clarion, and there couldn’t have been less than 4,000 people that traveled from Bradford,” Simons said.
The elder Manning added, “Any place in Bradford could’ve been robbed, because there was nobody in town.”
Twenty-five years later, the legacy of that season — from the players’ camaraderie to the fervent support of the Bradford community — still stands as one of the most memorable times to be an Owl.
“It was just a phenomenal feeling to be a part of it and see how the community could come together over 15 young men that I think epitomized the Bradford spirit,” Coach Manning said. “It was a blue-collar, dig down deep and get it done spirit, and that’s why people gravitated to this team.”