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Boys basketball: 1982 Falcons made quick ascent to championship

Times-Call file
Skyline basketball players Steve Kokora, left, Dave Nehls, center, and Dan Curran, right, carry Cevin Hopp off the floor after winning the 3A boys state basketball title on March 14, 1982. Hopp, who led the Falcons during the regular season, missed the championship game due to injury.

LONGMONT– Still a relative newcomer to Skyline High School, Michael Peterson decided to do a little rummaging this past summer.

As Peterson sorted through the discarded and forgotten waste in the nether regions of Skyline’s athletic facilities, the Falcons’ boys basketball coach uncovered a relic that immediately caught his eye. It was exactly the sort of thing Peterson had been pining for as he prepared for his second season as Skyline’s head coach–something that could provide a link to the program’s history while also instilling a source of inspiration for current, and even future, Falcons players.

What Peterson discovered was a basketball signed by every member of Skyline’s 1982 Class 3A state championship squad. The dusty treasure became a constant companion for the Falcons throughout the summer and set off a series of outreach steps taken by Peterson that will culminate Saturday, when the ’82 Falcons squad celebrates the 30-year anniversary of its championship season during Skyline’s home opener against Arrupe Jesuit.

“I presented that ball to Austin Gutierrez, our senior guard, and he took it upon himself to bring that ball with us everywhere we went over the summer,” Peterson said. “It came with us for over 5,000 miles and 103 games. I kept telling the kids to take a look at that thing and realize that you can do anything you want. Look at what that team did in four years of existence. They went from a new program with no wins to a state championship. I was so proud of my team that they recognized the importance of this.”

Indeed, some questioned the sanity of former coach Mike Flynn when he left an established program at Northglenn to take the reins at Skyline, which began play during the 1978-79 season. The Falcons went 0-19 that first season and won only two games the following year. Yet by season No. 3, the tide began to turn. Flynn notes that the team’s work ethic remained unflappable throughout the trying first few seasons, and in the spring of 1981 the Falcons were on the cusp of reaching the state tournament, falling just short when late free throws by Greeley Central’s Tad Boyle, now the head coach at the University of Colorado, eliminated Skyline in the district tournament.

After toughening up the team during a summer camp in Wyoming, Flynn believed his club was ready for something special at the onset of the 1981-82 campaign. Just how special remained to be seen.

“I think if most coaches had an opportunity to build a program from scratch, they would jump at it,” Flynn said. “I took the job, and that first year we didn’t win a game. The second year we only won two. But we were working hard. They would lose, and they would come to practice Monday ready to go. I really appreciated that. And we got better.

“I can’t emphasize enough how hard the kids worked and how eager they were. They wanted to be successful, no matter where that would take us.”

Defense became the Falcons’ signature throughout the championship season, and Skyline eventually forced 19 turnovers in the title-game victory against Canon City. The Falcons boasted a number of versatile athletes, led by Scott Blecha, Dave Nehls, John Sacha, and Dan Curran. They also featured an inside presence with 6-foot-5 Cevin Hopp, although a knee injury that forced Hopp to the sideline for the state tournament became a rallying point for the Falcons.

Most of those players, in addition to Flynn, will be in attendance on Saturday. So will the autograph-filled ball the Falcons lugged around all summer, providing a link to the program’s storied past and the rebirth Peterson hopes to lead in the coming seasons.

“My sister made me a scrapbook, and when I go back and look at the pictures, I look past the guys in the photos and see the gym is packed,” Hopp said. “It wasn’t always like that, but by the end of the year people were hanging off the rafters. I give a lot of credit to coach Peterson and what he is doing there. He’s trying to get his team to look back and see we did it in a short amount of time, and they can, too.”