BERLIN- Five decades after winning Maryland’s Class B state basketball championship, Stephen Decatur’s 1970 men’s varsity basketball team will be honored on the 50th anniversary on Friday during the Seahawks’ home game with county rival Pocomoke.
Decatur’s memorable men’s varsity basketball team of the late 1960s and early 1970s reached the state championship game in three straight years from 1969 to 1971, falling in the bookend trips to the eventual state champions. In 1970, however, the Seahawks rolled through the regular season, dropping only one contest late in the season, before going on another run to the state title game.
In 1970, Decatur, led by legendary Coach Ward Lambert and a roster of players whose names are still revered in and around the Berlin area, broke through with a pulsating win over Frederick, which had been to the state championship game in the two years prior in Class A before dropping back to Class B. According to news reports from the era, Frederick was the heavy favorite in the 1970 state championship game against the little-known school from Berlin which had just recently surfaced on the state basketball landscape.
Across the Eastern Shore, however, Stephen Decatur had grown in stature by leaps and bounds, literally, in the late 1960s, just years after desegregation had integrated the Berlin public school. The Seahawks had reached the state finals in 1969 and had reeled off 20 straight wins during the subsequent season.
Decatur’s dream of a perfect season carrying over into 1970 ended with a late-season loss to Washington, but for many of the coaches and players, that loss brought the high-flying Seahawks back down to earth somewhat just before the post-season and served as a catalyst for an amazing run through the state playoffs in that magical year.
Decatur went fairly untested through four regional and state semifinal playoff games to reach the title game with Frederick. The championship game was played in old Cole Field House at the University of Maryland and it certainly lived up to the hype.
Decatur trailed late in the game, 61-55, with under four minutes remaining before mounting a late comeback. The Seahawks found themselves down by a point with under a minute left before a late steal and a put-back layup put them ahead. The Seahawks hung on down the stretch and pulled out the 64-63 win to collect Decatur’s first and last state championship.
The 1970 team will be honored on the 50th anniversary of the championship game during halftime of Friday’s regular season matchup with county rival Pocomoke. Many of the former players, most of whom have left their mark on the community long after that magical championship season, are expected to be on hand for the ceremonies.
The roster from the 1970 team included Oliver Purnell, Al “Hondo” Handy, Ron Dixon, Alfred Harrison, Mike Palmer, Marvin Small, Sherwood Purnell, Milton Purnell, Fason Purnell, Larry Waples, Richard Hoskins, Larry Duffy, Lonnie Mercer, Rodney Tingle, Joe Sturgis. The team was led by Head Coach Ward Lambert and Assistant Coach Dick Burbage, along with Managers Gerald Purnell, Sidney Blake, Russell Holland and Ward Holland.
The junior varsity game starts at 4 p.m., and the varsity game will follow shortly thereafter. The 50th anniversary ceremonies will be held at halftime of the varsity game against Pocomoke.