Coach Cleanhead – CutUps
87-14… 79-6… 108-16…
108-16? Centerville High School Girls Basketball team had given up 108 points in a thirty-two minute game. Annie Raptor, Coach, English teacher, watched a free throw ping off glass, FIVE inches from the rim. Annie Raptor, three-time All America point guard, watched an entry pass into the center in the low post sail a foot over her head. Annie, three-time NCAA Champion at Stanford and three-time WNBA Champion with Houston, raced off the court, French braid bouncing off her back. Players were stunned. The coach had given up on them?
Annie came back with a picture as her little point guard threw up a shot that missed everything. Annie shook her head and blew a whistle. Annie had had enough. “Line up. Red line. Stand at attention and do not move. Right. Now.”
Twelve high school girls stood on the red line. Coach was little, but Coach could get mad. No one moved. No one even blinked.
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“Basketball is not brain surgery, ladies.” She stuck a ball in the face of little point guard Charlotte Carter, Number 1. “Miss Carter, what is this?”
“A basketball,” the blonde near Annie’s size wheezed.
“And what do we do with it?”
“Put it in the basket.”
Annie moved on, to Number 22, Jamilla Lesniak. “Have you ever played this game?”
“I scored 32 against Diamondale last…”
“You scored 32 against Diamondale. Amy Ivy scored 35. Mary van Mater scored 44, but you have lost nine straight games. Do you know why you’ve lost nine straight? Because you do not play as a team.” Annie paced, shoes squeaking against the varnished hardwood floor. “You don’t study together. You don’t hang together. You are not a TEAM.” Little Annie Raptor tossed the ball away and held up a finger. “Alas, that will change. Dress code. You will wear dresses to school, every day. Beginning tonight, you will spend the night at my house, every night before a game. And haircuts…”
Jamilla Lesniak felt every one of her soft blonde curls. She gulped. “Haircuts? This isn’t military school.”
Annie paced in front of the team, showing each girl the picture of a girl who’d just gotten her Cadet haircut at The Citadel. “Get this haircut, and knock on my front door in a dress by eight tonight, or we’ll sure miss you…”
“I am not gonna cut my hair.”
“And,” Annie Raptor interrupted, “if you win every game for the rest of the season, I will let you take me to Mrs. Storen’s barber shop and tell her to shave my head.”
“You’re serious? Bald?” Pam Kinitis said.
“Cleanhead. Billiard ball. Hairless in Seattle.”
“Yeah, all right,” Jamilla Lesniak said. A few more girls nodded.
“I could cut my hair for that,” blonde to her elbows Mary van Mater agreed.
“You have to win. You have to pay attention and play as a team. Mrs. Storen’s waiting for you. Go.”
Centerville’s next team meeting was downtown, in their white dresses, in the town barbershop. Mrs. Storen was old enough to be their grandmothers. She held out a cape.
Annie Raptor looked from one player to another. “We’ll. Sure. Miss. You.”
Arms folded across her front, Pam Kinitis stared at the red barber chair and brunette strings that brushed her shoulder. Raptor said they needed leadership. Pam was the only Senior. She took the chair, to get her hair cut first.
Clippers buzzed. A sideburn dropped away from her head, then an ear appeared. Clipper over comb, Mrs. Storen reduced the back and sides of Pam’s hair to just long enough so no skin showed. Pam Kinitis was getting sheared in front of friends and a mentor. Mrs. Storen tapered the back to the nape with smaller clippers. Pam smiled in the mirror as the lady barber wet a comb and clipped at half an inch.
The hot shave around the ears and across the nape was almost too much for the seventeen-year-old center for Centerville to bear. She smiled. “Guys, you have got to get this.”
Mary van Mater, Sara Hazelwood, Jessi Nostrand, Olivia McKee, left red, blonde or dark hair on Mrs. Storen’s tile floor. The team and the coach watched hair, and tears, fall until the Centerville Girls’ Basketball team filed out of the shop, shorn like Citadel Cadets.
Centerville 61, Niles Methodist 51. One win, with state champions New Delilah next. New Delilah had won fifty straight. Mrs. Storen would take her clippers over Annie Raptor’s head as soon as it snowed in San Diego…
Five seconds to go. New Delilah 53, Centerville 51. Annie called time out. “They haven’t stopped Pam all night. McKinnon screen and roll off the top. Hit Pam down low, then back out. Either McKinnon or Sara gets a three if they collapse the middle.”
Screen and roll. Dish to Pam Kinitis. Defense surrounds her. Pam fires the ball outside to Sara Hazelwood, who pops the three. Ball on rim, hanging on rim. Two seconds… one second. The ball fell threw the net. Buzzer, and game. Centerville 54, New Delilah 53.
“Two wins, eight to go!” Mary van Mater hollered.
“Two wins, eight to go!” the team chanted. “Cleanhead! Cleanhead!”
Centerville 95, Riley 41; Centerville 73, Dumont 60; Centerville 69, Westbrook 51. Five in a row. Annie Raptor wasn’t even nervous. Stroking long locks in front of her mirror? Dreaming of running on the beach, her hair bouncing off her shoulders? No. No way.
“Five to go. Five to go,” Hanna Backman taunted, running fingers through her neatly trimmed knob haircut as she left Annie’s American Lit.
“Do you have dreams of passing?”
“I do pass. Seven assists a game.”
“Passing this class?”
Centerville 91, Colson’s Gap 30. Centerville 77, Harrington 54. Centerville 92, Andersonville 57.
“See what happens when you play as a team?” Annie asked.
