By Kevin Eickman
This past Friday evening the 1989 Milford boys basketball team gathered together for a reunion of that special team. That Buccaneer squad earned the Henlopen title that season, bowing out to eventual State Champions, Saint Marks in the semi-finals of the tournament. After watching and speaking with members of that squad, it was clear that the celebration was about much more than a basketball team. This was about a group of friends who believed in each other and developed a bond that has spanned the years.
The event was an idea of Dr. Julius Mullen, the point guard and captain on the squad. “I was looking at the North Carolina State, Jim Valvano story and I saw all the guys reflecting on their championship years and it hit me like a ton of bricks,” Dr. Mullen stated. While winning the title was important, Dr. Mullen believes there was a lot more to it than that. “It was so much more significant than a trophy, we brought a sense of community, school pride. We could not have been more diverse as a team, but we had one common goal and worked incredibly hard. We thought it would be really, really fitting to come back to our home school district and be honored.”
While the Henlopen title was noteworthy in itself, taking a look at the lifetime accomplishments of the members of the team is what stands out the most. Dr. Mullen for example is is the chief clinical officer for Children and Families First and an adjunct professor for Wilmington University. Perhaps his most prized contribution to society is and his family’s volunteer mentoring program MAN UP and UNIQUE where 96% of program youth are in college, military or gainfully employed.
The leading scorer on the 1989 squad was guard Leon Wright, who would be named Mr. Basketball for Milford in that same year. Wright would go on to Wilmington University with a full scholarship and earn his Bachelor of Science degree in Human Resource Management. While playing ball at Wilmington, Wright would become, and still is, their all-time leading scorer with 2,509 points. Wright was thrilled to see his teammates .
“I would not have missed this for the world,” he stated. When asked to choose between which athletic accomplishment he treasured more, the title or being the all-time leading scorer, Wright chose the former. “All-time leading scorer is great, it’s nice to have something like that. But nothing compares to the friendship I made with these guys, nothing,” Wright stated “I’m honored from Wilmington University and I had a great time there. But this right here, I’ll take this anytime.”
When asked about the high achievement of the players on the team, Wright was very matter of fact in his answer. “It’s not just about basketball, it’s not just about sports. We went to Milford High to get an education. It was not just about getting an education here, but for our lives and the betterment of our families.”
[Not a valid template]We also had a chance to catch up with Darren Vican, who would go on to Washington College following his time at Milford, where he earned a Bachelors Degree in Business Management and Marketing. While at Washington, he became team captain and MVP. “It was just a really special time in our lives, for the community. The basketball was great but we something special,” Vican said. “ I went to a National Championship college team after that and to this day it’s not the same [as Milford]. Think about it, we grew up together, we knew each other from kindergarten. All our lives we had played ball together. That’s the difference. You go to college you’re meeting guys for the first time, you got four years and you’re done.”
The coach of the squad was Sam Williams, a Milford teacher that many remember as their driver’s education instructor. “What made this team special was how they all enjoyed being with each other. They were a true team oriented group of young men that was an absolute thrill to be able to coach,” Williams stated. While not surprised with the group’s accomplishments, Williams is none the less thrilled with how they have turned out “This was a group of high integrity individuals, to see all that they have accomplished in life, after basketball has just been marvelous to see.”
Other members of the 1989 team are: John Brady, Keith L. Daniels, Thor Knustad, Michael Mosely, Charlie Pearsall, William Williams, Jamar Spencer, Chris Fitzgerald, Lonnie Aikens and Robbie Lofland. Mathew Bailey served as manager. Johnny Orsini and the now departed Tommy Jacobs served as assistant coaches.
Note: Dr. Mullen contributed to this story.
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