Eric Bradley, former Wilbur Wright star and longtime City League coach who is the founder of the Varsity Club, with philanthropist Vercie Lark, a former Wilbur Wright basketball player and Chuck Taylor, who starred in football at Roth and Howard University and recently coached basketball at Dunbar. Photo courtesy of Paul Henderson Photography

Archdeacon: Varsity Club preserving a history, changing a narrative

It’s not quite a wife and mistress situation, but it’s become close.

Eric Bradley does have two loves in his life.

“My wife walks past my office here and says, ‘You doing that AGAIN?’” he said with a laugh as he sat on the screened porch of their home in the College Hill section of Dayton the other evening, “I do get kind of obsessed because I’m doing so much research in there. But I love it.

“I had a chance to play in the Dayton City League and coach in it, but I think this has been the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had with the game. I’m sharing history and the relationships that come with it.

“I’m getting to meet people I heard about, see their smiles and appreciation and it’s wonderful.”

Bradley, the former Wilbur Wright basketball star and later the head hoops coach at Patterson Co-Op and Stivers High School, has – with the help of a few of his Dayton Public Schools contemporaries – launched the Varsity Club.

The organization not only is honoring past basketball standouts from each of the City League schools – including those that ceased operation and nearby Jefferson High School, too – as well as other athletes, coaches and alums successful beyond the world of sports, but it’s also helping current DPS student-athletes with scholarships.

Since January, the Varsity Club has held a special Alumni Night the last Friday evening of each month at the Taste restaurant on Shiloh Springs Road in Trotwood. Each month a different school is featured.

Bookended by social hours, the program is highlighted by the presentation of four awards:

The All Star Legend Award goes to one of the school’s all-time top 10 basketball players and the Outstanding Achievement Award honors an alum who has made a mark in other facets of life or sports.

There’s an Earl Blaik Coaches Award – named after the Steele grad who coached Dartmouth and Army football and won two national titles and had three Heisman Trophy winners.

And the Ritter Collett Team of the Century Award – named for the late Journal Herald sports editor whose book on Dayton sports initially inspired Bradley – is given to one of the top teams in the history of each school.

Next year a Doris Black Award – she was the longtime basketball coach of girls and boys at Colonel White – will go to the schools’ top female athletes.

So far, basketball players Ray Brown (Roosevelt), Mike Pratt (Meadowdale), Archie Mays (Fairview), Ron Harper (Kiser), Monk Meineke (Wilbur Wright) and Dwight Anderson (Roth) have been honored.

Special achievement awards have gone to John Henderson (Roosevelt), Rick Smith (Meadowdale), Edwin C. Moses (Fairview), Alan Berg (Kiser), Vercie Lark (Wilbur Wright) and Larry Lee (Roth). .

On July 26 – in an event that is free and open to the public — Belmont High School is being saluted, The All Star honoree is Bill Hosket Jr. The Achievement Award goes to Paul Leonard, the former Dayton mayor and Ohio lieutenant governor. The late John Ross will receive the Blaik Award and his 1964 state basketball championship team gets the Collett honor.

Along with the reminisces and camaraderie at each Alumni night, the purpose is preserving the story.

The Varsity Club is collecting a pictorial history of Dayton Public Schools’ achievement – anyone who wants to find out more or contribute returnable photos can visit the website daytonvarsityclub.net or call 937- 416-7870 – and Bradley said one day his group hopes to open a museum in the Wright Dunbar district.

“Many urban schools, not just in Dayton, but all over, have closed,” said Cliff Pierce, a Fairview High basketball player in the 1970s who’s done publicity work for the Varsity Club.

“While there may always be suburban schools like the Centerville Elks and Oakwood Lumberjacks, one day there will be no more Fairview Bulldogs or Roth Falcons because they closed in 1982. It’s the same for Wilbur Wright, Roosevelt, Colonel White, and way back, Steele High.

“The great civilizations like the Aztecs and the Incas are all gone, but we can still determine how we will be remembered. We can share our story, one that’s about success and competitive spirit and an appreciation of each other. We all grew up together, played together and lived together.”

