Delco Madness: Intimidating 1983 Clippers win all-time ‘bragging rights’

The 1983 Chester High basketball team was bivouacked in a motel near Hershey the first time Darrin Pearsall understood the value of an attitude.

By the next night, the Clippers would be on the floor at the Hersheypark Arena to face both McKeesport and the reality that the entire city of Chester and its occasionally vocal critics were weary of second-place finishes.

Seven times, the Clippers had been to a state final.

Seven times, they were made to pack those useless silver medals in a duffel bag for the long school-bus ride home.

Something had to change. The Clippers had an idea.

“Intimidation,” Pearsall shared, 37 years later.

Rondae Jefferson, left, and Richard Granberry, bottom, play defense against Abington’s Jordan Simmons during their salad days at Chester. They presented a tough challenge for the 1983 Clippers to overcome. (DFM File)

Quite the ambitious approach given that 0-and-7 stain. Pearsall has fuzzy memories of some game-eve encounter with the McKeesport players.

“We just knew that we had to do some things,” he said. “We just had to show our aggressiveness to the opponent so they would know that it was going to be a war the next day. We didn’t physically approach anybody. But we had to show how we approached things.

“At the hotel, we were in close proximity to the other players. So there was a Chester head game. And after that, we knew, without a doubt, we were going to win that game.”

The Clippers won by 16 and the program won seven more state championships, the last in 2012. As it would happen, that 1983 team would face the 2012 champs in the final game of the mythical Delco Madness tournament designed to reveal the greatest boys team in Delaware County history.

The undefeated 2012 team was seeded No. 1. The 1983 team was the No. 7-seed. But when the oddsmakers lopped a one-point betting line on the mock championship game, they knew something. They knew the underdog wouldn’t be intimidated, not in 1983, not in 2012, not in 2020.

“We set the stage for an attitude in Chester,” said 1983 coach Cliff Wilson. “We set the stage for winning.”

The stage Monday night was the Wells Fargo Center, filled with 20,230 customers, including many of the players, coaches and fans of the 1983 Nether Providence High girls team. Those Bulldogs supporters cheered the Clippers in 1983 on the night both teams won state championships in the same doubleheader.

The raging support helped in 1983. And it helped again Monday, when tournament MVP Pearsall unloaded for 22 points in a 79-74 victory that baffled the seeding committee but almost no one else.

“We could do it all,” Wilson said.

Bigger in the backcourt, bigger up front and willing to engage in a 21st-century drive-and-kick three-point game, the 1983 Clippers continued to honor a commitment they made after a late-season loss to national power Dunbar of Washington, D.C. They would do everything Wilson asked. And what Wilson demanded Monday was unselfish play. The boxscore, which public-address announcer and Chester historian Dave Burman immediately added to his legendary collection, said it all. Five Clippers were in double figures, with Theo Williams (19), Steve Miller (14), Darryl Green (13) and Eric Jones (11) supplementing Pearsall’s scoring outburst.

As they did in their most recent game against McKeesport, the ’83 Clippers opened in a 1-2-1-1 zone press. That created turnovers and enough scoring opportunities to build a 16-3 lead after five minutes. Ever cool, 2012 coach Larry Yarbray quickly turned to his deep bench and received enough juice from guards Diamonte Reason and Rashan Dejarnette to narrow the deficit to 20-16 after one quarter.

“That ’83 team had big guys,” said current Chester coach Keith Taylor. “The 2012 team had big guys, too. But the ’83 team had Pearsall (Temple) and big Ted Williams (Wichita State), two D-1 players there. They were tough down low.”

Wilson’s team earned a 40-32 lead by intermission, which featured the only thing all night that would draw applause from both sides of the arena: A video tribute to the greatest Clipper of all time, Jameer Nelson, who would make an unscheduled walk to mid-court in an orange Chester jersey. On the front, there was the number 83, while the number 12 was embroidered on the back.

As expected, the 2012 team made a second-half run with Kareem Robinson playing lock-down defense and Richard Granberry scoring 11 unanswered points to force a 60-60 tie after three quarters. But when Williams was fouled in the midst of a windmill dunk and completed a three-pointer from the line with 2:30 to play, the ’83 team had a 75-68 lead.

Toughened by a national schedule, the 2012 champs stirred one final time, with Darius Robinson rattling in a jumper from just an inch inside the arc, Shanier Cottman making a steal and completing a breakaway layup and Rondae Jefferson tipping in a rebound to make it 75-74. But with the Twelves needing to foul, Jones and Pearsall each would swish two free-throws in the final 10 seconds to seal the championship.

Eerily, Green, Granberry, Erikk Wright, Robinson and Jefferson would share 2012 team-high scoring honors with, of course, 12 points apiece.

With Pearsall as MVP, Williams, Jones, Green, Keith Wood (1989 Chester) and Aaron Brown (2009 Penn Wood) were on the All-Tournament team.

As for the All-Time Chester team, that was no longer in dispute.

“There’s bragging rights, of course,” Pearsall said. “The younger guys, of course, always think they have the better team. We thought we had the better team. That’s how the transition of life is.”

It was just one more head game to win from a team that always knew how.

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