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District officials decline to discuss the changes in coaching assignments. Jerry Flanagan, the districtwide athletic director, tells The Pitch that he does not have "HR responsibility." (Sylvia Parra did not respond to requests for comment.)
Once this season rolled around, Cooper told himself that he wasn't going to go to any Harmon games. But in December, Metro Sports hired him to provide commentary at a tournament that featured local teams. Cooper called a game prior to Harmon playing. He wanted to leave, to avoid seeing his old team playing without him, but a parent asked him to stay. "It's almost like you're watching another guy take your date to the prom," he says.
He left at halftime.
The acoustics in Washington's gym make the tubas in the pep band sound like big ships coming into port. From its perch in the mezzanine, the band is more likely to break out Bruno Mars or Dem Franchize Boyz than Gary Glitter. Eric Green, the director, played trumpet in the marching band when he attended Southern University. Now in his fifth year at Washington, he brings what an assistant principal calls "swagger" to the enterprise.
Caprice Jappa has also worked to enhance the Washington game-day experience. A somewhat unlikely spirit leader, she doubles as the school secretary in charge of attendance and truancy.
Jappa's spirit outreach has gone beyond students. She suggested to the school's teachers that they'd have fewer problems in the classroom if students saw them wearing the Washington colors on Friday night. Dozens of teachers have become regulars at games, home and away. "Now the kids just expect them to be there," she says.
Jappa's son, James, is a sophomore on the team, so the Wildcats' underclassmen frequently spend the night at her house. The upperclassmen, meanwhile, tend to congregate at senior Kalen Allen's. "They just love each other," she says.
It helps the boys' camaraderie that their basketball games usually end well. As Michael Hibler puts it: "Winning really helps the relationship."
All this winning-fueled love filled the gym on senior night, as the players were recognized for their scoring records and achievements in the classroom. (Michael Hibler is a 4.0 student.) But when the ceremony ended, the players went into intimidation mode. Before tipoff, several Washington players stretched at the half-court line, facing their opponent. The formation resembled a chessboard on which one side was poised for attack.
Washington preserved its undefeated conference season that night, beating Harmon. The postseason began with a 38-point rout of Turner on the Wildcats' home floor. "We have unfinished business," coach King said after the game.
It's 30 minutes before tipoff, and the Dancing Dynasties, the Washington dance team, are running baby wipes over their bare skin to make it sticky enough to hold a dusting of silver glitter that matches the color of their lamé pants.
The Washington band, cheerleaders and dance team rode in comfort to the Kansas Expocentre in Topeka for the 5A state tournament. Earl Watson, a Washington alum in his 10th year in the NBA, paid for charter buses in recognition of his school's success.
With a record of 20-2 after substate, the Wildcats are the No. 2 seed in the eight-team bracket. They handle Emporia, 80-61, in the opening round. "I have a group of fellas who are seniors, who have been here," coach King says after the game. "We know we can get to the state championship and win it."