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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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When Children Are Caught in the Cycle, Not All Can Be Saved

Always alert to the movements of the players, particularly at road games, he was in his element. He scanned the faces in the crowd. He searched for hints of trouble.

But to him, it was not an issue of race. It was an issue of keeping the students safe. And right now, the girls were behind a closed door, gathered in a circle with their arms locked at the elbows, receiving last-minute instructions from their coach and bowing their heads in prayer.

They were safe.

So Steele, 53, stood near the baseline, outside the locker room minutes before the game, and looked pleased to be there. He let slip a sliver of a smile.

Those girls in the locker room? They were not just basketball players. To Steele, they were something of himself.

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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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From the New York Times’ John Branch: Carroll Academy Basketball: ‘It Ain’t About the Record’

Carroll Academy is in Huntingdon, about 100 miles east of Memphis and 100 miles west of Nashville in West Tennessee. It is a strictly run day school with about 80 students operated by the Carroll County Juvenile Court, filled with teenagers trying to work their way back to their home schools with the velvet-hammered guidance of parole officers and people like Lutz, Hatch and Steele.

Among the nine girls on the Carroll Academy basketball team, only one lives with both her mother and her father. A seventh grader, she lived with her parents and two younger siblings at a grandmother’s house, having been evicted from one trailer and waiting to move into another.

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