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The Season Ends, and the Scoreboard Doesn’t Tell the Story

On the first day of practice in October, Lutz asked her players some basic questions. Where is the free-throw line? What is traveling? How many players are on the court at a time?

Most of the girls replied with blank stares.

“Until Christmas, I was teaching them offense versus defense,” Lutz said. “We have a crash course in peewee basketball — dribbling, passing, shooting, defense.”

She knows that her record with a team that always loses may preclude her from coaching elsewhere someday. It gnaws at her. But she musters enthusiasm for the job — doggedly challenging referees, for example, or diving for loose balls in practice to set an example.

“I’m going to coach like we’re going to win a state championship,” Lutz said. “They deserve that.”

Players see her as a stable, trustworthy role model, unlike anyone they know. She is fiery, sassy and confident. She gives them pointers on everything from manners to hairstyles.

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For Carroll Academy’s Players, Home is Not Always a Haven

One side of the gym had a smattering of fans for Sacred Heart. The bleachers set aside for Carroll Academy’s Lady Jaguars were virtually empty. Again.

The nine girls on the team usually outnumber their fans in the stands.

“That tells you all you need to know,” said Randy Hatch, the day-to-day leader of Carroll Academy, a school in Huntingdon administered by the juvenile court. “That’s why we’re here. If their parents had been there all along, maybe we wouldn’t be here. Right now, we’re the only family they got.”

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The Lady Jaguars, Part 2
Carroll Academy is a day school in Huntingdon, Tenn., operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court and financed mostly by the state’s Department of Children’s Services. The region is beset by high unemployment, rampant prescription drug abuse and a proliferation of methamphetamine labs.

The Carroll County Juvenile Court judge, who has authority over the school, and Carroll Academy’s director gave The New York Times unrestricted access to explore the school through its girls basketball team, whose players have little experience with organized sports and myriad troubles outside of school. For this five-part series, The Times spoke with the girls, many of their parents and relatives, school administrators and coaches.

The Carroll Academy girls basketball team had just lost by 59 points to Dresden High School, the top team in the conference. Still, Tonya Lutz, Carroll Academy’s coach, lauded her team’s effort. Randy Hatch, Carroll Academy’s day-to-day director and founder of the basketball program, reached into a pocket and slipped $20 to one of the girls, as he usually does after games.

Together, amid giggles, the nine girls on the team bounced to the snack stand in a single-file line. Patrick Steele, the school’s straight-faced security director, followed them. Over the years, Steele has overheard taunts, even racial slurs, directed at Carroll Academy students, boys and girls, from opposing fans. He escorts the players wherever they go — from the bus to the gym, to the locker rooms and bathrooms, and back to the bus.

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