Every winter, the Nixa Eagles are among the state’s must-see basketball teams. After all, notice the Final Four banners in the gym? Heck, the trophy case is crowded, too.

“Our program has been successful going back to the 1950s and 1960s,” Nixa coach Jay Osborne said. “We always talk about our history with our new kids, that while they’re playing for themselves they’re also playing for the teams of the past and the future.”

The Missouri Sports Hall of Fame certainly is proud to induct the Nixa Eagles Basketball Program with the Class of 2019. The Eagles have earned nine trips to the Final Four, winning two state championships – 1978 in Class 2 and 1999 in Class 3.

The Marion Kerr-coached 1959 team was the first to reach a state semifinal and now is among four state runners-up — 1974, 1986, 2012 being the other years. Nixa’s 1979, 1984 and 2002 teams all placed third.

The Eagles also have captured 27 conference championships, 18 district titles and reached the state quarterfinals in 1994 and 2015.

All this despite Nixa rising from a Class S school in 1959 to Class 5 in 2004. The program dates back prior to 1924, the year construction began of the school’s first gym. Previously, games were played outside in late afternoons up until January, according to local historian Robert Vestal.

The 1959 team was 11-16 heading into the regional tournament and yet won eight consecutive to reach the Class S finals, falling to New Haven and finishing 19-17.

“It’s quite a story,” said Osborne, who stores the 1959 state championship scorebook in his office.

The Don Price-coached Eagles from 1964 to 1975 had 91 wins. His 1974 state runner-up team (30 wins) included Randy Towe, Lee Wilder and Randall Long.

“We were in junior high watching them at state, and we were thinking, ‘We’re coming back here (to the Final Four),” said Jim Middleton, a 1979 graduate.

The Frank Branstetter-coached 1978 championship team finished 30-1. Scoring 80 points a game was common for those Eagles, who defensively ran a 2-2-1, three-quarters court press.

The turning point was a loss to Mount Vernon  in the Blue & Gold Tournament game.

“It was probably the best thing that happened to us,” said Branstetter (88-27 from 1977 to 1980). “(Nixa players) were acting like they could do what they wanted to do and not what coaches wanted to do.”

Nixa won 21 consecutive after that. Kent Russell averaged roughly 30 points a game. His 47 points Lilbourn in the state championship game is tied for No. 4 all-time at any level in finals history.

The 1979 (28-5), 1984 (26-7) and 1986 (27-6) teams are among Nixa’s 25 20-win seasons. The 1979 team fell in the state semifinals to eventual champion Palmyra. Kevin Cheffey starred on the 1984-1986 teams.

From November 1992 through March 2019, the Eagles are 538-215 under Osborne. The 1999 team (29-4) won Class 3 featuring a six-man rotation that included four-year starters Zach Towe and Nate Thomas along with Kevin Barlow, Claude Welcome, Tyler Brown and Justin Keenoy.

In the district, it beat Reeds Spring by four and survived close call against 25-win Bolivar, which converted 15 3-pointers. Towe played with four fouls in the final 5 ½ minutes.

The 2002 team overcame several challenges, including late-season injuries. From 2010 to 2017, the Eagles had eight consecutive 20-win seasons.

The 2012 team featured Austin Ruder (MSU), Jalen Norman (heavily recruited), Kameron Bundy and Jordan Epps. Bundy (Drury) and Epps (Central Missouri) eventually played for NCAA Division II national championship teams.

The 2015 team (28-2) lost in the quarterfinals in the final seconds to eventual state champion Blue Springs South.

Overall, All-Staters include: Ken Magers, Danny Halbrook, Randy Towe, Lee Wilder, Kent Russell, Shelly Sellers, Randy Pogue, Kevin Cheffey, Bob Collier, David Dye, Anthony Welcome, Zach Towe, Kevin Bartow, Zach Towe, Glennon Hayes, Royce Moore, Zac Hill, Jalen Norman, Austin Ruder, Kameron Bundy, Jacob Ruder, Chase Allen and Christian Bundy.

Since November 1950, Nixa is 1,241-649 (.657). Coaches have included Pete Curl (136 wins), Don Gray, Gene Harmon, Jay Kinser, Jay Stockard, Mark Martin, Bill Harding, Kevin Albers, Eddie Baker and Omer Norman.

“We have a lot of support in our community,” Osborne said, noting the Board of Education, administration and families. “And we get kids each season willing to buy into the team concept and not their personal goals. I hear the stories about the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s teams. They’re proud of that stuff, and they should be. That’s what keeps us going.”