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Sumner's status as a magnet school creates an unusual dynamic for its sports teams. Coaches are able to attract athletes from across the district. But the academic requirements — students have to pass an admission test and maintain a 2.5 grade-point average once on campus — mean that only a portion of them can get in and stay there.
"This is a tough place to be if you don't want to be here," Parra says. "The academics here are tough. If you're coming here just to play basketball" — he winces — "you may not make it."
Parker knew from an early age that he was going to attend Sumner. His father, Stan, was a member of the first four-year class to graduate from Sumner after the court-ordered desegregation. "I had no choice," Stan says.
Parker plays on an elite AAU team, traveling to Indianapolis, Louisville, Las Vegas and other stops for summer tournaments. Stan Parker and his wife, Veronica, have tried to make every trip. "Even though the team is sponsored, the parents aren't," Stan, a bank manager, laments.
But by the Parkers' calculation, the time and money they spend on basketball help keep their son's future from veering off course. "I'd rather pay for that than have to worry about legal fees and stuff like that," Stan says.
The Parkers sat in the stands at Piper High School as their son and his teammates competed at "substate," an eight-team regional tournament to determine which local school would advance to state. Piper's large and comfortable gymnasium — the bleachers have plastic, rump-contoured seats — reflect the wealth that resides just outside the boundaries of the Kansas City, Kansas, school district.
In a second-round game, Sumner trailed an inferior Tonganoxie team by one point at the end of the first quarter. During the timeout, Parra tore into his players for allowing so many easy baskets. "Play some defense!" he yelled. The team went on a 13-0 run to begin the second quarter and ended up winning, 90-65.
Two nights later, Sumner faced a more substantial challenge, meeting Basehor-Linwood in the same gym. The standing-room-only crowd watched the Sabres play what Parra felt was their best defensive game of the year. The 62-51 final meant that Sumner was heading back to Salina for the state tourney.
Parra walked off the court holding the hand of his 6-year-old son. In the locker room, he began planning for the state tournament. "We pack for four days!" he told his team.
Parra's success has come with whispers that he wants KCK all to himself. Last October, six weeks before the season began, the principal at Harmon told Heath Cooper that he and his assistants no longer had coaching jobs. Cooper was shocked. He had taken over a program that hadn't won a league game in seven years. In 2009-10, he led the team to an 18-4 mark.
Yet there he stood, stripped of his whistle, just a science teacher with a big hole in his afternoons. The principal offered no meaningful explanation. "When we asked for more detailed reasons, she wouldn't give us reasons," Cooper says. "She's just said, 'We're heading in a new direction.'"
The principal at Harmon is Sylvia Parra, Dan Parra's mother. Naturally, parents and hoopheads developed a theory that Cooper had been too effective, that he represented a threat to Dan Parra's ego. Adding to the suspicion that personal feelings were in play, Cooper was replaced by Dave Gonzalez, the head coach at Schlagle and one of Dan Parra's oldest friends. The two shared an apartment when they were bachelors and were working as assistant coaches.