It starts with the boys who cut themselves. They are a blessing.
Take the freshman who trips in the first set of suicide sprints.
Coach Jim (Scoogy) Smith whistles the start, and in a crisp
volley of chirping sneakers the kid goes down. He promptly
rights himself, but soon he is a full court behind the pack, his
skinny arms and legs chugging, his buzz cut tucked deep in his
shoulders, as if the gym were about to collapse on his head.
Scoogy (rhymes with boogie) loudly counts off the long seconds
of the boy's humiliation.
He never recovers from the fall. Within days he is gone from the
group of about 50 boys who showed up for the start of basketball
intramurals, or preseason workouts, at Coatesville (Pa.) Area
Senior High. The two-day tryout from which the 12-man varsity
will be chosen is still six weeks off, but each of the hungry
young hearts in the gym knows that it's in the intramurals that
he will or won't make the team. And making the Red Raiders,
wearing the red and black, is about as big a deal as there is
for a teenager in Coatesville.
Mark Hostutler, a junior who has spent hundreds of solitary
hours launching jump shots at the Y near his house in a suburban
development, sums it up for many of the boys in the gym:
"Basketball is my life. I have to make this team. It's all I
Coatesville (pop. 11,038) is a worn-out steel town about 45
minutes west of Philadelphia, where the land begins to riffle up
toward the Piedmont Plateau, Blue Mountain and the mighty
Appalachians. The town bends like a gray scar along an old rail
line between two wooded ridges that, as basketball season
begins, are in full autumn flame. Coatesville High takes most of
its 2,176 students from the upscale developments and small towns
scattered across the surrounding hills, but it draws its
reputation--and nearly all of its basketball players--from the
hard streets of Coatesville proper, where most folks are poor
These players grow up under the looming gray sheds and black
stacks of Lukens Steel, in a hive of run-down row houses and
bland projects around a derelict downtown strip whose only
thriving retail trade is in crack. Here basketball is more than
the biggest game in town. It's hope. It's often the only thing
that keeps teenage boys off the streets. Basketball can be a
ticket to college, to a life. This was true when Scoogy wore the
red and black in the 1960s and was still true when his assistant
Ricky Hicks was a Red Raiders star in the '80s. Coatesville is a
perennial power in Philadelphia-area schoolboy basketball. The
high school game is the town's intergenerational glue.
The boys who show up for intramurals are signing on for an
ordeal familiar to every kid who ever chased a dream of sports
glory: the sizing up of talent and the hazarding of ego called
trying out. It's a process that began for most of them years ago
with the choosing of sides on the asphalt at Ash Park or the
Ninth Avenue rec center, where the nets hang in tatters and the
backboards are gray from the smudges of a million caroms. Those
who were chosen, who kept being chosen, who went on to star in
rec leagues and summer basketball camps, have reached the
ultimate reckoning at this new gym tucked against a leafy ridge
east of downtown, where Scoogy's practiced eye decides who will
become a Red Raider and who won't.
"It's hard," Scoogy says, sitting with the back of his plastic
chair tilted against the wall in his office a few days before
intramurals begin. He toys with his whistle. Scoogy, 50, is a
rangy man with pale copper skin, big hands and a round face
whose features are so large that they need an extra second or
two to arrange into a smile or a frown. He got his nickname as a
baby--it was his grandmother's word for an especially wiggly,
insistent child--and it still fits. Mouth and man are in
constant motion on the court, teasing, instructing, berating,
howling with pleasure or, more often, dismay. He's a cheerful
Some parents don't much like Scoogy--who was a basketball
assistant at Coatesville High for two years before being named
head coach in 1995--because he's blunt and impatient and so
demanding of their boys. But most of the parents do like him,
and what the players feel goes way beyond that. They want to be
his boys. The task of choosing only a dozen of them, of dashing
so many tender hopes, gives Scoogy pause. He hums a sustained
bass note and then repeats with emphasis: "Hard."
