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Claymont fans still love their 1981 state champions

| January 27, 2022
The 1981 state champion Lady Mustangs returned to Claymont High School Saturday. (photo courtesy of Amy Barnabi)

UHRICHSVILLE (WJER) (January 27, 2022) – Claymont High School this past weekend celebrated the 40th anniversary of the only girls’ basketball state champion team ever from Tuscarawas County.

The 1981 Lady Mustangs coached by Rhonda Funkhauser won the state title, going 26-1 and beating Canton Central Catholic 52-45 in the championship game.

Most of that team came back to the high school Saturday where they were honored between the girls’ JV and varsity games against Indian Valley.

Claymont Athletic Director Justin Jones says 1981 was a magical season, and good fortune followed the team again Saturday, even after they had to wait a year because of 2021’s crowd restrictions.

“The day couldn’t have come together better,” he said. “It sounds a little funny to say, but the whole day was magical.

“It seemed like everything just kind of clicked together… We had a huge turnout, probably the biggest basketball gate we’ve had here since I’ve been the athletic director.”

Amy Barnabi was instrumental in setting up the festivities. She was 10 years old in 1981. Claymont’s state championship win was the first basketball game she attended. She went on to play for Claymont and the University of Akron.

“I felt like I fell in love with the game of basketball on that day when I went to see that state championship team play in the state finals; that energy that was shown there not only at the game itself but in the community.” she said. “The very next day when we welcomed them back home and the whole town was at the Clayland IGA welcoming back the girls. Everybody was so excited.

“That energy, it seems like I chased that my whole career because I fell in love with that, I fell in love with them.”

She says the 1981 Lady Mustangs were extremely talented with three career 1,000-point scorers: Teresa Kastor, the school’s all-time leading scorer, Becky Hillyer and Cynthia Carter.

They also had uncanny luck, hitting six half-court buzzer-beaters during the regular season and two more during their playoff run, including one just before the half in the title game.

They did all that using a men’s ball and without a three-point line.

Barnabi says the team felt the love from the Claymont community all over again Saturday.

“It was amazing, truly,” she said. “It was as special, I think, for them Saturday as it was back then.”

The returning Lady Mustangs shared their good fortune with the current team, which won 45-38 over Indian Valley.

The 1981 State Champion Claymont Lady Mustangs

Tammy Gribben McMillen
Kathy Johnson Hunka
Natalie Cotton Colaner
Leslie Shelly Mulroy*
Becky Hillyer
Cynthia Carter Jackson
Teresa Kastor Patterson
Deb Reed Anastasiadis
Mitzi Cottrell Dryden
Rhonda Funkhouser – Head Coach
Kevin Keffer – Assistant Coach
Marsha Addison – Assistant Coach
Cheerleaders represented Saturday: Kelly Beckley Martinelli and Jody Vesco Zucal

*Leslie Shelly Mulroy died of breast cancer in 2005. Claymont sold anniversary T-shirts with proceeds going to breast cancer awareness in her memory.

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