The Return of the Champions: Chelsea High Honors Its Greatest Girls Basketball Team

The team had not one, but two 1,000-point scorers in Denise Chappell and Autumn Lopez, the latter known as the greatest playmaker in Chelsea High girls basketball history.

They had a major track star, Katrina Hill, who also showed that she could excel on the basketball court as well. They had a superb 6-foot-2-inch center, Latoya Perry, whose incredible put-back, game-winning basket in the final seconds helped Chelsea win the North sectional championship and a trip to the Boston Garden.

Members of the 1999-2000 North Sectional champion Chelsea High School girls basketball team were honored at halftime of Friday’s game at the Saul Nechtem Gymnasium.
Returning to the school for the ceremony were, from left, Elaine Santiago, Kendra Sanon, Charol Soto, Leslie Santiago, captain Autumn Lopez, captain Katrina Hill, Latoya Perry (back), Carrema Thomas, and Yvette Chappell, representing her daughter, captain Denise Chappell.

There were unsung contributors as well, Charol Soto, Kendra Sanon, Carrema Thomas, Leslie Santiago, and Elaine Santiago – all of whom helped put Chelsea on the map in the 1999-2000 season.

They returned to Chelsea High Friday night at the invitation of Director of Athletics Amanda Alpert to be honored at halftime of the Chelsea-Notre Dame Academy girls basketball game 20 years after their marvelous season.

They stood together at midcourt in the gymnasium where they made school history as the most successful team ever. Yvette  Chappell, mother, of all-time leading scorer Denise Chappell, participated in the ceremony representing her daughter.

Afterwards, they talked about their historic campaign.

“It’s feels great to be back here,” said Katrina Hill, who won five conference titles as a track athlete and set the javelin record. “I have awesome memories of our basketball season. It’s great seeing everyone again.”

Hill, one of the CHS basketball captains, went on to play soccer, basketball, and softball at Regis College in Weston. She received a degree in Communications and currently works at MIT.

Latoya Perry, a junior center on the team, has vivid memories of her game-winning basket in the North sectional championship game.

“I remember the coaches telling me to bang the backboards and just go straight up for the shot,” said Perry. “Playing in the Boston Garden was the best time in my life – nothing compared to that. Those memories will never fade. It’s great to see everyone – we still keep in contact, we all have a Facebook group chat so we all still talk, so it’s all good.”

Perry said 1,000-point scorers Lopez and Chappell were good motivators. “I was a center, but they taught me more about the game, like dribbling and passing. I learned a lot from Denise and Autumn.”

Autumn Lopez, daughter of Mike Lopez and Mamie Robinson Lopez, said, “It feels just like yesterday. I love it.”

Lopez said it was fun to share the moment with her son, Z’Andre. “I get to show my son what it was all about – he never saw me in action, that was well before his day.”

Lopez was the unselfish playmaker who often passed up open shots to feed her teammates, especially the brilliant baseliner, Denise Chappell, who was so automatic in the paint.

“I loved setting up Denise – I just did whatever it took,” said Lopez. “It was Latoya Perry who made that monster basket. I remember that hoop like yesterday – 20 years later. Playing in the Garden was awesome.”

The dynamic guard continued her basketball career at Franklin Pierce and UMass/Boston. She led the Bunker Hill Community College women’s teams to two appearances in the Elite Eight.

Thomas Fay III, head coach of the 1999-2000 team, and Joseph Mullaney, assistant coach of the team who went on to become a popular CHS principal, were unable to attend the ceremony. Both coaches Fay and Mullaney did a phenomenal job maximizing the team’s potential and leading the Red Devil hoopsters to unimaginable heights that have not been duplicated since that magical season.

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