Feb. 27, 1995, was a day Granite City wrestling fans, coaches and players would like to forget.
The Illinois High School Association decided to cancel the Class AA dual team state tournament, slamming the Warriors’ state title hopes and putting an end to one of their best seasons in school history.
The IHSA’s decision followed a refusal by the Illinois Supreme Court to reconsider an Illinois Appellate Court ruling the week before concerning the eligibility of Chicago Mount Carmel. The school was declared ineligible for the dual team state tournament after it was discovered that the school exceeded its tournament limit. Then, Mount Carmel gained an injunction to suspend the regional dual team final.
With the dual team state tournament canceled, the Warriors finished their season at 25-0.
“What I would have done if I were the IHSA, I would have continued the tournament,” said Mike Garland, the Warriors’ coach in the 1994-95 season. “Deal with the legalities after the tournament. That’s not fair to the kids, who wrestled their whole childhood and their high school career to come down to their senior year and have a chance to do something no one has ever done, and that’s win a dual team state championship.”
Still, Garland was thrilled with the way his team performed. The Warriors had four all-state place winners — including a state championship by T.J. Slay — and won Southwestern Conference and regional championships.
“They’re a good group of kids,” said Garland, who coached the Warriors from 1988-1999. “They were hard-nosed, they were tough and they did anything I ask them and they were willing to take the extra step to be better.”
The Warriors’ boys’ and girls’ soccer teams, volleyball and hockey teams also turned in strong seasons in 1995, the year Bill Clinton was president, “Braveheart” won the Oscar for Best Picture and “Seinfeld” was the top-rated TV show.
Jerry McKechan, who currently is a member of the Granite City School District Board of Education, replaced Greg Patton as the Warriors’ athletic director in 1995. He shared vice principal/athletic director duties for eight years before being promoted to principal in 2003.
David Painter was GCHS’s principal.
The Warriors finished with their first undefeated season since the 1972-1973 season, when they were 21-0 under William “Red” Schmitt. They also qualified 10 wrestlers to state, making it the first time since 1949 they accomplished that feat.
Four of those state qualifiers were seniors — Slay, Tim Fulkerson, Tony Buchek and Brian Schooley. Slay became the first Warrior wrestler since Bob Miller in 1969 to win a state title after beating Morton’s Blake Hoeff 4-3 in two overtimes in the 130-pound championship match. Buchek finished second in 171 and Fulkerson placed fourth in 112.
Chris Janek, who was then a junior, finished sixth at 275.
Granite City won the Class AA Cahokia Regional with 246 points, which nearly doubled the total of second-place Belleville East (124). The Warriors cruised to a 64-3 win over Belleville East in the team regional championship, earning them a spot in the Granite City Dual Team Sectional, where they would face Mount Vernon in the semifinals.
Granite City, which was ranked No. 1 in the state wrestling poll, was setting its sights on winning its first state title in 30 years. But the IHSA’s decision of suspending the dual-team state series put an end to those plans.
“It would have been nice to have a state championship trophy and I was confident that we would have done that, but that’s the way it happens sometimes and you just have to roll with the punches,” Garland said.
The boys’ soccer team won its 10th consecutive regional championship by beating the Mascoutah Indians 4-1 in the Granite City Regional championship match at the old Gauntlet, but lost to Edwardsville 2-1 in the Edwardsville Sectional semifinals at SIUE.
The Warriors, who were the top seed in the Edwardsville Sectional, finished 15-6-4 after placing second at the state tournament the year before. Justin Bernaix and Justin McMillian were among the team’s top players.
The girls’ squad finished 12-5-1 after losing 2-0 to O’Fallon in the Granite City Sectional championship. The year before, the Warriors placed fourth at state.
Staci Dowdy, a midfielder, earned all-state honors after getting three goals and two assists. Michelle Montgomery had eight goals, Kara Gauen and Carrie Simpson each finished with seven goals and Marci Holsinger had nine shutouts and gave up 18 goals.
The Warriors enjoyed one of their best seasons in school history in 1995, winning 19 matches, capturing their third regional title in four years and coming up one victory short of winning their first sectional crown in almost 20 years.
Granite City beat Triad in three games in the Class AA Edwardsville Regional championship match to advance to the sectional tournament in Taylorville. After knocking off Mattoon in the sectional semifinals, the Warriors lost to Decatur Eisenhower in three games in the sectional championship match to finish 19-12-1.
Jennifer Willis, Denise McMillan, Connie Rippee, Danielle Lehne, Bari Baum, Jill Wozniak and Tara Wiebusch made up the Warriors’ senior class. Cindy Gagich, now director of secondary education for the Granite City School District, was the head coach.
After going winless the year before, the Mid-States Warriors hockey team finished 21-4-3 and placed second to Hazelwood Central in the Gold Division in the 1994-95 season.
The Warriors were swept by Mehlville in two games in the Mid-States Tier II semifinals after beating Hazelwood East and St. Mary’s in the first two rounds. Granite City returned to Tier II of the Mid-States league after playing in Tier I the year before.
Jason Crites was the team’s top scorer with 53 points (22 goals, 31 assists). Crites, John Nappier, Matt Wilson, Chris Valencia, Ryan Penrod and Steve Sinde made up the senior class.
Stephanie Brandt, who was then a sophomore, earned an all-state medal for the second year in a row after finishing third in the discus with a throw of 132 feet, 11 inches at the state meet.
Brandt, who placed seventh in the discus as a freshman, qualified for state by finishing second in the Highland Sectional. Brandt also earned all-state honors in the discus in her junior and senior seasons.
Junior Joe Markel and seniors Joel Belmer and Chris Mitchell qualified for the boys’ tennis state tournament for the second year in a row.
Markel finished second in singles and Mitchell and Belmer placed fourth in doubles at the Belleville West Sectional to clinch state berths.
Mitchell is now the sports information director at Washington University.
In the girls’ division, Holsinger and Geeta Kumar came up one victory short of going to state as they lost to Jerseyville’s Gretchen Delaney and Beth Von Aleman in three sets in the doubles quarterfinals of the Belleville West Sectional. Kumar qualified for state in singles the next year.
David Martin qualified for the boys’ golf state tournament in his senior year after shooting a 76 in the Quincy Sectional; Nichole Done was the Warriors’ cross country team’s only sectional qualifier; the baseball team finished 17-16 after winning a regional title the year before; the football team finished 2-7 in Don Harris’ final year as head coach after four seasons; the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams finished 5-19 and 9-13 respectively; and the softball team finished 5-14 after losing to Triad in the regional semifinals.