Intramurals run from late September through October and into
November, three evenings a week of demanding drills and
scrimmages. Official tryouts start Monday, Nov. 11, and two days
later Scoogy will pick his team. Some boys, like the hapless
sprinter in the first suicides, will do him a favor and cut
themselves. They will fall on their faces or simply size up the
competition and go home. But most of the others who show up are
infected with the dream. Each can see his career as a glorious
progression from playground to state championship to NCAA Final
Four to ... the NBA! And the only obstacle to this megabucks,
slam-dunk future is one man with a whistle.
They come to the gym in groups of two or three and anxiously
await his arrival. They wear jerseys that hang to midthigh.
Their playing "shorts" billow to below the knees and are pulled
down at the waist far enough to show off a full hand of Fruit of
The Loom. They wear anklet socks under yacht-sized sneaks. Their
sleeveless T's and jerseys advertise summer basketball camps and
Newcomers and former jayvees admire from a distance the joyful
ease of returning varsity players, most of whom regard the
intramurals as beneath them. They are an established elite.
Counting one or two sure bets who are playing football and won't
be out for basketball until after Thanksgiving, Scoogy has only
five or six empty slots on this season's varsity.
Among the dozens vying for those slots are Mark Hostutler and
three seniors: the short, tightly muscled Damon Watson, who
considers himself, at least in spirit, already part of the team;
the tall, talented but dreamy Tion Holmes; and the lanky, at
times clumsy Eric Kruse, who wants to play small college ball.
For the seniors, it's the varsity or nothing. Mark, a junior,
can still play jayvee, as he did last year, though to him that
would be another endless season in limbo.
"Making varsity is the best thing in the world, the best," says
Clarence (Nin) Bacon, a sophomore with long dagger sideburns who
is vying with Damon and six others for one of three point-guard
spots. "It's everything. I was on the ninth-grade team last
year, and we got in to see all the varsity games. The gym is
filled, and it's so loud, and when the team comes out, the crowd
goes crazy, man ... it's ... it's.... " Nin just puts up his
hands and smiles. "It's the biggest thing. If you're on the
team, everything is great. Your problems are all gone. Even your
schoolwork goes easy. Everybody looks up to you, because
everybody would like to be on the basketball team. At the
parties after the games, you're the man. The girls, like, line
Tion has a better chance than most. He's 6'4", with long arms
and big hands and a grace remarkable for a boy his size. Scoogy
has already mentally penciled in Tion, not only on the varsity
but also in the starting five--so long as he doesn't mess up.
Tion has a history of defeating himself: He lacks discipline and
direction. Predictably, he's not in the gym on the first night
Scoogy's arrival hushes the crowd. "All jewelry off!" the coach
shouts. Then he lines the boys up at one end of the gym for
suicide sprints and blows his whistle. The ordeal has begun.
Five-on-five, shirts and skins. Ten guys on court and 30 or so
who stand and wait. Getting noticed is your only chance. When
Nin, a shirt, gets poked in the nose and starts to roll around
on the court, Damon, on the sideline, sprints for his own T-shirt.
But before Damon gets back, pulling on the shirt as he Scoogy
has waved another boy in. Damon shrugs his thick shoulders and
slowly pulls the shirt off. He stands all of 5'5"; his naked
back is a taut black triangle. The other boys tease him for
being so eager.
Damon wasn't going to try out. His desperate hope of making the
Red Raiders survives alongside an almost certain knowledge that
he won't. Damon didn't come out for basketball in his first
three years of high school. He could kick himself for that.
Scoogy is close to the other point guards who did play, guys
like Lamar (Maury) Boyer, who started a few games last season,
and Dennis (Doober) Holmes and his cousin Kris Bottoms, who were
on the jayvee team. Maury and Doober wear their jersey numbers
on their earlobes, having stuck tiny, white-numbered
videocassette labels there. Maury is a lock to make the Red
Raiders. Doober is a strong candidate, as is Kris, who a few
years ago moved to Coatesville from New York--Poughkeepsie to be
exact, but the boys aren't big on geography, and to them New
York means, like, Harlem. "He grew up playin' on the playgrounds
in New York," says Damon, unduly intimidated.
