In recognizing the Bartow High School basketball team, which finished second in Class 7A, the Bartow Kiwanis Club were not only brought up on their outstanding season on the court, they also heard of their success off the court.
“What I am most proud of is the Florida High School Athletic Association gave them the academic award,” head coach Terrence McGriff said. “We submit it every year and we were second in the state in 7A and had a 3.26 grade point average.”
McGriff’s influence, as well as his assistant coach, Jeff Ruiz, has a lot to with that. The team has four seniors with at least a 3.0 GPA.
And, there one student, 6-foot-9 inch sophomore Tony Bradley, who has a GPA of 3.8 and is a member of the Mayor’s Youth Council. As a sophomore, he has already been contacted by 15 colleges.
While at the meeting, member Ed Etheridge gave him a piece of advice.
“I want to emphasize that your capacity to play basketball can take you to many places, but don’t jump to the NBA if you get that chance. Get your education first. You have the ability to do that.”
And Bradley said that is what he has in mind.
“I know I have to keep my grades up,” he said. “That’s important. I agree with (Etheridge) education is higher than basketball.
McGriff also emphasized how well the season went for the team after such a slow start.
“We started 5-8 and we were struggling,” he said. “But we turned it around. They allowed themselves to be coached and when they did we turned it around like this.”
After that happened, the team won 15 of its next 17 games.
“The kids never gave up and two months later we were in the (Lakeland) civic center,” McGriff said playing in the finals.
On March 2, Oviedo topped the Yellow Jackets 55-52 in the finals as Bartow fell just short in a comeback at the Lakeland Center. Bradley led the Yellow Jackets with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
McGriff said he was proud of his team, but the 12-year BHS basketball coach, emphasized the success is more than the players and it’s more than him.
“It’s because of the parents, the good people and it happened because of the community,” he said.
That showed in the Kiwanis meeting.
“I observed the attitude and discipline and they were superb,” member Frank Bohde said. At one game at the Lakeland Center he was sitting next to a fan who said there was a player on an opposing team that had a bad attitude.
“That was an opening to me,” Bohde said, who told how the Bartow team acts. “It made me proud of our team.”
Member Pat Spence, who spent a lot of time at the high school during the season and helped the team as she could, said, “We have the kind of coach we should be proud of.”
McGriff was named the coach of the year in his class. He won the title after losing one of his top players in Chris Perry to graduation, but he showed his style in how he described this season.
“We may have had more talent last year, but this group’s character was the reason we were there,” he said.
Asked what his future plans are, McGriff said he is a Yellow Jacket.
“I got offers from other high schools to leave and I wouldn’t leave for another high school,” he said.
Other offers, he said, he’d look at.
“If I got a college opportunity, I’d give it some thought, but my intention is to be coach here next year.”
Asked about what fans can look forward to next year, McGriff was hesitant.
“You never know. I thought we’d could get to the Final 4 this year, but after the season started I just hoping for a win.”
He said there are a number of players returning, “But we’ve got to replace what we’re losing,” which includes the Player of the Year for 7A Derrick Brooks.
“We think we’ve got a chance to get back but this district is so hard,” he said. “And if you get an injury you may not make it. Got to be fortunate to get there … you have to be blessed.”