“Nine! Nine!” the team chanted.
Hanna Backman walked up to Annie with the gift wrapped with a red ribbon. “Coach, we, your team, would like to give you this.”
“You guys. For me?” Annie unwrapped the Lady Shick disposable razors. “Oh, cute.”
“Nine! Nine! Nine! Cleanhead so fine!” the team chanted.
Annie looked them all over. “New Delilah.”
New Delilah hadn’t lost since the upset at Centerville. The schools were ten miles apart. New Delilah’s gym was so packed, you couldn’t fit a word in edgewise. Centerville ran straight toward their basket, throwing lobs over the New D defense. They pressed, forcing bad passes and silly mistakes. 10-0. 18-0. New Delilah didn’t even score until three minutes gone in the second quarter. Annie Raptor sweated. She could feel every hair on her head.
Centerville 30, New Delilah 12, at the start of the second half. Centerville players on the bench waited for Coach to run her fingers through that shock of beautiful hair.
Centerville 30, New D 15; Centerville 30, New D 17; Centerville 30, New D 20; and New Delilah’s best free throw shooter was stepping to the line.
Pam Kinitis gathered her team. “Cleanhead.”
The free throw pinged off the rim, no good. Centerville turned up the pressure even more, running faster on offense, pressing full court on defense. 35-20, 41-20, 49-20. New Delilah did not get a shot off for six minutes, did not score again until there were seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. 56-22, six minutes to go. Annie Raptor pulled the starters. CLICK and BUZZZZZ! Mrs. Storen’s clippers echoed all the way through her brain. Chills raced up her back.
“ZZZZZ,” starters greeted substitutes as starters came to the bench.
Olivia McKee hit an NBA three-pointer. McKinnon Jorgenson stole a pass and hit Jamilla Lesniak on the run for a breakaway layup… 80-27, five seconds to go. Jorgenson even drilled the unhittable bomb from eighty feet at the final buzzer. Annie Raptor looked at her reflection on the shiny gym floor, smiled, and shook her head.
“Cleanhead! Cleanhead!” the team hollered, in the locker room.
“We still have the state tournament, and we’re hot. We can win it all, guys…”
Pam Kinitis stalked the coach, eleven other girls who’d kept their hair clipped for two months on her heels. “We won ten, you said you’d shave your head. You are bald. Cleanhead! Cleanhead!”
“Cleanhead! Cleanhead!” Eleven other players joined in.
“Practice tomorrow night.”
Annie was kidnapped, three-thirty the next afternoon. Her team met her at the door into the locker room, still in their school dresses.
“You have an appointment,” Center, team leader Kinitis said. “Downtown.”
Annie hung her head and let them take her. Mrs. Storen’s barber chair was empty. The grandmotherly town barber slid her cape off the arm of the big red chair. Annie Raptor ran fingers through hair so long and so full, hair she had loved, until she flopped it over the back of the barber chair.
The snapping of the cape around her neck echoed in her ears. “Turn me around. I want to watch it fall,” she said just above a whisper.
Annie Raptor was going to get a HAIRCUT. What had seemed so impossible when she’d promised it to get these girls to play together was just seconds in the future. And Pam Kinitis had brought a minicam.
Big black clippers popped to life and buzzed louder than the buzzer in the school gym. Chunk after chunk of thick brunette slid over the back of Annie Raptor’s head, a white landing strip of stubble left in the machine’s wake.
“Cleanhead! Cleanhead!” the team cheered.
Mrs. Stroren roared clippers over Annie’s head, once more to the left side, another time to the right.
“Mrs. Storen, let us enjoy this,” Mary van Mater said. “Clip her like a bald guy; you know, around the ears and real close on the sides and back, before you shave her.”
“I’m not exactly in a position to argue, Mrs. Storen.”
Annie folded hands in her lap and watched. Scissors crunched into hair around her ears and across her nape. Years of hair fell away. Scissors click, click, clicked at her nape. Cool air hit her neck and ears. Annie Raptor just sat.
Mrs. Storen popped on the Osters again. She ran bare blade up Annie’s neck to her nape. The Coach didn’t want to give it away, but getting this was a blast. Mrs. Storen ran clippers over comb. Hair floated from Annie Raptor in chunks until it just nicely covered skin. Mrs. Storen tapered the back from the crown to a sharp, clean line at Annie’s nape.
“Guys,” honey blonde Sara Hazelwood said, “maybe we oughta stop.”
“You’re a great looking bald guy, Coach,” Olivia McKee said.
“No way. I’m Super Geek. Finish me, Mrs. S.”
Clippers roared around Annie Raptor’s ears, mowing her as clean on the sides and up the back as she was on top.
The grandmotherly town barber in Centerville wound a hot white towel around the young basketball coach’s head, staring at twelve teenage girls. “You girls appreciate this coach you have. How many other people would do as much for you and let you do this to her?” She peeled away the towel and wound the hot shave machine.
Twelve girls looked at piles and piles of beautiful hair on a barber shop floor. They nodded, one by one. Mrs. Storen laid shaving cream thick on Annie’s head.
“Straight razor,” McKinnon Jorgenson said.
Mrs. S. stropped straight razor on leather and inched it back from the center of Annie Raptor’s young head. Scraping, grating like sandpaper on wood, aroused Annie Raptor. She smiled, as razor scraped back and sides, even around ears, to baldness. The Bic safety razor cleaned her off smooth.
“Coach Cleanhead.” Sara Hazelwood slipped the flowered headband on Annie’s new dome and kissed it. “We love you.”