That 1978-79 championship season
NIAA STATE BASKETBALL
4A boys (Lawlor Events Center, Reno): Bishop Manogue (23-5) vs. Canyon Springs (24-2), 4:45 p.m., Spanish Springs (24-5) vs. Bishop Gorman (27-4), 8:15 p.m.
4A girls (Lawlor): McQueen (18-9) vs. Liberty (30-2), 3 p.m., Reno (22-7) vs. Centennial (27-3), 6:30 p.m.
1A boys (Lawlor): Pahranagat Valley (25-3) vs. Mineral County (24-6), 12:45 p.m., Whittell (26-3) vs. Spring Mountain (23-4), 4:15 p.m.
1A girls (Lawlor): Eureka (16-9) vs. Pahranagat Valley (20-3), 11 a.m., Wells (18-11) vs. Round Mountain (15-6), 2:30 p.m.
4A championships (Lawlor): Girls at 6:10 p.m., boys at 8:10 p.m.
3A boys (Reno High): Spring Creek (17-11) vs. Desert Pines (19-9), 4:45 p.m., Elko (22-4) vs. Cheyenne (18-10), 8:15 p.m.
3A girls (Reno High): Lowry (16-9) vs. Mojave (15-7), 3 p.m., Churchill County (23-3) vs. Virgin Valley (14-12), 6:30 p.m.
2A boys (Sparks High): Battle Mountain (25-5) vs. Needles (20-9), 4:45 p.m., Democracy Prep (27-3) vs. Pershing County (24-4), 8:15 p.m.
2A girls (Sparks High): Battle Mountain (22-6) vs. Lincoln County (24-3), 3 p.m., White Pine (25-2) vs. Needles (17-7), 6:30 p.m.
1A finals (Lawlor): Girls 11 a.m., boys 12:50 p.m.
3A finals (Lawlor): Girls 2:40 p.m., boys 4:30 p.m.
2A finals (Lawlor): Girls 6:20 p.m., boys 8:10 p.m.
Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series about Eric Reuter and Gary Price, who combined to give the Douglas Tigers a 1-2 basketball punch that has stood the test of time. Today, The Record-Courier examines the Tigers’ AA state championship season of 1978-79.
There is no mistaking the emotion of the moment as two men — who in February 1979 towered as high school basketball icons in Douglas County and across Northern Nevada — greet each other on a Thursday afternoon.
Suddenly, they look around at the front office area at Douglas High School, well remembering how this particular spot looked in September 1975 when they were part of the first freshman class to walk through the doors of the new high school campus in Minden.
Eric Reuter and Gary Price greet their former coach, Randy Green, who introduces them to Principal Joe Girdner, himself a 1992 Douglas graduate.
“Do you know the school song?” Price asks immediately, smiling from his wheelchair.
Girdner replies that he has the words up on the wall in his office. Price then explains how life back in the day was made miserable for any incoming new student who didn’t know those words.
Almost on cue, the two break into chorus … “We’re for you, Douglas High … Always loyal, always true …”
Then, again almost on cue, they stop to share a laugh together. You see, they have shared a friendship both on and off the court that has spanned nearly five decades, from innocent youth, through high school studies and sports, and college, not to mention life’s unending tests.
“We were the first graduating class to go through the whole four years here. For me, because I went to school at Kirkwood and Woodfords, this was quite a different experience. Look at how big this is,” Reuter said as he looks around a commons area that was just remodeled in the last two years.
As seniors during the 1978-79 season the 6-foot-6 post players — Price played high, Reuter played low — combined with their teammates from a school that numbered less than 800 students to set a model of success that stands to this day. They are one of only three state championship boys basketball teams (1914 and 1972 are the others) in school history, went 29-4 to set what still stands as a school single-season record and went 18-0 in conference on their way to the championship in Nevada’s AA medium schools division. At the time, 29 wins stood as a Nevada high school basketball single-season record.
Over the years, Reuter and Price’s names have been the two most mentioned, however, they played and won as a team. Seven players from that 1978-79 squad are now in the Douglas Basketball Hall of Fame on the gym wall — Paul Sarman, Calvin Huntt, Matt Bernard, Junior Kizer, Joe Bertolone, as well as Reuter and Price.
