Penn Yan’s perfect team

Gary Pinneo
The 1986 Penn Yan Lady Mustangs

Twenty-five years, when talked about or discussed in real time, seems like a very long time.  After all, in reality it is literally 300 months or 9,125 days, or even 219,000 minutes.  

The most sobering thought is 25 years is a quarter of a century.  Using shear numbers as the sole, cold fact, 25 years is thought to be in the distant past.  

But when you are dealing in memories, especially particularly good ones, time measurement is a little more abstract.  Twenty-five years can seem like it was just yesterday.  

With this in mind, I will make note: 2011 is the 25th anniversary of the 1986 Penn Yan Mustang girl’s basketball team’s perfect season.  The ‘86 Lady Mustang cagers, one of the best sport teams to ever represent Penn Yan Academy, ran the table that special year.  Coach Bob Church’s talented team won a Finger Lakes League title, Section V championship, brought home the State Far West title, and walked away with a New York State Class Championship crown.  If that wasn’t enough, the very next day, the Penn Yan girls defeated the top New York City Catholic League team to claim the New York High School Federation championship.  

The Lady Mustangs were a perfect 26-0 in 1986.  They not only won their games,  they dominated their opponents that season.  

This Mustang team is arguably the  finest team in PYA school history given their overall accomplishments. 

They were not only the first Penn Yan girl’s team to win a championship title, but they were also the first Mustang team to compete and win at the state level.  

There had been Penn Yan championship teams before 1986.  The 1942 and 1968 boy’s basketball teams won Section V titles, along with the 1983 Mustang baseball team.  The powerhouse 1976 Mustang football team was undefeated and given a state title by the writers.  But they did not have the chance to play for a state title on the field because the New York State tournament format did not exist until several years later.  

The 1986 Lady Mustang basketball team was Penn Yan’s first State Championship team to win under the new State tournament format.  

They were winners who dominated their sport and in the process, became a source of extreme community pride.  

The Mustang girl’s team was the focal point of interest in those years.  The gym, both home and away, was packed when they played.  A huge contingent of local fans followed this team on the road, including the championship weekend at the State tournament at Queensberry High School in Glens Falls.  

Several bus loads of fans traveled across the state that March in 1986.  When they won everything, the community celebrated and embraced their talented youngsters.  It was a very special time in Penn Yan that year.

The Federal Title Nine legislation enacted in 1973 changed the landscape of high school and college sports forever.  The law mandated equal sports opportunities for both girls and boys.   

Women’s sports programs in both high school and college skyrocketed to the forefront during the this time.  Penn Yan Academy was no exception.  

Some very fine girl’s teams developed rapidly in several sports.  In addition to basketball, softball, and especially lacrosse, flourished in Penn Yan.  The Penn Yan girl’s teams progressed to the top of the standings in the area, and started winning championships in a short period of time.  

But the 1986 Lady Mustang basketball team was the school’s first championship caliber team in girl’s sports, and will always be considered one of the best teams ever in the school’s long sports history.

The starting five of Debbie Eaves, Linda Turner, Kristin Snyder, Tammy Finger, and Mary Jo Allison played a high energy, up tempo game, that outclassed every opponent in the Finger Lakes, Section V, and later, the entire state.  

This team could shoot, pass, rebound, and put points on the scoreboard.  But it was their active, high pressure defense that made everything work.  They just plain out hustled every opponent.  They had all of the ingredients needed to be  champions.  Coach Bob Church was the master who pulled this all together.  He understood the game and knew his players capabilities.  All of the parts of this winning puzzle was there.  They effectively pulled everything together, and had a magical year.

The 1986 Orange and Blue girl’s team also had a very strong bench, including future Mustang stars Wanda Parmer and Brenda Mashewske.  Sharon Barnes, Kathy Wood and Julie Edwards also played key roles off the bench that year.  Of course, Penn Yan’s most potent weapon that year was the multi-talented Debbie Eaves.  She was a four-year starter for the Lady Mustangs.  

Eaves scored an amazing 1,781 points in her career and also pulled down 1,166 rebounds.  She was a three-time Section V All-Star Team selection from 1984 to 1986, but her senior year was the tops.  

In the 1986 championship season, Deb was the  tournament MVP in the Section V and New York State tourneys.  She was named a Converse High School All American and was the MVP in the McDonald’s High School Senior Allstar game that year.  

In 2001, Debbie Eaves was elected to the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame.  Her collegiate career at the University of Delaware was just as impressive.  Deb was a four-year starter in college.  She is the third all- time leading scorer and rebounder at the school, and is second in career blocked shots.

Eaves was named the team’s MVP in 1989 and 1990.  She was elected to the University of Delaware Sports Hall of Fame a few years back.  Quite a basketball resume for sure.  

Debbie (Eaves) Curbeau lives in Penn Yan and is a teacher and coach at her alma mater, Penn Yan Academy.

Coach Bob Church guided the Penn Yan girl’s varsity basketball program from 1981-1999.  

He won 314 games, and lost only 96 in that time, an amazing .766 winning percentage.   Bob’s teams won numerous sectional titles during his tenure.  He was named Coach of the Year in Section V in 1986 and 1987.  Coach Church was also named the Democrat & Chronicle Basketball Coach of the Year in 1986.  He retired from teaching after 34 years.  He is currently the Mayor of Penn Yan.  Bob Church was elected to the Section V Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009.  

The 1986 Lady Mustang basketball team certainly is one of the best Penn Yan Academy teams ever.  The 25 years since that special season has passed by rapidly.  But this team’s special accomplishments and feats have not been forgotten by many.  

Writer Pete Hamill wrote an article about the magical 1969 New York Mets championship season.  He found it hard to believe that over 40 years had past since that season.  He wrote, “Time has a tendency to fly by gently without notice - a whisper and a year goes by.”  

We celebrate the accomplishments of the 1986 Lady Mustang basketball team a quarter of a century later.

But in fact, it has been just 25 whispers ago.