Skyhawks add six to athletic hall of fame

The fourth classes of inductees to the Lloyd C. Bird Athletic Hall of Fame were presented on Saturday, Oct. 1, at a ceremony held at the Country Club at the Highlands. There the Skyhawks continued their tradition of recognizing some of the finest scholar-athletes to have graced of the halls of the Chester high school that opened in the fall of 1978.  Inductees expressed their great pride in their school, their love for coaches, and their thankfulness for supportive parents.  “Bird Pride” again reigned throughout the delightful evening.

The evening’s first inductee was basketball star Keith Bradley, a member of the very first graduation class at Bird.  Bradley helped lead the infant school all the way to the state title game, where they came up just short in a loss to Martinsville. Though playing only one season due to an illness his junior season, Bradley was still recognized as an all-state performer. He went on to play at James Madison University where he was a part of three NCAA Tournament teams; one of which is most remembered for taking the Worthy-Perkins-Jordan Tarheels to the brink before finally succumbing by two points.  Those Tarheels went on to win Dean Smith’s first national title.  Described by Coach Chuck Tester as “mischievous,” Bradley joked that most of the rules in place at Bird probably had their roots with him. On a serious note, Bradley felt the key to Bird’s success was: “Nobody thinking I am the best, but instead WE are the best,” he said.

“We run the ball at Bird. We always have and still do. Tyrone Branch set the standard for what we have done for 30 years,” exclaimed Ron Paquette in introducing the All-State performer in both track and football. Thanking God for giving him the ability and for the support of the entire Bird family, Branch emphasized the importance of sports in our society.  “Sport is the only thing where nothing else matters; how much money you have, where you live, who your parents are, and your race are of little importance.”  Branch went on to attend Virginia Tech, where he scampered 71 yards for a touchdown the first time he ever touched the ball.

Brian Burnette joined his brother Shane in the hall of fame. Burnette went on to achieve All-American status as a linebacker at the University of Richmond. David Bedwell introduced Burnette with the story of the coach’s arrival at Bird. “Brian met me in the coaches’ office and literally began interviewing me.” He went on, “I remember thinking that this kid is either crazy as heck or one tremendous leader.” History tells us the latter is certainly the case.  Brian explained to the audience, “I simply wasn’t that good. That is why I was always prepared.”  He thanked his family for all their support and expressed his pride in being a Skyhawk that extends back to his 14th birthday and continues today. “We’re just tough people who go about doing things the right way.”

An all-district performer in softball each of her four years, as well as an accomplished basketball player, Robin Graves went on to star at East Carolina (ECU) as a pitcher and as an academic All-American. “I was part of the start-up effort at Bird, and I found it appealing that ECU was just starting their fast-pitch team. It gave me a sense of comfort that I’d been through this before.”  Graves thanked her parents who ordered their lives around her athletic schedules, and her coach, Barb Ragland, for teaching so much more than softball.  “She taught us life skills and then always followed up,” Robin said of her coach.

“April Ross was an All-State Volleyball player and a better basketball player. The only thing that kept her from being All-State in basketball was that she always put her team first.  Her personal statistics suffered.” Chuck Tester went on to recognize April as an academic dynamo who went on to study at UVA and then MIT. Ross returned to Chester for the induction from her home in Beaumont, Texas, where she works as an engineer for an oil company.  She also thanked her parents for their unyielding support.

Bobby Stacy was hired as Bird’s first athletic director, and is credited for choosing the Skyhawk mascot and the school colors.  Stacy was represented by his widow, Nancy, and son, Scott. Jim Copp introduced the inductee by saying, “Bobby knew everybody, but more importantly he knew who he could get the money.”  He went on, “Bobby was responsible for the friendly rivalry with Dale. He treated everybody like his best friend.  He could entertain you and really make you feel comfortable.  Nancy told the story of attending a University of Richmond football game where Bobby went up to a gentleman and warmly greeted him with a heartfelt, “How the heck have you been? I haven’t seen you for years.”  As we walked away I asked Bobby who that was.  He replied, “I have no idea.”  That was Bobby. Stacy’s son, Scott, went on to conclude that his dad’s greatest achievement was in the hiring of a great coaching staff.  He wasn’t interested in hiring the good old boys.  “He went and hired aggressively outside; great coaches like Tom Brattan, Steve Fornash, and, of course, the blue crew.”

If you have interest in the Bird hall of fame, please contact Activities Director Chuck Thomas at chuck_thomas@ccpsnet.net.  The school would also like to invite you to play in their annual Hall of Fame Golf Tournament at Lake Chesdin, which is slated for May 7.

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