The Paonia High School girls basketball teams of 1975-1979 had arguably the best run in the history of Paonia girls basketball. "The players were driven," said head coach Don Hinson. Now retired, Hinson still proudly shares their accomplishments, among them their four-year, 43-5 record. Each year the team won league and district championships, and were consistently top placers at state. Their last two years they averaged 78 points per game, which for many years was the state scoring record. Almost all non-conference games were played against bigger schools.
In the spring of 1979, Hinson formed an 18-and-under AAU team that won the state championship and traveled to Kansas City, Mo., for the national finals.
Much of their success, said Hinson, "was that they had community support."
They also had a great assistant coach in Richard "Dick" Braslin. Braslin taught at PHS for 36 years. Braslin coached four state champion baseball teams at Paonia and was the athletic director for 34 years. He died last July.
"During that time some very close bonds were built," said four-year player Jaylene (Knight) Park. She recalls how she and teammates Johnna Martin, Karen Sandidge, Lana Carsten, and Stephanie Peak spent every spare moment together, both on and off the court, celebrating milestones, wins and losses. Those bonds remain strong today.
Late last October, Martin was seriously injured in an ATV accident and was air-lifted to Craig Hospital in Denver. She is now paralyzed from the waist down.
Martin is known for her boundless energy and love of adventure and the outdoors, said Park. Since graduating she has served as a Paonia police officer and head girl's basketball coach. She currently teaches physical education and criminal justice at Paonia Junior-Senior High School, and is an assistant volleyball and basketball coach.
Despite the serious injuries, and to the surprise of her students, Martin returned to the classroom last week. "That's the kind of person she is," said Park.
Martin's injuries are life-changing. In addition to mounting medical bills, she will need a wheelchair-accessible vehicle. She looked into modifying her current vehicle, but it's just too small, said Park.
This weekend, a handful of players will return to the court for the Jack Hawkins Alumni Games. The annual county-wide games are played during the First Colorado National Bank Basketball Tournament at Delta High School. They are playing to raise funds to purchase a vehicle for Martin. They'll also pay tribute to Dick Braslin.
Park and Lana (Carsten) Gafford, both members of the class of 1979, will take the court. Barbara Polson, a member of the class of 1980 and an all-state player who scored 422 points her senior year, will also join them. They're dubbing themselves "Dinosaurs," and plan to make the most of their middle-aged status, said Park. "It'll be fun, but we couldn't be more serious about raising funds and honoring Coach Braslin and Johnna."
They are calling the fundraiser "Thirteen for 13," in honor of Martin's high school number. They are encouraging donors to give just $13, about the price of a nice meal.
The last time the team played in the alumni games was in 1999, said Park. That was also a fundraiser for arts and music teacher and Paonia native, Denise Roeber Kossler, who died that year after contacting hantavirus. They bought team uniforms, and had enough left over to establish the Denise Kossler Scholarship Fund. Today the fund awards a scholarship in Kossler's memory to the outstanding senior arts student at PHS.
Carsten, Polson and Park will be joined on court by PHS alumnae Dawna Hart, Annavah Kropp, Taylor Plymale, Ashley Van Vleet, Nikki Poulos, Stacey Laiminger, Ce'rra Carsten and Ivy Abshire. Martin is their honorary teammate.
Martin's students are also stepping up to help with fundraising. When students heard about her accident, it became a matter of not if they would help her, but when, said senior Kaden Seriani. "She's an amazing person and an amazing teacher."
Seriani belongs to the Paonia chapter of Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a non-denominational Christian ministry focusing on community. The club was started in 2016 and has grown to about 30 students. Members will be at the games passing donation buckets and can be identified by their T-shirts bearing a "Thirteen for 13" logo, created by 2017 PHS alumna, Haley Park.
"We are very proud of our community," said Seriani. "Coming together to help out community members is what we do."
In 2016 they held bake sales and picked and sold hundreds of pounds of apricots for Hillman House, a non-profit that built a house for the family of Mike Hillman. The father of two PHS student-athletes, Hillman was injured in a fall and will need special care for life. Donations helped build the Hillman House in Hotchkiss. When they are done with the house, the nonprofit that built it will open it to another family with special needs.
The 10-minute alumni games will be played at halftime of each game. The first Dinosaurs alumni game will be played at halftime of the Paonia girls game, which begins at 6 p.m. Friday. A second game will be played on Saturday, with start time depending on whether the team wins or loses.
Those donating $13 or more will receive a "Thirteen for 13" wrist band. "We want students to wear their wrist bands and show Ms. Martin how much she's supported," said Seriani.
Fundraising will continue after the tournament and into the coming new year. Seriani said the senior class is has already donated proceeds from concession stand sales and will continue to do little things to raise money until they can come up with another big idea for a fundraising event.
For those unable to attend the games, donations can also be made at any First Colorado National Bank office or at Paonia High School during school hours. Call 527-2300 for details.