Murr will attack
Svendson's pressure D with Darci and Dawn. And he has a couple of defenses of
his own to throw at Svendson's three forwards. One is the Sue Defense, named
for ball hawker Sue Riebkes, which will challenge Polk's shooters at the free
throw line. "We'll go belly button to belly button in that one," Murr
says. Dike's other D will sag, daring Polk to shoot from outside. "On
offense, we need Darci to slow down," Murr says. "Sometimes she gets
like a fire engine in there. I've told her, 'Take your time. Come get the ball,
take that guard that's on you tighter than heck, and go to the bucket.' Dawn I
tell to play in control. She's our Isiah Thomas. She's got to move the ball for
game time, Murr turns pensive. "Win or lose," he muses, "we'll get
on the bus and go home tomorrow for thank-yous, congratulations and memories
shared." One memory in particular moves the Dike coach. He can joke about
his sweaty suit—"You might be able to smell me tonight," he says—but
Murr is deadly serious about the oversized belt buckle he wears. "Buck
Hummer gave me this," he says. "Buck was a trucker. I used to drive for
him almost 20 years ago. One time I put one of his rigs in a ditch, and all he
did was come and help me pull it out. He was a man you could screw up with, and
he'd stay with you. So that's what I try to be as a coach. Before he died, he
gave me this belt buckle, and if I win the state championship I'll dedicate it
to Buck Hummer."
Seven boys in
gold lamé tuxedos sweep the court before the final. In the Southeast Polk
locker room, one Ram player ties a yellow ribbon in her hair. In section 13
sits Fern Amsberry, 79. She played guard for Milo High in the first Girls'
Union season, back in '26. "In my day we played on dirt. When it rained, we
didn't play at all," she says.
On the court the
Patriotism Pageant is a whirlwind tour of the globe. A gang of nine-year-old
mummies, representing Egypt, sleepwalks. A lumbering Cleopatra, played by a boy
from Tri-Center High, belly dances. This unorthodox queen of the Nile is chased
off the court by rickshaws bearing acrobats. The acrobats are chased by
can-canning femmes fatales pursued by lecherous boulevardiers who are in turn
pursued by kangaroos. Under a flood of spotlights, the Australian outback
becomes America—a runway for a dozen tap-dancing Uncle Sams.
event!" exults the governor of Iowa, Terry Branstad. A fiery Statue of
Liberty rains sparks on the floor and the band strikes up the Battle Hymn.
"The hardest thing is the waiting," Darci says. "Then all of a
sudden the buzzer rings and you get the chills."
Smoke still fills
the rafters as the Rams and Bobcats square off. On Dike's first possession,
Darci and Dawn meet a wall of pressure defense. Dawn finds a hole. She takes
her second dribble through the lane and lays the ball in. Moments later
Darci—all pipestem limbs and perm—rolls free and converts a lob pass. Svendson
stalks the sideline. Murr hitches up his lucky pants.
double-post offense solves both of Murr's defensive sets in the first half.
When Dike sags, Polk's Mary Smith pops a set shot. When the Bobcats play
belly-to-belly, Smith finds one of her frontcourt mates. Darci chalks up 14 of
Dike's first 19 points, but after the Bobcats' initial possession, "crazy
pressure" limits Dawn to three free throws. With 2:40 left in the half,
Polk leads by five. Then Dawn comes alive. She feeds Darci for a layup, streaks
the lane for a scoop shot, hits Darci with an extrasensory assist. Dike by one.
The Bobcat cheer block is a blizzard of confetti.
"Way to go,
Dawn—you're having a field day out there," Murr says in the locker room at
halftime. Dawn rolls her eyes. Darci pokes her.
Late in the third
quarter, after allowing an average of just 57.5 points per game all year and
proving that defense counts in six-on-six, Polk's pressure D wilts. Dawn's
layup—assist Darci—makes it 58-53 Dike. Darci's layup—assist Dawn—makes it
60-53. In the Bobcat huddle, towering over Murr, Darci waves to her parents,
sitting in the seventh row amid Dike's other crazed fans.
minutes left in the season. Dike leads by five. Dawn drives and puts the ball
on the rack. It rolls off. Darci clears it, goes up on tiptoe and, like a
grocer putting a jar on the top shelf, deposits the ball in the basket. She and
Dawn embrace. At 0:15 Darci hits a six-footer for her 50th and 51st points. At
0:01, with Dike leading 86-73, she launches a jubilant three-pointer, her first
of the year. A heartbeat later Darci is still .000 from long range, but she has
gone 24 for 28 in the title game. A heartbeat after that, her arms are filled
with Dawn. Red, white and blue balloons fall around them.