Then there's Nin (short for Ninja), perhaps the most skilled of
the four. But he's just a sophomore. Scoogy will probably stash
him on jayvee.
Even so, there's too much traffic at point guard. Damon feels
that because he didn't come out in previous years, he has marked
himself for doom. He always had a reason for not trying. As a
sophomore it was a bum ankle. Last year it was his asthma; it
started kicking up something awful. At least that's what he told
his friends. "The real reason is, I was scared of gettin' cut,"
Damon says, offering up the worm in his gut. "I went out and saw
how good the other guys was, and I just quit."
Quitting was better than getting cut: It preserved the illusion
that he would have made the Red Raiders if he had tried. This
was the fragile base that sustained Damon's ego. Until last
summer, that is, when his mom found $275 that she could hardly
spare and sent him to a one-week summer basketball camp in
Reading, Pa., with Scoogy and the guys on the team. Damon played
with them day and night and slept in the same dorm with them.
They bonded. "I overcome my fear," Damon says. "It's like I'm on
the team. I hang with the guys all the time. We always be
playin' ball. I know all the plays. I hustle. Other people, they
good, but when I hustle I can play with any of them. I decided I
got to do it for my mom. If I get cut, I get cut. I can handle
it. I think I'm gonna make it, though."
Two weeks into intramurals, Mark comes home in a funk. He dumps
his books in his bedroom and emerges with a deep pout. His mom,
Kathy, prods. "Scoogy's got me running with the third and fourth
teams," he says. Mark knows that won't be good enough to make
the varsity. He's a skinny 6'1", with an Adam's apple so
prominent that it gives a sharp angle to his long, thin neck. He
ranks 17th out of 517 students in his class, but schoolwork is a
secondary concern to him. Basketball is his obsession. He is an
exception; whites make up 65% of Coatesville's student body, but
the Caucasian boys have all but conceded basketball to the black
kids. Mark and Eric are the only white guys at intramurals.
Mark's friends call him the Great White Hope.
Mark lives in a redbrick colonial house with a basketball hoop
in the driveway. His dad, Jim, drives him down to Ash Park in
the summer so Mark can play pickup ball in the playground, where
teams of high schoolers often take on teams of older guys, many
of them former Red Raiders, and get whipped every game. Mark is
often the only white person there.
He thinks he has a shot at varsity this year, but he's not sure.
Scoogy doesn't like to load the jayvee with juniors, so there's
a chance Mark won't make varsity or jayvee. "I don't know what
I'll do if that happens," he says. "My dad said that if he has
to, he'll send me to Bishop Shanahan [a Catholic school about 16
miles away in West Chester, Pa.], where I know I could play."
Later, out in the yard, Jim says, "I don't know if I can afford
Bishop Shanahan. We're just praying he makes this team."
Scoogy is constantly annoyed by the boys' inability to dribble
with both hands. He blows his whistle to interrupt play for a
speech: "Can anybody here honestly tell me they worked on their
weak hand? Anybody? Too busy trying to dunk"--he mimes a comical
dunk--"tryin' to dribble between your legs, tryin' all this
fancy s---. Work on your weak hand! That's what summers are for.
The weak hand! The weak hand! The weak hand! You need to put
your body between your opponent and the ball. You've got to be
able to use both hands. That's the difference between a mediocre
player and a good player. Which hand is your good hand? Put it
in your damn pants! Play with yourself! I don't care! Just get
rid of it.
"Y'all are lookin' at me with that coach-be-talking-s--- look.
Tell me I'm wrong. Because I know I'm right. Know why I know?
Because I did the same thing when I was your age. Listen
here"--his voice drops to a stage whisper--"this is wisdom
talking. I'm trying to pass something along here."
Tion has shown up. It's a few days into the second week of
intramurals. He's the tallest kid on the court. He can dunk from
a two-step jump. He looks born to the sport. Anybody surveying
the crowd of boys playing in this gym would pick Tion as the one
with a future in basketball.
