Larry Fleming: Copeland-Reuter Era Has Written Its Final Chapter

Between First And Last Loss, Star Bearettes Put Up Top 20 Careers

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

On Nov. 23, 2010, Brooke Copeland scored on a first- quarter free throw for her first points as a member of the Bradley Central Bearettes’ basketball team.

That same night Rebecca Reuter’s initial point with the Bearettes came the same way as that of Copeland.

The Bearettes lost the game to McMinn Central, 67-64, despite Bradley scoring 25 points in the fourth period.

On Wednesday, March 5, 2014, the illustrious prep careers of Copeland and Reuter came crashing down on them in a 53-45 loss to Memphis Ridgeway in the Class AAA girls’ state basketball tournament at Middle Tennessee State University.

The “Twin Towers,” as they came to be known as they grew over the four-year time span, lost their first game and their last.

In  between, they put together two of the top 20 all-time careers in Bradley Central’s rich tradition of girls basketball, dominated by the legendary Jim Smiddy, who retired as the nation’s winningest girls coach – at any level – in 1993 with a 1,217-206 record.

Smiddy’s teams won five state championships in 21 tournament appearances.

The Bearettes had two 36-0 seasons in 1974-75 and 1975-76, two national No. 1 rankings and a 90-game winning streak from 1974-77.

Smiddy was 1,046-155 at Bradley. The other wins game when he coached at Charleston from 1948-57.

Bearette Jane Brock once scored 93 points in a single game, hitting 40 of 67 shots, 13 of 15 free throws and had quarter scores of 23, 27, 28 and 15.

Ex-Bearette, Jody Adams, an All-American at Tennessee and now women’s coach at Wichita State, once scored 57 points in a game Bradley lost 112-101 to Kirkman in 1989 – it’s still a state record for most points by two teams in game.

Martha Montgomery and Data Caldwell each scored 65 points in a game.

Brooke Copeland and Rebecca Reuter could have played for Smiddy.

They’re that good.

In the years I covered Smiddy’s teams, and that time frame spanned many, many years dating to 1970 when the Bearettes went 31-1 and beat a Red Bank team coached by Hutch Lewis, 42-29, for the state title.

I don’t remember – that doesn’t mean I’m 100 percent correct, but I think I am – Smiddy ever having a 6-foot-3-inch post paired with a 6-2 post player on the same team, much less for four years running.

That’s exactly what Jason Reuter, the current Bearettes coach, has enjoyed for all four years he’s been the Bradley girls’ head coach.

Reuter and his highly regarded Division I signees have wreaked havoc in District 5-AAA and Region 3-AAA dating to the 2010-11 season when Copeland and Reuter – they even look alike on the court, which prompted a writer on Wednesday to ask me if they were twins – both made auspicious debuts for the Black-and-Gold.

By the way, Copeland scored 11 points in her inaugural game.

Reuter had seven points.

They combined three field goals and 12 of 16 free throws.

In between their first setback and last, Copeland and Reuter captured the respect of their own coach and those around the Southeast with their skillful play on the court.

When Copeland left the Murphy Center floor running to the locker room and yanking her black headband off on the way for the last time wearing a Bradley uniform, she was carrying with her 2,232 career points.

With 21 on Wednesday, Copeland leap-frogged Jackie Pickel into eighth place on the school’s all-time scoring list and was just 19 behind No. 7 Paige Redmon. Only nine Bearettes have ever scored 2,000-plus points and one – Data Caldwell, who graduated in 1976 – broke the 3,000-point barrier.

Ten players are in that exclusive club, including Brooke Copeland.

That’s what Florida got when the Gators signed Copeland last November.

“My time at Bradley has been amazing,” said Copeland, who has almost as many Twitter followers as career points. “I really am blessed and humbled with the situation I’ve been in for the last four years. We got to two states and did what we could.

“I’m looking forward to college and seeing what the next level has for me.”

What’s she going to do in the immediate future?

“Concentrate on school,” she said. “We’ve been out a lot lately.”

