There was a time in the early 80’s and 90’s that when opposing coaches looked at their upcoming schedules and saw the words ‘Italy’, fear was immediately imposed in their minds. This Friday, Jan. 30 the school will honor those teams from the 82, 83, 84, 85 and 86 seasons.
Each of those teams finished their years off with a trip to the regional tournaments. Something that is very rare in the tumultuous world of Texas high school basketball. In the course of that run the Gladiators also did something that not very many schools can say. The 1982-1984 teams did not lose a district game.
The 1982 team, coached by Mike Hogan and led by District MVP, sophomore Donald Price, ran the table in district, and continued on in the playoffs, running by Milford and LaPoyner, before falling to Laneville in the second round of the Regional Tournament.
Again in ‘83, the team once again led by District MVP Price, ran through their district opposition. That team was a poised team with state aspirations, dismantled Kopperl and Crossroads in the bi-district and area rounds before falling to Nacogdoches Central Heights in the opening round of Regional action.
In 1984, the team took a different direction, with the coaching reigns being handed over to Brady Gage. Even though the coach was different, the results were still much the same, After roaring through another undefeated district play, the Gladiators ran through opening playoff games with Kopperl and LaPoyner, before returning to their home away from home, Kilgore for the Regional Tournament.
After a closely fought game with Port Neches-Groves, Italy finally lost to nemesis Tenaha, 72-63, in the second round of the tournament.
In 1985, after seemingly same results, the runnin Gladiators once again went on to the friendly confines of Kilgore, this time beating Apple Valley in the opening round, before once again falling to Tenaha.
In 1986, was seemingly the end of the Gladiators reign in Kilgore. Italy led by starting point guard Kyle Holley and All-State center Dennis Ransom, snuck by defending state champions, LaPoyner, before falling in the opening round of regional tournament play to Apple Springs.
Even though it was the end of an era, the Gladiators had definitely made their mark in Kilgore.
Some of those players went on to bigger and better things outside of the confines of Italy, Texas. For such a small community, the heart and desire of those players was a lot bigger than the size of the town.
Former All-State center Dennis Ransom, who later went on to play for the Washington Redskins in the National Football League, said that the work ethic the coaches instilled in him, helped him after high school. “I probably worked harder in high school practices than in any course of my career. That work ethic instilled in me a winning attitude, which propelled me to different levels.”
Coach Kyle Holley, the starting point guard for the ‘84-86 teams, has returned to coach where he got his start. Coming from such a winning tradition Coach Holley hopes to keep his teams at such a level.
“Coming from such a winning program, you come to expect to win, and I want my players to have that instilled in them,” Holley said.
The presentation will start at 7:15 p.m. in between the Italy girls and boys games against Arlington AA.