Scoogy runs the boys in teams of five. Though he doesn't say
which is the first team and which the second and third and
fourth, the kids can tell. On one of his first days out, Tion is
asked to replace Glenn Gray, the 6'3" center who played varsity
last season, on the first team. "Tion, we'll give you a break,"
says Scoogy. "This'll be interesting. You ought to be dead by
the time you run up and down the court twice."
Tion plays hard, and well, for about 10 minutes. Then he poops
out. "What, hurt again?" Scoogy asks scornfully as Tion shuffles
upcourt. Tion says nothing. Scoogy motions for someone to
replace him. Tion skulks off the court and eases himself to the
floor, grimacing as he slowly stretches his long, slender legs.
"My hip," he says. "I had it X-rayed. Doctor said there's no
damage. But it hurts."
When Tion came out for intramurals last season, he left in the
middle of the first session. Just walked off the court and out
of the gym. "I had a problem with the coach," he says. "I can't
stand to have nobody fussin' at me."
When Eric screws up, he balls his fists at his cheeks and mouths
a silent scream. He doesn't get in that often, and he plays
timidly. "I do better when I'm just playing pickup, you know,
not running all these plays," he says. "When I get out here with
these guys, I tense up."
Eric has the kind of size Scoogy needs. He's 6'2", and he's
solid enough to stand his ground under the boards, but he's got
flat feet and moves like a caricature of the thick-legged white
guy. As a sophomore Eric made the junior varsity under
Coatesville's longtime coach, Ross Kershey. But last season,
when Kershey retired and Scoogy took over, Eric was cut. He
thinks Scoogy has already dealt him out this year, too. "You can
tell by the way coaches talk to you," Eric says, "and by the
players they like to put into certain situations. They always
leave me out. I know that I'm not as fast as these guys."
Eric probably wouldn't have come out if he hadn't received a
letter from a Division III college recruiter who saw him in
action last summer at a basketball camp. The letter convinced
Eric that he could play, even though he didn't grow up breathing
basketball on the Coatesville playgrounds. He's grimly
determined. What he lacks in gifts he tries to make up for in
"I hate this part of coaching," Scoogy says. "No, don't say
hate. I don't like to use that word. There's too much of that in
the world already. Say I extremely dislike this part of coaching."
Scoogy is off to one side of the gym with jayvee coach Nick
Guarente, taking a break from all his strutting and hollering.
His long legs are stretched flat on the floor before him, his
big feet drooping to the side. In a few weeks he will have
surgery for a ruptured disk between two cervical vertebrae, but
the real pain in his neck right now is the cutting he must do.
Last season he got lucky. He had forward-center Richard (Rip)
Hamilton, a player with talent and determination. Rip was one in
a million, and he led Coatesville to a 26-4 record. He's now a
freshman at Connecticut, where he's starting at guard-forward.
This season Scoogy has a group of boys who ... well, let's just
say state championship doesn't spring to mind. At one extreme
are the gifted who won't work; at the other, the inept who will
walk through walls. Scoogy will keep 12 who fall in between and
make them run, run, run. The rest must go.
Last year Scoogy cut a big player with megadreams and slow feet.
Scoogy put up the cut list at 7:15 a.m., and the kid's parents
were at his office before noon. "It was one of those
love-is-blind situations," says Nick. "In that case, stone blind."
"They called me everything but the N-word," says Scoogy. "As
much as said I cut the kid because he's white. I hated to cut
the kid. I've got a rainbow mind. I'm out here looking for
talent. The kid's mom told me her son was going to go on and
play in college and prove me wrong, and I told her, 'Good, I
sincerely hope you're right. I wish him nothing but the best.'"
The kid did not speak to Scoogy again. Just walked past him in
the halls without a look. Scoogy could feel the boy's hatred.
"Some of these boys, I have them in my phys-ed classes," he
says. "I came up with their parents. Some go to the same church
Damon, the muscular little point guard, is inserted into a
scrimmage. He plays like a dervish. While playing pressure
defense, he ties up two men by himself. They pass back and forth
at midcourt, but Damon keeps up with the ball, finally slapping
it downcourt and then outracing everyone to it. He dribbles back
toward half-court, allowing his teammates to set up on offense,
and then, with a flurry of fakes, he makes a suicidal drive into
the key. The ball ends up across the gym.
