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"It is everything," he says. "It's bragging rights. It's pride. It's family."
And it's malice.
"I really hate Sumner," White says after his 27 points help Washington beat Sumner, keeping the Sabres from winning their fourth straight league title. "I don't know what it is. Even since, like, middle school, I have never liked Sumner at all."
Daniel Parra, the head coach at Sumner, hesitates to make the comparison. He knows it will sound ridiculous to draw a similarity to Duke and North Carolina.
But one thing KCK's schools share with college basketball's biggest rivalry is proximity. Wyandotte and Sumner are within walking distance. It's only a seven-minute drive from Schlagle to Washington.
"Everybody knows everybody," Parra says. "There are no secrets in this city."
Parra took over at Sumner in 2007, after the retirement of Randy Springs, who'd won six state titles at three different high schools. Springs coached at Wyandotte High in the 1980s, when the rivalry with nearby Schlagle was so intense that team buses used to get stuck in the traffic on the way to the gym.
KCK "was the place to be for high school basketball" back then, says Chuck Minor, the head coach at Schlagle from 1979 to 2001. Minor arrived at Schlagle at the dawn of a new era. Sumner, then the district's all-black high school, reopened as an integrated magnet school in the fall of 1979. The school's black students dispersed throughout the district, and the basketball teams took on a different look. Minor says he did not coach a white player until he left Schlagle for a job at Kearney High School in 2001.
Not much has changed. Now an assistant coach at Bishop Miege, Minor was watching Washington's players warm up before a recent game. As Brandon Huhn, a blond senior, went through layup drills with his teammates, Minor sounded as if he had just seen an elk in his front yard. "So don't tell me Washington has a white player," he said. "Wow!"
Washington is now the "cool" basketball school in KCK, according to Nick Sloan, the 26-year-old publisher of the Kansas City Kansan. "Kids like a winner," Sloan says. He also credits King for creating a sense of identity. The players warm up wearing black T-shirts with "Play hard! Act right!" printed across the back.
King, 41, grew up in Louisiana. He played forward at Grambling State University before finishing his degree at Dana College in Nebraska. A job fair brought him to Kansas City, Kansas. He teaches physical education at Argentine Middle School, where he coached the basketball team for seven dues-paying years. He coached Washington's girls for a year before taking over the boys' team in 2005.
He wasn't an immediate success. In his fourth season, the Wildcats went 10-12. But while the team looked mediocre on the surface, momentum was building: That year's squad relied heavily on a group of raw but talented sophomores, including Tra'Vaughn White. Last year, as juniors, those same players took Washington to the state tournament for the first time since 2004. The trip to Topeka lasted only a few hours, however. "We played terrible," White says. "We played like we were star-struck."
The loss became a motivational tool. White and his teammates played in summer leagues all over town, never losing a game. In December, before conference play began, they won the Leavenworth Tournament, beating Hogan Preparatory Academy, a traditional power, in the final.
Listed at 5 feet 11 inches, White uses his strength to attack taller defenders. He added muscle between his sophomore and junior seasons, watching what he ate and performing countless "squat things." He often lurks along the baseline, waiting for the defense to lose sight of him. He likes to attack the basket, figuring that a shot taken close to the rim has a better chance of succeeding. "That's the easiest way to score," he says.