Copeland was fighting back tears in the postgame interview session on the lower level of the Murphy Center.

Reuter’s tears were flowing.

She missed last year’s state tournament because of two technical fouls in a Sectional win over Blackman cost her a two-game suspension, but she and her teammates fought hard throughout the postseason to get back to Murfreesboro.

They got there.

They left way too early, thanks to a gutty bunch of Lady Roadrunners from Ridgeway, who just three years ago were a rag-tag bunch unable to hold their own with a majority of their competition in the hotbed of basketball in this state known as Memphis.

Reuter’s Wednesday was a mix of despondency and joyous thoughts of the future.

She played her last high school game on the same floor she’ll play her first college game with the MTSU Lady Blue Raiders.

There was some solace for Reuter in that on Wednesday.

After wiping away tears just seconds earlier while speaking to reporters, a smile crossed Reuter’s face when she talked about spending the next four years at MTSU, which has a nationally ranked women’s program under coach Rick Insell, who was going for his 1,000th win against Tulane on Wednesday night – MTUS was leading 36-28 at halftime.

“It’s going to be awesome playing here,” Reuter said. “I got a little taste of what it’s going to be like out there today. Bradley is a great high school and we’ve had four great years playing for my dad and the Bearettes.

“I’m excited about my future. It’s sad our time at Bradley didn’t end on a high note.”

Between the long-ago McMinn Central and Wednesday’s Ridgeway games, Reuter scored 1,108 points. She leaves the program in 16th place on the all-time list, 43 behind No. 15 Sylvia Lauderdale.

One could see the pain of Wednesday’s loss in the faces of Copeland and Reuter. It was there for the world to see and they weren’t ashamed to show it.

Wednesday was also a tough day for Jason Reuter. He’s been a coach and father throughout the four years with the heralded “Twin Towers.”

“It’s said that men don’t cry,” the coach/dad said as the interview room cleared out. “Well, I shed a few tears in that locker room. This team will always be special for me. It’s not that they didn’t belong here, because they did. But they overachieved because we overcame so much.”

Jason Reuter played the game as well as he’s coached it, both with the boys and girls at Bradley Central. He was an assistant for boys coach Kent Smith for 12 years before taking the same position with the girls’ team.

A year later, Reuter was the head man.

He grew up in LaRue County in Hodgenville, Ky., birthplace of Abraham Lincoln. He played in two state championship games at Rupp Arena in Lexington as a junior and senior. That junior-season game was played in front of a then-record 23,000-plus fans, later bettered by Indiana.

After attending Lee College – now Lee University – in Cleveland, Reuter’s first job was at Meigs County as a boys assistant coach. Then he went to Bradley Central.

“The administration made the decision – I tried my best to talk them out of it – to get rid of the girls coach and it was just natural for me to slide right into the job,” Reuter said. “They knew me as a teacher and coach. There were no interviews. I had the job.”

He admitted to having a couple of opportunities to leave Bradley Central, but always stayed true to his loyalty to Bearettes basketball.

“I’m not a move-around kind of guy,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave Bradley Central for any high school job in the state.”

But, his daughter is leaving. So too is Brooke Copeland.

It won’t be the same.

For weeks Reuter has talked about the end of an era was near, but the book being written was not complete. The Copeland-Reuter collaboration has a couple of blank pages, perhaps enough to fill another chapter.

On Wednesday, the book was finished. The ending wasn’t what any of the three wanted. Still, it’s over. What each can relish is the fact they helped Bradley Central win 114 of 131 games in which they competed in over the years.

Show me a coach or player who would not take an 87.0 win-loss percentage -- in any sport. You can't. It's an achievement the Reuters and Copeland can look back on 30 years from now and still feel the same pride.

Now, Jason Reuter will discover what it’s like not to have “Twin Towers” on the blocks.

“Those two girls and this team will always have a special place in my heart,” the coach said.

Something tells me everyone will do just fine.

(E-mail Larry Fleming at larryfleming44@gmail.com)

 


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