"I got one word for you guys who love all that playground
razzle-dazzle s---," Scoogy scolds loudly. "It's a four-letter
word. Most of you haven't heard it. It's pass."
Late in October, Mark is regularly playing in the first five.
He's so blond and pale he could be a film negative of the other
boys on the court. His torso glows pink with exertion. Mark was
the best player on his Catholic school team in the eighth grade,
but the first time he came out for basketball at Coatesville, he
says, "It was, like, whoooah. I was getting killed. The black
kids were just way quicker and had more skills than I had."
Jim Hostutler says many white parents in the area discourage
their kids from playing basketball. "I've seen kids with talent
playing with Mark and heard their fathers say, 'Why waste your
time?' Because they just assume their kids can't compete with
the black boys from the playgrounds. The white parents steer
their kids to football and baseball." Coatesville's football
team is 58% white, 42% black. Its baseball team had one black
player last season.
Asked who he thinks Scoogy's final 12 will be, Mark picks out
players intently. Among them are two from the football team who
haven't come out yet. Mark does not pick himself.
On the court, meanwhile, Scoogy is amazed. Doober puts a
particularly good juke on two men in the key, faking a move to
the foul line and then cutting back to take a nifty pass from
Nin and casually drop in a layup. Scoogy leans his head against
the gym wall and howls. "Aaaaaooooohhhhh! That was the first
person groaning," he shouts, both saluting the offensive play
and chastising the defense. "Aaaaaooooohhhhh! That was the
second person groaning. I can't believe it! That was so wide
Tion walks through the door of his aunt's house on Coates
Street, a block of ancient row houses on the East Side, several
blocks uphill from Main Street. He lets his backpack slide to
the floor, moves to the leather couch without saying a word,
slips one big hand under the warm belly of his sleeping
two-month-old sister and gently lifts her to his face. He
nuzzles the sleeping baby, delicately fixes the pink blanket
around her and speaks to her softly.
This house is his cousin Doober's place. Doober and Poughkeepsie
Kris are upstairs in a tiny attic bedroom. Its slanted walls are
decorated with pictures of girls from magazines and with
drawings and photos of Coatesville High basketball players.
Doober's mom, Roxanne, videotaped all the jayvee games last
year. Doober has quite a stack of cassettes. He likes to hang
out upstairs with his buddies, running the tapes over and over.
Roxanne's voice provides loud, hilarious, emphatically one-sided
"I get so tired of hearing my voice on those tapes," Roxanne
says. She's a cheerful woman whose long hair is woven into
hundreds of thin, shiny braids. She and her sister, Cassandra,
Tion's mom, who is expressing milk for the baby, practically
share their children. Tion spends most weekends in this house
and often comes here after school. This is also where a lot of
basketball players congregate. "They come over because they like
to see themselves on the tapes," Roxanne says.
Damon drops by, breezing through the front door without
knocking. This is home. There are dangers on the streets of
Coatesville, but there is also an emotional network connecting
these boys to one another's kin and friends from one end of
town to the other. Scoogy is famous in this world, and infamous.
"Scoog ought to praise these boys, not be ragging on them all
the time the way he does," says Cassandra. "Other guys this age?
They're already out on the corner selling drugs. These are good
boys. If they're out there playing basketball and trying hard,
he ought to praise them all the time. They deserve it."
Scoogy is always telling the boys, "If I ain't giving you a
hard time, it's because I've pretty much given up on you."
There's an example of this toward the end of the month. Tion has
been coming to every intramural session, but he just sits. It's
the hip. This evening he's draped in a chair a few yards behind
"Tion, get on your feet!" shouts Scoogy when a couple of players
come crashing down near him. Tion stirs, stands up and moves
over a little to the side. At half-court Scoog reconsiders,
stops and shouts, "I don't care if you sit, Tion, just don't sit
there." It doesn't penetrate, but in the code of the gym, the
coach has told the player, You might as well go home.