The Varsity Club hopes to change the narrative that too often is brought up when the Dayton Public Schools are discussed these days.

“The school system gets a lot of bad press because the bad things that happen get played up,” said Lark, the multimillionaire, retired finance executive who lives with his wife Lisa (a Meadowdale grad) in Overland Park, Kansas, just authored a book “Make It Rain: Increase Your Wealth & Financial Security” and is known for his philanthropic work.

“The truth is there are a lot of good things going on in the Dayton Public Schools.”

Mike Pratt was honored as an All Star Legend at Meadowdale High by the Varsity Club. He then lettered three seasons at University of Kentucky, where he played for for Adolph Rupp, and played two years of pro ball with the Kentucky Colonels in the ABA .He was a college coach. and is now a radio broadcaster of UK basketball. Paul Henderson Photography

Sedric Toney, a basketball teammate of Lark and Bradley at Wilbur Wright, who starred at the University of Dayton, played for six NBA teams and now lives in Atlanta, agreed:

“The Varsity Club is a great idea. Eric and his team have tapped into something that is good for the community. It wakes people up in their thought process about the City League and the school system and the great product they put out into the word over the years. You’ve got some highly successful people who have come though there.”

To help that continue, Lark and his wife have partnered with the Varsity Club and made a commitment for $10,000 in scholarships each year for DPS student-athletes.

This year’s honorees were Michael Elmore, a DECA grad headed to UD, who won the David L Albritton Award, named for the longtime Dayton educator, coach and politician who was an Ohio State and Olympic star, and Mone’t Allen, a Dunbar grad headed to Wittenberg University. She won the Lucinda Adams Award, which pays tribute to the Dayton teacher and administrator who was a sprint star at Tennessee State and the 1960 Olympics.

Lark said his concern for others goes back to his days growing up on Huron Avenue in Dayton.

He said his father worked for years at General Motors before becoming disabled. His mother worked at a bowling alley and then did day work until she finally was able to go back and get her high school diploma.

“With my dad’s situation, we were poor, but in West Dayton then – whether it was a medical crisis or just a situation with a car – people always found ways to help each other out. We always came together. So it was born in me.

“There are a lot of people who helped me along the way. I got scholarships from companies and organizations and individuals I never met. They helped me get through Central State and Wright State and started me on my way.

Bradley, who’s now 57, had a similar experience.

When he was going to Wilbur Wright, he said he was one of seven students – “I believe I was the only boy,” – who guidance counselor Emily Isaacs pulled aside and said she was putting into a new co-op program at Wright Patterson Air Force Base,

“I told her I wasn’t going to do that – that I was playing basketball – and she said: ‘No, you’re going to do this!’” Bradley chuckled. “We went back and forth and she said ‘I’m gonna call your mom!’ and she did. And they forced me into it.

“And it was one of the best things that ever happened to me. At the time we didn’t realize how meaningful it was, but whenever we came home from school in the summers or at Christmas or spring break, we could go there to work. And they said, ‘When you graduate you are guaranteed a job.’”

He smiled and nodded: “I’m doing cyber security policy out there now. I’ve been there going on 35 years. Ms. Isaacs really looked out for me.

“Isn’t that wonderful?”

Part of history

Bradley said the Varsity Club was born with a flicker of imagination:

“My buddies and I always sit around and talk sports and old times and then my wife brought Ritter Collett’s book on Dayton sports home from the library. I read the part on the City League and it had a list of the champions and one of my Patterson teams was listed there. That instilled some real pride in me. I was part of that history.”

Bradley has a deep connection to the Dayton Public Schools. Both of his parents graduated from Dunbar. His wife, Cheryl, graduated from Colonel White and their two children – daughter Brittney and son Brooklyn – both graduated from Stivers.

“The more I thought about it, the more I felt that sense of pride would be felt by others folks with their schools and teams,” Bradley said. “It would be a connecting point to something bigger. I felt we could take Ritter’s work to the next level.

“I started talking to my buddies and we put our heads together and came up with what we have now.”

