Meet Oklahoma’s most prolific sporting family: the Vanns still are going strong

Meet Oklahoma’s most prolific sporting family: the Vanns still are going strong

The Vann girls are on their way to passing the Vann boys. In what some call the state’s most prolific athletic family, the Vann girls have a 5-1 edge on the Vann boys in state titles.

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

| Mar 9, 2024, 7:16pm CST

Berry Tramel

By Berry Tramel

Mar 9, 2024, 7:16pm CST

(Berry Tramel produces two newsletters every week. To receive his newsletters, go here.)

OKLAHOMA CITY — The sisters, a class apart at Bethany High School, hugged and smiled and caressed the gold ball and posed for pictures. 

Then came more hugs and smiles, caresses and poses. It’s the tried-and-true script every March, after every state championship basketball game. Many of them involve sister teammates.

Except this seemed different. The emotions we had seen. But the name was different.

Vann.

Senior Zya Vann and junior Talia Vann.

It’s not an uncommon name, Vann. Not Smith or Jones, but not Klinglesmith or Pedrowski, either.

Sisters named Vann. From a school in the northwest part of the OKC metro. Could there be a link? Could the Vann brothers of two generations ago have given way to the Vann sisters of today?

The answer is yes. 

Zya Vann, Talia Vann and their talented teammates led Bethany to a 48-28 victory over Tulsa’s Lincoln Christian in the Class 4A girls final Saturday in State Fair Arena. It’s the second straight championship for Bethany since the Vann sisters transferred in from Deer Creek, where their older sister, Skylar, played.

And standing along the rail, behind the Bethany bench, was the sisters’ father, Bryatt Vann, the youngest of Putnam City’s famed Vann brothers.

“So proud,” Bryatt Vann said. “Words can’t really describe how happy I am and how happy I feel inside. It’s just an awesome feeling, man, awesome feeling.”

No condemnation if you don’t remember the Vann brothers. They haven’t been in the athletic spotlight since 1993 when Bryatt was a senior on Billy Tubbs’ penultimate OU basketball team and older brother Brady reached Triple-A baseball’s Tidewater of the International League.

The Vann brothers from all those years ago don’t regale the Vann girls of today about the family’s athletic exploits. It’s not needed. Someone else does the duty.

“They know our history,” Bryatt Vann said. “We don’t tell ‘em the history. People that know us always tell ‘em, because their last name’s Vann. They been hearing it since they were young.”

But the Vann girls are on their way to passing the Vann boys. In what some call the state’s most prolific athletic family — I don’t know yet if I’m endorsing the title, but I’m definitely not rejecting it — the Vann girls have a 5-1 edge on the Vann boys in state titles.

“It’s literally a blessing,” said Talia Vann, a 6-foot-3 junior. “It’s just a blessing by God. He obviously put us in this sport for a reason. We’re an athletic family for a reason.”

The oldest of Bryatt Vann’s daughters, Skylar, was a star at Deer Creek and now is the same at OU, where she made first-team all-Big 12 for the league champ Sooners.

The Vann sisters’ cousin, Dakota Vann, daughter of Bruce Vann, led Deer Creek to three state titles a decade (2013, 2014, 2015) before playing college basketball at Loyola-Chicago and Texas Christian.

Dakota Vann was in the Bethany crowd Saturday, cheering on yet another gold ball for the Vanns.

“It’s awesome,” Dakota said. “Our legacy kind of left behind that impact. It’s something to look forward to, set goals and strive for, to kind of reach different marks. Be better.”

A 1982 photo shows the Vann family and some of its awards. From left are Bryce Sr., Hellen, Brento, Bryatt, Brandy and Bruce. Not pictured is Bryce Jr. (Paul B. Southerland/Oklahoman archives)

The Vann brothers of Putnam City fame were known for their quantity:

  • Bryce Junior, class of 1979, won a state football title as the star tailback on the 1977 Putnam City team. He went on to be a two-time rushing champion for Cameron in the late, great NAIA District 9.
  • Bruce, class of 1980, rushed for 958 yards on Central Oklahoma’s (then Central State) 1983 NAIA playoff team.
  • Brento, class of 1984, was a starting tailback at Central State.
  • Brandy, class of 1985, was the family’s best baseball player. He was a first-round draft pick by the Angels in 1985 and reached the International League with the Mets’ organization in Norfolk, Virginia.
  • Bryatt, class of 1989, was the family’s best basketball player. He went to Bacone Junior College, then to OU, where he averaged 16.9 points a game in 1992-93.

The Vann brothers’ sister, Helen, played basketball at Putnam City and Southwestern Junior College, which now is Southwestern Christian University in Bethany.

“I know they’re literally the most athletic boys in Oklahoma,” Talia Vann said. “They’re known as the Vann family, obviously. They just excel in everything they do, like football, baseball, basketball. Any other sports, if I’m missing some. They’re really the most athletic family.”

Zya, a 5-foot-10 senior headed to OU, where she should get to play a year with Skylar, doesn’t claim to know as much about the family legacy.

I know that they were really good at sports,” Zya said. “They all went and played in college, I think. I don’t know.”

The Vann sisters transferred from Deer Creek to Bethany two years ago. They were good friends with Bethany’s Keziah Lofton and wanted to play together, plus, their dad said, Bethany’s academic reputation is pristine. Lots of parents in western Oklahoma County want to get their kids into Bethany’s school district.

Zya Vann (20.2 points a game heading into the state tournament) and Lofton (19.7) were the big scorers.

Saturday against Lincoln Christian, the Lady Broncos broke away from a 24-24 tie with Lincoln Christian early in the third quarter and won going away. Junior Kayten Donley played superbly, with 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. Lofton, a 6-foot-1 junior who is committed to OU, had 11 points. Point guard Zya Vann had 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Talia Vann was hampered by foul trouble, which limited her to three points and four rebounds.

Who knows if Talia and Zya will play together again. Some believe Talia has enough potential to be a Sooner, too.

It’s a lot of fun,” Zya Vann said. “I’m going to miss playing with her. Hopefully she can come play with us at OU.”

Either way, their Bethany days will live forever in their memories.

It’s so fun,” Talia Vann said. “She holds me accountable, I hold her accountable. We maybe get mad at each other one day, but then like we’re sisters, so we have to work it out. It’s awesome.”

The youngest of the Vann brothers, after standing along the rail, agreed.

“When you’re young, you never know if they’re going to like the sport or not,” Bryatt Vann said. “It’s been awesome that they love the game of basketball. Seeing ‘em doing the same thing me and my brothers do, it’s a great sight to see.”

Bryatt Vann’s mind drifted back to his father, Bryce Senior, who came from Claremore Lincoln, the segregated high school in Rogers County, and made all-American at Central State. Bryce Senior died in 2005.

“It all started with him,” Bryatt Vann said. “His genes trickled down to us and our kids.

“Him and my mom would love this. They would really love this … always involved with us, coming to watch us play.”

Now Oklahoma is watching another generation of Vanns, only these Vanns are females, and they are piling up the championships.

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Berry Tramel is a 45-year veteran of Oklahoma journalism, having spent 13 years at the Norman Transcript and 32 years at The Oklahoman. He has been named Oklahoma Sportswriter of the Year by the National Sports Media Association. Born and raised in Norman, Tramel grew up reading four newspapers a day and began his career at age 17. His first assignment was the Lexington-Elmore City high school football game, and he’s enjoyed the journey ever since, having covered NBA Finals and Rose Bowls and everything in between. Tramel and his wife, Tricia, were married in 1980 and live in Norman near their daughter, son-in-law and three granddaughters. Tramel can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at [email protected].

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