Eric can read his own subtext. Scoogy never gives him a hard
time. He says only nice things to him--when he speaks to him at
all. Eric, whom the other boys have taken to calling E, is the
opposite of Tion. He has gotten the message, but he won't stop
hanging in there under the boards.
Scoogy regards his surplus of capable point guards with dismay.
There's the hard matter of choosing among boys with similar
skills. Scoogy could make one or two into shooting guards and
bump his bigger shooters to forward, but he would be left with
no size underneath. His only hope for rebounds this season is
the hefty Glenn, whom he calls Bubba and rides constantly about
being out of shape. Glenn never answers back. He has thick round
shoulders that slump when he's tired or depressed. He's lugging
20 extra pounds. His belly rolls over the top of his drawers.
Seeing the boy's soft edges provokes Scoogy, who loathes
"Some of you guys think you've got it made," he says. "Just
because you played varsity last year, you think it's going to be
handed to you. You come out here all lumpy and out of shape.
Well, believe-you-me, nobody is giving away jack. You got to be
hungry. You should have been running all year long."
In the suicides Scoogy stands at midcourt counting off the
seconds while the boys sprint. If one of them fails to finish
the run in 30 seconds or less, they all have to do it again.
Trouble is, Scoogy kind of scooges his count. After about 10
sprints, Glenn is galumphing up the rear. His late finish dooms
everyone else to another round. "Did not make it!" the coach
shouts. "Come November, those are the four ugliest words in the
"I don't know," Damon says. "I'm not 100 percent. My chest been
hurting me. It started about three intramurals ago. I don't know
if I'm gonna come out or not." Damon is getting cold feet. It's
the last week of intramurals. Official tryouts start in four
days. "I'm having a hard time keepin' my hopes up," he says. "I
ain't even gonna be mad if I don't make it."
But he'll be embarrassed. "'You didn't make it, you're not as
good as me,' that's what people be sayin'," he says. "I don't
think I can handle that." Then he sees another possibility. "If
I don't make it, maybe I'll be manager. Sometimes Scoogy, he let
the manager suit up, be a backup. He did that twice last year."
It all comes down to two days of deciding. Snow falls on the
fateful first morning, the second Monday of the month.
"Intramurals are over, boys," says Scoogy with a giant grin as
he greets the players in the chilly gym. "Now you're mine!"
He makes them run a mile outdoors in the freezing air, a torture
whose advent was rumored for weeks but fervently disbelieved.
Some of the boys are pleasantly surprised by their times. Scoogy
is not. He makes all of them run a mile again the next day,
indoors this time.
On the second day of tryouts, even some boys who should have an
idea of where they stand don't. Despite what he senses, Eric
remains stubbornly hopeful. "I don't know," he says. "Ask me
after this practice."
Damon, who has come to the formal tryouts after all, just shrugs
and smiles sheepishly. "I'm tryin'," he says.
There are more than 40 boys in the gym. Twelve will play jayvee.
Twelve will play varsity. A yellow legal pad lies on the floor,
off to one side of the court. At one this morning Scoogy sat
with the pad at his kitchen table, sipping a glass of iced tea,
and wrote out 16 names in pencil. He wrote down the returning
varsity players: Maury, Glenn, Carl Cannon, Ty Legree, Johnny
Miller, Robert Taggert and Brian Ward. He also wrote down Nin,
Mark, Poughkeepsie Kris, Doober, Maurice (Cup) Peterson (a 6'2"
senior guard-forward who has shown ferocity under the basket),
Dante Buchanan (a gaunt junior forward with terrific skills but
a brooding personality that troubles the coaches), Preston Jones
(a dignified senior guard with good moves whom Scoogy cut last
year), Keenan Chase (a forward from last season's jayvee who's a
prodigious leaper) and Ramzee Stanton (a promising junior
forward-center who recently transferred to Coatesville High from
a school in Philadelphia).
