THE TEXAS TITANS sixth-grade basketball team is on its way to a tournament, so the kids do what they usually do. They board Kenny Troutt's chartered 737 jet (except for the times when they rent the Dallas Mavericks' jet or the San Antonio Spurs'). There's a flight attendant on board, video games and H�agen-Dazs bars. They're going from Dallas all the way to Houston. It will take about 50 minutes.
The D.C. Assault sixth-grade basketball team is on its way to a tournament, so the players do what they usually do. They pile into assistant coach Ed Powell's 2000 Suburban. Coach Donald Campbell and another parent will also take their cars. They're going from Washington, D.C., all the way to Columbia, S.C. It will take about eight hours.
On board the private jet is the man who ponies up for everything, the 59-year-old Troutt, whose son is on the team. Troutt is the founder of Excel Communications and, according to Forbes, is worth $1.1 billion. On a lot of the plane trips there'll also be at least one parent of each player, plus the three full-time salaried coaches and the team's general manager. This is nothing. For a tournament in Washington, D.C., last year, the Titans' traveling party numbered 95. Nobody but Troutt spent a dime.
Crammed into Powell's SUV are just the players. Hopefully, none of them will get carsick and throw up like on the trip to Florida last year. Powell's still trying to get the smell out. "A lot of these kids are from the inner city," he says. "They'd never traveled that far in a car before."
When the Titans arrive in Houston, a luxury bus is waiting for them on the tarmac. They head straight to one of the better hotels in town. Usually it's a Hyatt or an Omni. No hassles at the registration desk—their keys are waiting on a table. It's all been handled by the Titans' advance man.
The Assault players feel lucky if they get to stay in a Holiday Inn Express. One time they checked into a bargain motel, where the clerk handed them their towels through a slot in the protective glass. The rooms were cold and damp and dirty. The boys refused to get under the covers. They slept on top of the bedspreads or on the floor.
The Titans meet for dinner in a banquet room set up by the hotel. The food has been selected by the team's trainer-nutritionist.
The Assault usually gets KFC but occasionally splurges for Chick-fil-A. The coaches pay for the food, the gas and some of the hotel rooms. Powell's a social worker, but he makes more than some of the parents, who sometimes can't afford the $25-a-player tournament fee. Then Powell pays that, too.
The Titans will play about 90 games this year and practice twice a week. They hire private coaches to teach shooting, defense and rebounding. Soon, they'll start practicing at the high-school-sized gym Troutt is adding to his 13,000-square-foot mansion in Dallas.
The Assault tries to practice twice a week, too, but it's not easy to get court time. The team practices at a rec center unless the high school kids refuse to get off the court.