In an effort to promote educational athletics by showcasing some of the great teams of past years, the Michigan High School Athletic Association has instituted a new program called Legends Of The Games, which honored its first school at halftime of the 1997 Class A Girls Basketball Final.
Farmington Hills Mercy, which won MHSAA Class A titles in 1977 and 1982, returned 10 members of those two teams to receive commemorative plaques and a banner for display at the school during a ceremony on Dec. 6, 1997 at the Class A Girls Basketball Final.
The Legends program is designed to remind that todays interscholastic athletic program owes a debt to those who have come before us, said John E. Jack Roberts, executive director of the MHSAA. The program also serves to remind us that school sport s are about the development of life skills and life-long relationships between players, coaches and communities.
The Legends program gives us an opportunity to recognize again those great achievements of the past, and to reflect on what is truly important in school sports.
The Legends Of The Games couldnt have found a better team to initiate this recognition program with. Farmington Hills Mercy truly faced character-building situations when Coach Larry Baker directed the Marlins to their two championships.
The first title in 1977 came after Mercy had finished in the runner-up position in three consecutive years to Detroit Dominician (1974), Detroit Northeastern (1975) and Marquette (1976). Mercy was also a semifinalist in the very first MHSAA Girls Basket ball Tournament in 1973.
The Marlins were not to be denied in the 1977 Final against Detroit Mumford in East Lansings Jenison Field House, but after winning an hard-fought 61-55 decision over Grand Blanc in the semifinals the night before, they found themselves down early again st Mumford, a team they had beaten by one point during the regular season.
Mercy trailed by 12 points in the second quarter of the title game, but rallied to trail by three at halftime, 34-31 A full-court press was a key in the comeback, which saw the Marlins take the lead in the third quarter and finally pull away to cap a 25 -0 season with a 63-52 victory.
I remember a real sense of fulfillment as we capped an undefeated season with a very strong performance in the finals, Baker recently reflected. Some of us had experienced the frustration of going to the finals and losing the preceding three years. Anything less than a championship would have been a disappointment that season.
Senior leadership drove Mercys mission. Four senior startersKate McNamara, Diane Dietz, Suzanne Brown and Lynn Yadich led the Marlins. McNamara had 21 points and 10 rebounds in a very physical final contest.
I remember this being a seasoned team of all-around players and persons, said Baker, who at 24 was in his second year as Mercys coach; probably the youngest title-winning coach in Michigan girls basketball history and the first male to coach a girls t eam to an MHSAA hoop crown. We were the best team in the state that year and the team had great confidence. They were on a mission from the beginning of the season and played with great dedication. We had two bonafide consensus all-staters and that m ade coaching very easy in most games.
Flint Northern would then win the next four Class A championships, knocking off Mercy in the quarterfinals on two occasions along the way. In 1982, the two teams met in the title game that is one of the all-time classics in any sport.
At Calihan Hall in Detroit, Northern looked poised to win a fifth consecutive crown. The Vikings were up by 10 after one period, 13 at halftime and by 19 entering the final eight minutes. Bakers hand was forced into something he didnt want to doapp ly a full-court press.
We wanted to flash the press on them occasionally, but we absolutely didnt want to go to itthat was our last resort, Baker said to reporters after the game. That put us into a full-court running game, which we
wanted to stay out of.
Still down by 18 with just under seven minutes to play, Mercy ripped off 16 of the next 18 points to cut the margin to fourpoints at 57-53 with 3:06 to play. After a Northern free throw, Amy DeMattia scored three consecutive buckets to give Mercy its fi rst lead of the day at 59-58 with 1:14 remaining. A free throw with 11 seconds to go by Mary Rosowski iced the win, 61-58.
DeMattia was one of four players in double figures for Mercy. Basford finished the game with 20, Carolyn Burt, the only senior starter on the team, added 12, and sophomore Annette Ruggiero had 11.
We started three sophomores, a junior and a senior, said Baker, who retired from coaching after the 1996 season with a 381-143 record. It was a young team, and many experiences were very new for key players. The parents of that team were terrificall y involved in that season in a positive way. The whole school community got swept up in our tournament run. We were underdogs in so many games...We were genuinely delighted with each success.
The fourth-quarter comeback was the most exhilarating experience I have ever had in sports, Baker said recently. Our young team worked a near miracle in that game. People who attended it still recall it with wonder.
Small wonder that the 1977 and 1982 teams are the MHSAAs first Legends Of The Games.
Present at the ceremony were:
Other Thoughts From Former Team Members:
Susan (Scott) Granzotto, Guard, 1982: On what she remembers from that season - The friendships that I have made. Also, the discipline that was taught. You learn that hard work does really pay off. Even though I didnt play very much, it is an event in my life that Ill never forget.