Dynamite Dozen Dynasties No. 1: Bradley Central Bearettes are Chattanooga area's best

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Hannah Lombard (45) and her Bradley Central basketball teammates celebrate with the state championship trophy after the Bearettes beat Houston 46-44 in the TSSAA Class AAA final in March 2019. It was the sixth state title in program history, and the Bearettes added their seventh last month.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the 12th in a series counting down the area's top 12 prep dynasties of the past 50 years.

When defining what makes a dynasty, the Bradley Central girls' basketball program checks every box.

Numerous state titles spanning multiple decades? Check.

Multiple national championships? Check.

A coach with multiple hall of fame inductions? Check.

An abundance of all-state players and prestigious award winners? Check.

Recognition as a traditional powerhouse statewide? Check.

When the Times Free Press sports staff began compiling its list of the Chattanooga area's Dynamite Dozen Dynasties for prep sports, the Bearettes were the clear-cut best of the bunch.

Seven state championships spanning four decades — including consecutive unbeaten seasons in 1975 and 1976, when they won back-to-back national titles — a Tennessee record with 90 straight wins, as well as TSSAA records for state tournament appearances and overall victories (for boys' and girls' basketball) all helped catapult Bradley Central to the top of what is an impressive list of area dynasties.

"It's harder to stay on top than it is to get there," said current Bearettes coach Jason Reuter. "There are teams that can feast for a while, but then they go through a famine. The true test of a program is whether you can remain on top, or always be in the hunt for a title, for an extended period of time.

"Whoever comes into Bradley is going to be expected to win, and win at the highest level. We've got a mini Lady Vols-type situation at Bradley, where our kids and our fans all just have a certain expectation level, which is to be one of the last teams standing at the end of every season.

"The pressure is there, for sure. You must give your best and stay on edge because you understand everybody is coming after you."

The list of individual stars the program has produced includes state Miss Basketball award winners Brittany Jackson-Tucker (2000), who was a prep All-American and helped lead the University of Tennessee's Lady Volunteers to four Final Four appearances and a pair of NCAA tournament runner-up finishes, and Rhyne Howard (2017), who was a two-time Southeastern Conference player of the year and All-American and was the No. 1 overall selection in the 2022 WNBA draft. Howard went on to become the league's rookie of the year with the Atlanta Dream.

Since the 1922-23 season, Bradley Central's girls have compiled a 2,342-502 overall record — by far the most wins by any Tennessee high school basketball program, boys' or girls' — and also have 47 district tournament titles in 64 seasons.

Over a span of 65 years, the Bearettes have made 33 trips to the state tournament — again more than any boys' or girls' team in the state — and won championships in Tennessee's largest classification in 1962, 1970, 1973, 1975, 1976, 2019 and 2023.

The late Jim Smiddy, for whom the school's basketball gym is named, won 86% of the games he coached: 1,271 wins, which at the time of his retirement was the most by any prep basketball coach, boys' or girls', in national history. He led the Bearettes to 26 district championships and 20 region crowns during his 35-year tenure with the program and took 21 teams to the state tournament, winning five titles and finishing as runner-up once.

Smiddy's honors include spots in the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, National High School Hall of Fame, Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame and TSSAA Hall of Fame.

"Everybody just hated Bradley because they would get beat by them so bad," said Gary Ownbey, a Bradley Central historian and longtime broadcaster in Cleveland. "It was like everybody who hated Notre Dame football or the New York Yankees. Bradley was just winning all the games."

The program's 90-game winning streak almost ended at 71, but Karen Mills hit a lengthy shot at the buzzer to lead the Bearettes past Smyrna in the 1976 championship game. The streak was eventually snapped at Red Bank, 36-34 in overtime, in an afternoon game played in front of the student body.

"The bell rang to end school, but the game was still going on, so none of us kids left the gym," said Baylor golf coach Gary Partrick, who was a Red Bank student in the stands for the game in 1977. "We all wanted to stay there and see if the streak could be broken."

Although the Bearettes remained dominant against district and region competition, they failed to win another state title until 2019 with Reuter as head coach.

Since taking over in 2010, Reuter has won 90% of his games, guiding Bradley to a 388-43 overall record with district titles in all 13 seasons and a region crown in all but one of those years, including eight straight. Reuter's teams have reached the state tournament eight times, advancing to the semifinals four times, and they are currently riding a 128-game winning streak against district opponents.

This past season's Class 4A championship was won by a team led by underclassmen. Bradley capped a 35-1 season by defeating three state tournament opponents with a combined record of 98-11, including a quarterfinal win over previously unbeaten and nationally ranked Bearden.

"Most high school sports teams will have down cycles, but you look at what Bradley Central has done in girls' basketball and you don't see any down cycles. At least none that last for very long," said Reuter, who teams are 84-1 in home games against district competition.

"When it comes to carrying the flag for an area, I feel like the Bearettes have represented East Tennessee and the Chattanooga area pretty doggone good for a very long time. No one has been more consistent, or won at a higher level from the start of girls' basketball until now, than Bradley Central."

Contact Stephen Hargis at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293.


No. 12: Baylor boys' and girls' tennis

No. 11: Calhoun baseball

No. 10: Bradley Central wrestling

No. 9: Gordon Lee softball

No. 8: Baylor softball

No. 7: Cleveland wrestling

No. 6: Baylor wrestling

No. 5: Calhoun football

No. 4: Dalton boys' soccer

No. 3: South Pittsburg football

No. 2: Baylor boys' and girls' golf