The Bethel Bees were a 3-season basketball juggernaut: Remembering Dayton’s first state champ

The Bethel High School girls basketball team went on a great run over a three-season span from 1983-86, compiling a 72-2 record.

The Bees closed out that run with the Class A state championship in 1986, ending the season a perfect 27-0. It was the first girls basketball state championship for Dayton’s four-county region.

Ohio Class A Player of the Year

The team had a clear leader: 6-foot-2 center Kelly Lyons.

In her senior year, Lyons was named the Associated Press Ohio Class A Player of the Year for the second straight year. She was also two-time Class A Southwestern District player of the year.

In addition, Lyons was also selected as the Gatorade Circle of Champions player of the year in Ohio.

She averaged 29 points and 16 rebounds and eight blocked shots that season and was ranked as one of the Top 25 players in the country.

“I always have a girl front me and one or two more are nearby,” she said at the time. “Sometimes when we call a timeout, I check and make sure they don’t follow me to the bench.”

Lyons was recruited by “well over 100″ colleges. Her final four choices came down to Ohio State, Old Dominion, Kentucky and Alabama.

Old Dominion coach Marianne Stanley labeled Lyons the “best post player in the country,” and landed the star player. At the time, Stanley said, “She could walk onto any college team right now and improve that team by 25 percent.”

The team

While Lyons was the star of the team, the rest of the roster were also was a force to be reckoned with.

Six players made up the heart of the team, and four of them played college basketball. Kelly Lyons went to Old Dominion. Sandy Kobelak went to Ball State, Gina Soncarato went to Rio Grande and Jean Twehues went to Urbana.

Two other players, Melissa Partin and Lisa Mayhew, formed the remaining core of the team.

Kobelak was named as a special mention All-Ohio, first-team All-Cross-County Conference and first-team All-District.

The team was 23-1 in the 1983-84 season, when they lost to eventual state champion Newark Catholic in the regional final.

The Bees were 25-1 in the 1984-85 season, with their only loss coming against Buckeye Central in the state final.

The 1985-86 tournament

Bethel entered the Class A State Tournament that season as the No.1-ranked team. The Bees cruised in their first two tournament victories, winning 93-16 over Southeastern and 62-28 against New Miami.

In the district final, Bethel won easily again, defeating Waynesville 79-39.

The state semifinal was a test, with Bethel winning a close game over Antwerp, 58-55.

In the final game at the University of Akron, against Southeastern, Lyons scored 37 points. Soncarato scored 15 points, and Kobelak added seven points along with a game-high 14 rebounds.

The secret weapon of the game turned out to be sophomore forward Kim Mayne, who entered the game early in the second half. She was 5-of-6 from the field and 2-of-2 from the free throw line, grabbed five rebounds and blocked two shots.

On the other side, Southeastern’s Kelly Downs also scored 37 points. Downs was an ambidextrous 5-foot-7 senior who finished the tournament with 75 total points, an all-time girls state record regardless of class.

Bethel led for almost the entire game, winning by a final score of 80-71.

Bethel finished the season with a record of 27-0. Southeastern finished 27-1.

“These kids have achieved so much that it would just have been wrong if they had been denied this moment,” Bethel coach John Whitehouse said after the game.

The coach

Whitehouse won the Associated Press Ohio Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1986.

He had previously served as head boys basketball coach at Bethel, but took the 1982-83 school year off to pursue his master’s degree.

It was after that year off that several members of the girls’ team approached him and persuaded him to come back as the girls coach.

He left team after the 1986 title to spend more time with his growing family.

About coaching the team, Whitehouse said, “I just had so much fun and enjoyed it so much, but I knew it was time to step back ... We had done quite a bit with the girls program and, in a sense, there was not much more to be accomplished.”

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