1988 Basketball Champs Look Back 30 Years Later
When the 1988 Ohio Wesleyan men’s basketball team became the first in OWU history to win an NCAA championship, Coach Gene Mehaffey called the win the biggest thrill he’d ever had. “It’s something that we will never forget,” he promised.
Thirty years later, Mehaffey is being proven right, as members of the team look back fondly on their decisive and defining win over the Scranton Royals.
“We started five seniors that came into the team together, and we ended with a national championship,” star player Scott Tedder ’88 recalls.
“It brought the whole school, the town, and everyone in central Ohio together. People would be lined up outside the gym to get in,” says Tedder. The victorious Bishops even scored an invitation to meet President Ronald Reagan.
Tedder was OWU’s first first-team All-American in two sports, and was named 1988 NCAA Division III Basketball Player of the Year. Good thing, too, because at the team’s 1987 postseason banquet, Tedder promised his teammates they would win the national championship the next year. “I was half-joking,” Tedder said at the time. “But The Delaware Gazette had it in big headlines: ‘Tedder promises national championship.’ ”
When he graduated, Tedder held the OWU record for all-time leading scorer in basketball (2,501 points) and all-time leading batting average (.434) in baseball. Tedder was drafted by the Chicago White Sox and played in the White Sox and Chicago Cubs farm systems for seven seasons. Today, he lives in Hoover, Alabama, with his wife LaDonna and is a real estate manager for Hibbett Sports in Birmingham.
Jeff Sargeant ’90, had a front-row seat as a sophomore on the team. “The focus of the seniors and the coaching staff, everyone’s efforts were ramped up to a new level, and this permeated down to the underclassmen, including me,” Sargeant says. “You knew this was different. This was a special opportunity.”
The team was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame, and Tedder was inducted as an individual. “I couldn’t have done it without my teammates,” he says.
Casey Lee ’88 still remembers hearing the Scranton Royals’ coach say earlier in the championship, “If you want to watch winners, watch Scranton play.”
“Their coach was really confident they’d win it all, but when we played them at the championship, we came out and were never behind the whole game,” he recalls. “At the time, we won by the largest margin of victory in Division III history, at 92 to 70.”
Lee, who lives in Springfield, Ohio, and works as a consultant for a safety equipment company, says the team tried to take the run one game at a time. “When we got to the finals, we were just so excited about the fact we were able to follow coach’s game plan. We really jelled as a team,” he says.
To this day, the championship game remains a cornerstone of the men’s lives. “Everyone always asks me what was my greatest moment in life,” Tedder says. “I’ve played professional baseball, I’ve played on the same (baseball) field with Michael Jordan, but winning the national championship at OWU was by far my greatest accomplishment as an athlete.”
Tedder says the 1988 team members still stay in touch, calling one another every three or four months and texting daily about their families, jobs, and daily lives.
“It’s a forever bond that doesn’t need to be discussed every year or even every 10 years,” says Sargeant, who lives in Tipp City, Ohio, with his wife Nancy, and is president of Community Insurance Group. “We all paid our dues for that moment, from those who started every game to those whose only court time was during practice throughout that season. That is the bond.”
He remembers that after the team won the final game, the players just sat quietly in the locker room, almost in shock. “We had never won one (a national championship) before tonight, and everything hasn’t quite sunk in yet,” Mehaffey said at the time.
Even today, Sargeant realizes the depth of life lessons he received from being a part of the team. “Half of my growth in college is attributed to being part of a successful, goal-oriented team,” he says. “I personally thank all those teammates and coaches for a great start in life.”
By A.L. Davies ’19