“One of the cool things about Randy, even though Eric and I got all the press, he made sure to give credit to the other guys, too,” Price said during a 2009 reunion and community celebration held at St. Gall Pastoral Center. “You have to look at the camaraderie, all the work we put in to achieve our goal, and the coach who always got the most out of his players. Those are the things that are important.”
Price led Douglas in scoring (19.4 average), rebounding and steals, in addition to shooting 62 percent from the field that season. Reuter averaged 15.2 points and 11 rebounds per game.
“I tell people, I came here in ’77 and had two guys who were juniors around 6-6, 6-7 who were best friends and unselfish, and I said, ‘How much more blessed could you get as a coach?,’” Green said.
That championship season began on Dec. 1, 1978, on the Tigers’ home court in Minden (now known as Randy Green Court) with a 57-55 win against the Sparks Railroaders. What made the win significant — enough that a full house would give the Tigers a standing ovation afterward — was how they rallied from a 38-22 halftime deficit against a formidable Northern AAA opponent.
Later in December, the Tigers defeated Wooster 67-63 behind 25 points/18 rebounds by Price and 23 points/18 rebounds by Reuter in the first round Bishop Manogue Christmas Tournament. One night later, though, the team absorbed its first loss in the semifinals, 78-63 at the hands of defending AAA state champion Bishop Gorman.
Shortly after Christmas, the Tigers opened in Carson’s Capitol Classic with a loss against Campolindo, one of the Bay Area’s top teams, and came back the next night to defeat the Reno Huskies, 75-73, behind Reuter’s 35 points, 17 rebounds, 4 assists and 4 blocked shots.
The Tigers lost 51-44 to Las Vegas Bonanza on the final night of the Capitol Classic and on Jan. 3 dropped a rematch at Sparks, 61-50, in what would turn out to be the last time they tasted defeat.
The 18-game run through conference was almost anticlimactic in some regards, although there were some highlights along the way, including a 93-57 win over Stewart on Jan. 12 when Price scored 32 points in three quarters.
The Tigers picked up two important wins on Jan. 19-20 during a difficult road to eastern Nevada, where they won 76-65nagainst White Pine in Ely and 43-26 at Elko.
“It was small town Nevada,” said Bernard, the team’s senior point guard. “We would go to places like Elko or Ely and they didn’t like us. We had to battle more than the five guys wearing the other color uniform. I remember one time in Ely we ran right off the court and ran right on to the bus.”
Remember, this was an era when there was no social media, ESPN or even cable television. To fans who followed their high school teams, especially those in the rural areas, every Friday or Saturday night was a special occasion. And that meant going out to watch their team, no matter where the game was being played.
“Even my sophomore year, the whole community got behind us,” Price said. “People would travel halfway across the state to watch us play.”
Another one of those tough road games came on March 3 against Lowry in Winnemucca, where the Tigers overcame slowdown tactics and a 31-24 deficit in the fourth quarter to win, 41-40.
“It was the best comeback I’ve ever seen,” Green told R-C Sports Editor Jay Aldrich at the time.
“We played 18 conference games that year and I told the kids that traveling to Hawthorne and Ely, there was no way you could go 18-0,” Green elaborated this week. And so it came down to that game on that night. We were going to be the No. 1 seed going into state regardless of how that game turned out and then they came out and tried to stall. I told my assistant, Clark Reid, ‘We’re not going to do anything special to try and accommodate them. We’re just going to play straight-up man, so I always felt like I put them at a disadvantage that night. It was just kind of a challenge to them to see what they could do and they went out and fought back and they just refused to lose. Winnemucca was a pretty hostile environment to try and win a basketball game. That town had a lot of pride (defending state champion) in their basketball teams and they took it pretty seriously, so it was an interesting night. I remember it well. I just knew at that moment, I came out afterward and I told my wife (Karen), ‘I think we’re going to win state.’”
One week later, on March 8-10, the Tigers returned to Elko for the AA state tournament and won three straight games — 60-46 over Yerington, 36-22 over Lowry and 34-19 over Incline. Beating the defending state champion Buckaroos was a team effort all the way: Kizer and Matt Bernard played clutch defense, and for an exclamation point, Kizer distributed a pass to Reuter for a dunk midway through the fourth. To nobody’s surprise, Reuter and Price were honored as co-MVP recipients for the state tournament.
“The night we won the championship, Randy told us it would mean more to us every day that goes by, and he was right,” Bernard said. “There are not a lot of those milestones in life, and I think you can ask any of the guys, this was one of those big things to us.”