Behold the Hart High girls' basketball team, fashionably attired in black skirts, red silk shirts, nylon stockings and high-heeled shoes.
"Tall, blonde and beautiful," Coach Pam Walker says. "A pretty good-looking group."
Sporting a stylish display of the school's color scheme, the team, at Walker's insistence, assembled this season for a group photograph far more appealing than the traditionally drab "everyone say free throw" shot in the gym. Said senior center Nicole Anthony: "We thought she was kidding at first. She wants us to wear heels and nylons?"
Walker's wardrobe edict is more than a fashion show. Skirts and high heels are required game-day attire. Said Walker: "It's not so much the issue of a dress or not. The point is, I want them to be ladies off the court and athletes on the floor."
In her fourth season, Walker has succeeded in transforming the players into both. Call it dressing for success, Walker's blending of the baseline with the hemline has paid off.
The Indians, all dressed up, finally have somewhere to go.
The grand ball is tonight at 6:45 at Cal Poly Pomona where Hart (24-2) will play Santa Barbara (21-7) for the Southern Section 5-A Division championship. Never in school history have the Indians played for a championship. A victory, and the glass slipper fits.
"We've had some pretty tough games in the playoffs," Walker said. "I gotta think that somebody somewhere is kinda looking out for us."
Hart has gone from rags to riches under Walker, who followed a string of four coaches in five years. After winning just one Foothill League game in Walker's first two seasons, the Indians finished in a four-way tie for second last year, reaching the playoffs for only the second time since the program began in 1972.
This season, Hart coasted to the league title with a 10-0 record and has posted three consecutive playoff victories, including a dramatic, 78-68, come-from-behind overtime victory over Buena in a semifinal.
"The first couple years were real challenging," Walker said. "It wasn't so much that we didn't have kids who could win--not by a long shot. It's just that the sport of choice out here had been softball for so many years or drill team or cheerleading. I think basketball was considered something that tomboys do."
The dress code is only a part of Walker's official code of ethics, which emphasizes ladylike conduct.
"She gave us this sheet of paper at the beginning of the year," said junior forward Sara Wilson, who averages a team-high 17.3 points and 11.8 rebounds. "She spelled out all the rules."
Unselfishness is written in capital letters. Statistics, although recorded, are largely ignored.
"It really doesn't matter how many points you score," Walker said. "What matters is how many points we score as opposed to the other team."
Prohibition is another rule: no smoking, drinking or drugs, on or off campus.
"I made a deal with my girls," she said. "I won't drink during the season if they don't drink, even though I'm over 21. The point is, if I'm over 21 and legal to drink and I don't, then you shouldn't. I think there's a lot of peer pressure among kids today to do things they don't really want to do. And if they know there's someone out there who is associating with that pressure and saying, 'Hey, I can handle it, too,' then we can just get through it together."
Walker, 25, part coach, part big sister, has an aura of youth about her. Strolling through an empty campus, she easily could pass for a free-spirited senior loose without a hall pass. Campus security has, in fact, mistaken her for a student.
She talks rapidly and smiles often while on the subject of the team, of which she seems more member than coach.
"She's a friend," Anthony said. "She makes pregame dinners and bakes us muffins."
Yet maintaining discipline has never been a problem.
"I am real strict," she insists. "They respect me enough that they don't cross the rules. If they're late to practice, they don't start."
A UCLA graduate with a degree in international relations, Walker carries a teaching load that includes sociology, U. S. history and English.
She is thoughtful and articulate, answering questions in an organized manner complete with a sense of summation, as if to say, "Does that answer your question?"
It's almost as if Walker's answers are carefully scrawled on 3 x 5 index cards that she neatly crams full of notes and carries to afternoon practice.
"Pam has a very unique professionalism about her," said Doug Michelson, Hart girls' athletic director. "She can relate to the players on a common level, but she can change gears once she steps on the floor. She has a commitment to basketball."
Walker's coaching credentials before coming to Hart consisted of one-year stints as head coach at Van Nuys and St. Bernard highs. She took command at Hart at age 22.
"It was kind of a strange interview," Walker said, recalling her meeting with Michelson and Hart Principal Laurence Strauss. "They mixed discipline and personal questions. It was kind of a weird mix between 'Are you old enough and are you responsible enough to handle things like discipline problems?,' while at the same time, Doug, who was the boys' coach, was throwing in questions like, 'How do you attack a 2-2-1 zone?' "
Walker, who admits that coaching is an ongoing education, began by emphasizing fundamentals. "We spent the first year and a half just dealing with how to set screens, how to play man-to-man defense," she said.
The nucleus of Hart's team consists of three four-year players--Anthony, guards Kim Posey and Desa Pecel--and three three-year players--Wilson, senior forward Nikki Brodowy and senior guard Shelley Alesso.
Experience and steady improvement have played a major role in the Indians' success. So has emotion.
"This team is unusually close to each other," Walker said. "We've crossed the coach-player boundary into just people that are friends."
Hart's bond is exemplified by an on-court addition to the players' wardrobe. The Indians play with black bows pinned to their jerseys in memory of Jim Anthony, Nicole's father, who died Feb. 11--the day after Hart clinched the league title--after a lengthy bout with cancer.
All agreed to dedicate the postseason to Anthony.
"That whole week was really hard," Wilson said. "No one was normal. The coach was really upset. But we got through it. Probably because Nicole and her family were so incredibly strong."
Last Saturday, Hart trailed Buena by four points in the final two minutes.
"I looked at Nikki," Anthony said, "and said, 'If not for us, let's do it for him.' "
Wilson made a clutch basket with 25 seconds left to tie the score, 66-66, and force overtime. She added another basket in overtime as Hart outscored the Bulldogs, 12-2. Freshman guard Anjanette Dionne poured in a career-high 20 points.
"The girls were not willing to let the season go so soon," Walker said. "They're a team that molds and jells very well together as people. So, Nicole's loss was all our loss."
A loss tonight will not tarnish Hart's season, Walker said. Hart likely would gain entry to the state playoff tournament regardless.
But wins are not really the point.
"If I had my choice," Walker said, "I'd practice with them 365 days a year and never have a game. That's the time I really enjoy spending with them. When this is all over, whenever the end comes, our relationship as it stands will change. I think it's going to be a very emotional time."