Already axed are Damon, Eric and a number of other seniors
hustling through the second day of tryouts, desperate to make an
impression. They are as oblivious to their fates as Tion, who is
still lounging in the corner, holding a big blue winter coat
over his long legs. It's as though he believes that making the
team is simply a matter of showing up. His hip is fine now, but
he's in danger of flunking one of his classes and becoming
ineligible. "My teacher gonna talk to Scoogy about it," he says.
Asked about Tion, Scoogy just shakes his head.
Scoogy had planned to hang this list of 16 outside his office
tomorrow morning and take one more day to make the last four
cuts. But after practice the list is further trimmed. The coach
stands in the middle of the gym with Nick, Ricky and a third
assistant, Mark Bailey. Most of the boys have gone home. A few
wait for rides in far doorways.
"I don't know why you have him on this list, the way he drags
himself up and down the court," says Mark, pointing to Dante's
name. "I'll never forget what he did to me in that jayvee game
last year, after I pulled him out. When I sent him back in, he
just sat there on the bench staring at me. Just flat-out refused."
"He's got talent, but he hasn't showed us anything," says Ricky.
Scoogy draws and redraws a red line through D. Buchanan.
The next target on the list is Poughkeepsie Kris. His skills are
on a par with those of the other top point-guard candidates, but
he missed two weeks of intramurals when he was suspended for
fighting, and he's in academic trouble. "If he stood out a lot
from the other guys, maybe you'd consider it," says Mark, "but
with these other things...."
"You've got too many point guards as it is," says Ricky.
Scoogy draws another red line, through K. Bottoms.
The discussion turns to Preston. "He's a great kid, a super
kid," says Ricky. "But you can't have that many guards. Why drag
it out for him?"
Scoogy has Preston in gym class, and he likes the kid a lot. He
slowly draws a line through the boy's name.
"You're going to have to get rid of Doober," says Nick. "You
can't keep that many point guards."
"Yeah, but Doober, he's the smartest kid on the court
sometimes," says Ricky.
"I'll give him another look," says Scoogy.
When they finish, Ricky ribs Scoogy: "Man, you are gonna be
unpopular around here. You ain't even gonna be able to go to
church! People gonna be throwin' Bibles at you!"
Wednesday, 7 a.m.
The cold morning sky is streaked with orange and purple clouds.
The school is stirring to life. A few boys come wandering down
the hallway leading to Scoogy's office.
"Where the list at?" one says.
"List ain't up yet?" asks another.
Scoogy strides in at 7:10. Overnight, sitting up at his kitchen
table, he decided to keep 13 players on the varsity, something
he vowed last season he wouldn't do, because it means more
disgruntled guys without enough playing time. He'll deal later
with the players coming from the football team. By then at least
one of these boys will have difficulty with his grades or will
miss a practice--in other words, will cut himself. For now,
though, Scoogy has his team. He opens his office door, thumps
his briefcase on the desk and withdraws a white 8 1/2"x11" lined
sheet of paper on which he has written in bold pencil:
The following individuals should report for boys varsity
basketball practice today at 2:45
He tapes the list to the brown tile wall outside his office. "I
just thought to myself coming in here, Technically I'm 50 years
old," Scoogy says. "Now I'm 51. I like to just put it up and get
the hell out of here."
Which he does. Quickly, boys in bulky winter coats crowd around
"No! Cup made it!"
"Ooh, Dante's not on it."
"Keenan made it, and Ramzee."
"Kris ain't on it!"
"Kris not on there?"
Cup emerges from the crowd overjoyed. He is embraced by one of
Nin, the little sophomore with long dagger sideburns and big
varsity dreams, approaches alone. "You on it," a friend tells
him. "You on the list."
"Don't play with me, man," Nin says. The crowd parts for him as
he approaches the wall. He makes two fists and leans up close.
"Oh, my god!" he shouts.
Ty, one of the returning members of last season's varsity,
saunters down the hallway wearing a white stocking cap that
sticks up five inches from his head. "I ain't got to look," he
says. "I know I'm on it."
