Word of the school soon spread across the hills, and boys and girls began attending from nearby ranches and mining towns. In 1945 Charlie Jr., one of the school's original students, became the first headmaster. The following year he converted Orme into a coeducational boarding school; it had a graduating class of three in 1950.
The school's unusual location and its wide-ranging curriculum led to the student body's rapid growth. In 1962 the ranch and school separated officially into self-sustaining entities for business purposes. Still, they remain closely linked. Old ranch houses and frontier-style buildings stand throughout the campus. The ranch's cattle brand—the quarter circle V-bar—is also the school's symbol and is painted at center court of the gym. In addition to standard coursework, some students do chores or care for animals in a barn area overlooking the campus; others gallop around the mesas as part of the school's horsemanship program.
"My father would be pleased with the school," says Charlie Jr., who lives on the ranch. "He'd get a kick out of seeing these city kids with the cattle."
He might also get a kick out of watching them play hoops. Though Orme has traditionally had strong football teams, its basketball program was all but invisible until coach Todd Satter arrived four years ago from St. John's High in St. John's, Ariz. In Satter's second season, with Ronnell, Bernard and Bobby leading the way, the team went 6-6 in its conference. And last season, Satter's third, with Joe Harris added to the mix, the club went 10-2 in the conference and 19-6 overall before losing in the quarterfinals of the state tournament.
"I'm lucky," says Satter. "We may never again have a group like this."
They play the way they play back home in New York, and visitors from scattered desert towns (the post office nearest to Orme is a 20-minute drive away) show up for their games. Camera flashes pop as Orme warms up to the boom-box strains of Naughty By Nature. Fans stare as Joe shakes his minidreadlocks and Bernard flexes the bulldog tattoo that covers his right biceps. When the game begins and Ronnell gets off a bounce pass to Bernard, who races to the hoop, jukes and dishes the ball behind his back to Joe, who slams it home, the crowd murmurs in awe.
"We've been playing together for so long," Bernard says. "We know what we're going to do: Back home, this stuff isn't such a big deal. Out here it's like, Wow!"
Of the four, Bernard is the big-time talent, a former all-city junior high point guard who was named a Basketball Congress International All-America while playing for Riverside Church on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Known as Pee Wee at local playgrounds, Bernard has now earned Arizona all-state honors in both basketball and football. Away from the drug-infested neighborhood where he lives with his grandmother, he is getting the chance that Pee Wee Sr. never had.
"In New York, the grown folks tell me I play like my father used to play," says Bernard, a slight, bright-eyed 17-year-old. "But he never did anything with his talent. He dropped out of high school. Now he's up in Albany somewhere.
"Back home it's just trouble. I had to get out of there, or it would've gotten to me. It's right in your face when you walk out the door—crack, cocaine, people wasting away their lives.