Along with Bradley, the group who formed the executive committee of the Varsity Club includes: Chuck Taylor, who starred in football at Roth, played at Howard University and coached basketball at Dunbar; Jeff Arnold, who played at Patterson and Lincoln University before joining the military; Keith Byars, who starred a Roth and Ohio State before a long NFL career; Jason Thomas, who played at Belmont and Texas Southern and owns the Taste restaurant and Johnny Faison, a Roosevelt athlete in the mid-1960s.

The group decided to honor the top 10 basketball players and special achievers from each school and announce one each annually. The honorees – or their families, if they’re deceased – are given oversized, laminated player cards showing pictures of them and listing their accomplishments.

Dwight Anderson, #22, Roth High School, drives through traffic last against Dunbar back in 1978. DDN FILE

Bradley said he’s seen real appreciation from the recipients, none more so than Dwight Anderson, who’s arguably the greatest basketball talent ever from Dayton.

But after college stints at Kentucky and Southern Cal, Anderson’s pro career was derailed by a drug dependency that lasted decades.

Beloved even as he battled addiction and homelessness, he eventually got a helping hand from other athletes in the City League fraternity. First it was Pierce and then Toney and Bradley got him into the John Lucas Treatment Center in Houston several years ago.

The rehab worked, they helped him afterward and today Bradley said Anderson is no longer drug dependent and works at a linen company downtown.

When his effort was mentioned, Toney downplayed it: “I wasn’t doing it for any accolades. I was just looking to help save a guy’s life.”

And when he was honored last month, Anderson spoke candidly about his life.

“When we started doing this, we agreed that everybody has a story and you can learn from them whether they are good stories or bad,” Bradley said

“And I’ll tell you, Dwight was awesome. He had a great message. And you could tell he was moved by the honor.”

Anderson admitted that the other night: “It was a great feeling to get an accolade when you’re older and don’t expect it anymore. Most of all, I felt a lot of love from all of them that night.”

A helping hand

Lark, like Bradley, said his experiences were expanded early on when he was part of the busing program that sent students from West Dayton to the East Side:

“Eric and a lot of folks in my era were in the first wave of busing across town. All of us had our eyes opened. I got to experience things many of my contemporaries who stayed in West Dayton did not.

“I learned to interact (with white students) and get along. All of that – along with the reading, writing and arithmetic – helped me go out into the world.”

He earned an electrical engineering degree from Wright State, got his first job at Monsanto Research Corporation, worked a long time for Hewlett Packard and recently retired as an executive vice president and head of DST Financial Services.

His book came out recently and now he’s presenting its tenets on the lecture circuit while also serving on several non-profit boards and extending his philanthropy back to Dayton.

To find out more about his book, lectures and life, visit his website: vlark@kc.rr.com

Two and a half years ago he began providing scholarships for DPS students and now he’s decided to make it part of the Varsity Club program.

“I’m putting my money where my mouth is,” he said with a laugh. “But I hope other people pick this up too and we can bring these scholarships up to $50,000 or $100,000 a year.”

Yet, when his generosity was announced at the May gathering, he said it was not the moment that was the most moving of the night.

That happened when Larry Shadowens, the ailing, former head coach at Wilbur Wright, who guided teams Bradley, Toney and Lark were on, was given the Red Blaik Award.

“I’d say, over the last 50 years, he’s had more of an impact on the Dayton City League than any coach,” Bradley said. “His coaching tree has a lot of branches. Several of his guys – Mike Violette, Carlos Roberts, Ike Thornton, Felix Turner and me – ended up coaching in the City League. And now guys who played for me – Allen Spears at Ponitz and Trendale Perkins at Sinclair – are coaching, too.

“There are other guys in the tree also: Anthony Clements at Clark State, Russell Bass with Ponitz girls, Steve Wright at Cincinnati Princeton and Eric Ely with the Oregon State Women.

“Coach Shadowens has a real legacy.”

Although he recently had a stroke, he and his wife showed up for his award.

“He’s up in age and can’t talk now, but you could see it in his face. He was so appreciative,” said Lark. “He saw everyone’s love. It was really touching. It was the best moment of the evening.”

And it’s because of times just like that that Bradley said he loves the Varsity Club efforts even more.

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