Mark, the Great White Hope, arrives with a friend. He stands
before the list silently for a moment. No more worries about
transferring to Bishop Shanahan. He turns away from the list
with a broad smile. As he walks off his friend asks, "That isn't
the varsity list?"
"That's varsity," says Mark.
"You kiddin' me? You made varsity?"
Poughkeepsie Kris has gotten the word. He comes down the hall,
his head down, his face a mask of anger and disappointment. He
looks at the list briefly and then heads into the adjoining boys
Next comes Damon. He's afraid to look. "Am I on it?" he asks a
friend. "No, I know I'm not on it." He walks up, studies the
list for a moment and then steps into the locker room. Inside,
Damon and the starting point guard, Maury, try to console
Poughkeepsie Kris. "You got all year to work on it, man," Maury
tells him. "Next year, you come back, it'll be your year to
"That's right, Kris, you still got a year, man," says Damon.
There will be no next year at Coatesville for Damon.
Eric comes down the hall alone. He approaches with the same grim
determination he showed standing on the sideline during all
those intramural sessions. Eric does not dress in baggy jeans
like the other boys. He has on straight-legged pants and a
sweater. He stands at the back of the crowd around the list,
craning for a look. "Let me see," he says.
"You ain't got to see," says one boy, teasing. "You cut, man."
Eric leans in, blushes and then turns to walk away.
"No, no, wait, E!" shouts Ty, pushing clear of the crowd,
chasing Eric with his hand outstretched. "You did good, E. You
Ty stops, hand still outstretched, as Eric walks slowly away
without turning back.
When Scoogy went home the day he posted his list, he found an
angry note from the grandmother of a boy he had cut. During the
season the team struggled, as the coach, who turned 51 in
December, had feared it would. The Red Raiders ended the regular
season last Friday with a 10-14 record, good enough for the
Ches-Mont League championship, and will go to the state District
One playoffs, which will begin this week. Coatesville's most
consistent scorers were Maury Boyer and Glenn Gray. Nin Bacon
was a spot player and, according to Scoogy, "got some good
experience." Mark Hostutler came off the bench in one game and
scored 18 points. "It was the best night of my entire life," he
Eric Kruse didn't attend any of the Red Raiders' games. He
played on two rec league teams and plans to throw the javelin
for the Coatesville track team in the spring. Damon Watson,
meanwhile, helped out the Red Raiders part of the season as team
manager. He attended almost all of the home games.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE SHIRTS AND SKINS Aspiring Red Raiders must wait patiently on the sideline for their turn to take the floor and catch the eye of one of the coaches. [Boys sitting on gymnasium floor]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE QUICK START Defensive slides on Day 1 of intramurals started the weeding out of boys who were not fast, skilled, dedicated or confident enough. [Boys participating in tryout drill]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE BOXED IN Once Damon decided to try out, he spent much of his time worrying about making the team and about what people would say if he didn't. [Damon Watson]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE UPS AND DOWNS In a scrimmage, Eric toughed it out under the boards with the big bangers, one of whom fell to the floor before Eric went up for a shot. [Eric Kruse and others]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE CITY GAME Glenn learned his hoops on the asphalt courts of Coatesville's parks, where some of the chain nets on the baskets vanished long ago. [Overhead view of Glenn Gray hanging from basketball rim]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE BIG HEADACHE Making his list--and crossing names off it--late into the night is a part of high school coaching that Scoogy would gladly forsake. [Jim Smith]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE PIPE DREAM Tion imagined suiting up for the Red Raiders, but his lack of get-up-and-go struck the coaches more than his size and talent. [Tion Holmes]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE THE RECKONING As Scoogy looked on from his office, players scanned the varsity list to see if the coaches had granted or dashed their fondest hopes. [Jim Smith watching players read varsity team list]
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY SCOTT THODE THE CHOSEN Nin (front left) and Mark (rear center), with Scoogy and the Red Raiders, saw their hard work rewarded with varsity jerseys. [Jim "Scoogy" Smith, Clarence "Nin" Bacon, Mark Hostutler and teammates holding their basketball jerseys]