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Butler County Hall of Fame reunites Mars girls team

| Saturday, April 19, 2014, 5:00 p.m.
The Mars 1976-77 girls basketball team finished second in the state and will be honored Saturday night when it is inducted into the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame.

During the 1976-77 season, the Mars girls basketball team celebrated many triumphs on its way to the PIAA Class AA championship game.

The Planets are excited to get together for another team “victory,” as the squad will receive the Butler County Sports Hall of Fame 2014 Team Recognition Award at a banquet that starts at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Butler Days Inn.

“It's a great honor,” said Marcia Semple, who was the team's assistant coach. “They are a great bunch of girls, no doubt.”

All of the Mars players and coaches are thrilled to gain more honors. However, they're elated just to see each other.

“I haven't seen them since they graduated,” said Carol DeVenzio, who was the team's head coach. “I am anxious to catch up and see them and for the opportunity to meet their families as well. That's very exciting for me.”

The Planets produced a memorable season. They won the Section 15 title and went on to capture theWPIAL championship. They advanced through the PIAA tournament and reached the state title game in Hershey. Carbondale ended the team's run at 27-1 with a 62-42 victory.

Nevertheless, the memories are still fresh for those involved.

“We were all good friends; our coaches were great, and everybody loved to play basketball,” said Kathy “Pebbles” Lisman, who was a junior guard on the team. “Our biggest strength was that everybody got along. Everybody knew their role, accepted it and encouraged everybody else. There was never any parent involvement. Our coaches did their thing, and the parents were grateful.”

Carolyn Shott, Kathy Doman, Leda Best, Leslie Aiken, Linda Trump, Joyce Adams, Kathy Kier, Leslie Bannerot and Lisman were on the varsity squad. Susie Starr, Nancy Molnar, Val Danner, Kim Burford and Lisa O'Connor were members of the junior varsity team.

“They were a very bright group. Their grade-point average was 3.8 out of a 4.0 system,” DeVenzio said. “We have two or three teachers, a couple doctors, an insurance agent and an executive in there. They've continued to be successful.”

At that time, high school girls basketball was in its beginnings across the state. The Planets' run helped inspire the community.

“Sports at Mars for girls started slowly. We found, over the years, that no matter the sport, the girls are very, very successful,” Semple said. “This was huge in the community. There was a parade, and we rode on the back of a flatbed truck down Main Street from one end to another.”

Mars won its first 27 games despite not having many tall girls in its lineup.

“Mars was just a little school, and every coach and every player dreams about ending the season in Hershey. You never think about it actually happening, though,” DeVenzio said. “These kids had such a belief in themselves, and they liked each other and they just made it happen.”

The Planets' win over a tall Brentwood team for the WPIAL title was one of the team's highlights.

“That was the best win because they were like trees compared to us,” Lisman said.

“We had small people, but they could rebound because they were so fundamentally sound.”

Mars faced a unique obstacle that season as a nationwide energy crisis limited the team's practice availability. Often, the squad had to find alternative gyms for practice or conduct drills with little heat due to energy conservation.

“We were practicing in buildings with just light from the windows. We practiced in gloves and sweatshirts,” DeVenzio said. “We had to cancel our junior varsity schedule, so those five freshmen came up and practiced with the varsity. They knew they weren't going to get any kind of game experience. A lot of kids may have quit, but they came ready to play.

“They wanted to be there and learn. It was a great group. They kept the varsity on their toes in practice. That's a very important part of this. They didn't play, but they had a very important role in the whole season.

“Overall, we had a great time. We spent a lot of time together from Nov. 1 until March 28. We grew together as a family.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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