A wooden case full of trophies and other awards rest against a wall in the main hall at the Academy of Holy Cross High School for Girls. To the left of the case a bulletin board is filled with clippings lauding the achievements of the successful basketball squad of the Tartans.
Having won 65 of 69 games the past three years (11 this year with no losses), the topic of the day might center on basketball.
Actually, this majority of the 510 girls at the Rockville school would rather discuss computer technology, the Pythagorean Theory or the energy situation.
"Fortunately, winning basketball games has produced no radical changes at the school," said the principal, Sister Anna Mae Golden. "We are an acdemically oriented school and 92 per cent of our students attend college. The tuition is about $1,000 per year and may be one or two girls may come here merely to play basketball. That doesn't bother me. If I thought everybody did, that would bother me."
It has been only in the last three years that girls basketball at Holy Cross, or any area high school, has surfaced as a major activity.
Holy Cross was established in the District of Columbia in 1868 and built its fine academic reputation before expansion forced a relocation in Rockville 22 years ago. The two-tiered building resembles a miniature college atop a hill away from car horns and pedestrian traffic. The school is surrounded by 27 acres of grassy, rolling hills, tall trees and enough shrubbery to fill dozens of greenhouses.
"No, there aren't many distractions here," said Sister Golden.
What impresses her and basketball coach Bill Sheahan is the calm, almost nonchalant manner that the players have handled their acclaim.
Now that women's athletics in college has turned the corner and scholarship money is available, many high school girl athletes are being wooed by college recruiters. Sheahan handles all the phone calls and visits from the colleges and refuses to let that interfere with the private lives of his players.
The girls know what is more important to them. And that's one reason we don't need team rules, said Sheahan. Five seniors earned scholarships last year. "The girls set their standards and abide by them. Most are in the Honor Society and take greater pride in that."
Tish Schlapo proves Sheahan's point minutes before an afternoon practice session when she ran in to announce she would be 15 minutes late because she had to attend her Honor Society meeting.
"See what I mean," said Sheahan, laughing. "She was going anyway but at least she asked my permission."
Sheahan, an insurance agent, took over the coaching position three years ago at the suggestion of his daughter Debbie, then a student at Holy Cross.
"I had coached CYO, Boys Club and my daughter for years," said Sheahan.
"It was a good opportunity for me," he said, "and I wanted to see if the girls could accept the challenge of playing like boys.
His first change was to double the school's schedule from 15 to 30 games a season. He also coaches a man-to-man defense instead of the customary 3-2 or 2-1-2 zone most of the girls had employed since elementary school.
"The games served as practice, too. One main thing the boys have the girls don't is court sense that only comes with playing the game," Sheahan said. "And by playing more games, more different situations come up and the girls can learn."
Another reason for Sheahan's success is his coaching philosophy.
"How can we win a game if we can't get along together?" he asked. "Every player has to have a role on the team. And she should be made to feel proud of it, whether she's a starter or the team cheerleader."
"You root for the other players when they're in the game and they root for you when you're playing," said reserve Denise Lerch, a 5-foot-10 senior. "When I started playing, all I had been taught was to rebound and throw it to a guard. Now, I've had a chance to work on a few other things and I'm a lot more confident when I go in now."
Last year, no player averaged more than 14 points a game but five earned full college scholarships. This season, 6-foot-1 junior Chrissy Reese, an All-Met last year, is the team's leading scorer with a 13.5 average.
Holy Cross has won 75 per cent of its games by lop-sided scores so the starter usually played only two quarters.
"When we jump ahead, I want my girls to think about the other team. They practice like we do and are trying their best and it's doesn't do anything for us or them to beat them in the ground," said Sheahan. "On, we want to win each time we walk on the floor but not at the expense of embarrasing the other team."
The Holy Cross players rarely miss practice because they know they'll play in the games, regardless of the score.
"That's why we're so close, Everybody knows they'll get a chance to play," said senior point guard Annette Allor. "And everyone has confidence in each other. Everyone feels she can step in and do the job."
In their biggest game of the year, the Tartans trailed Interhigh champion Eastern for three periods in the IAABC Christmas Tournament championship game before pulling out a 52-48 victory.
"We didn't quit. Coach Sheahan just told us to take our time and play together," said Allor. "They were tough but I didn't think for a minute they would beat us."
That type of confidence is carried over in the classrooms.
"The girls are excellent students. And at the same time, the basketball team's success gives us a common bond of discussion, too," said Father Dvorsky, a math instructor. "It helps the morale and gives the teachers an opportunity to know the player as a person rather than just a body in a chair. I still want to know why our substitute point guard couldn't break a press Sherwood."
Sister Davida, former basketball coach and athletic director at Holy Cross, says she is overjoyed to see the girls running full court now and demonstrating a variety of skills.
"I always preferred the boys' way, but we had to play the half-court game," she said. "We won our share, but not like Mr. Sheahan."
It was easy to pick out Holy Cross last year. It was the only school in the area to play basketball dressed in the old-fashioned tunics or dresses.
"The girls voted to wear shorts this year but except for the ball bouncing off the dress once in awhile or a defender grabbing one of the girls by th big bows in the back, the tunics didn't bother us that much," said Sheahan."We didn't look like everybody else but they knew who we were when the game was over."
Sheahan insists he is rebuilding after he lost four starters.
"We're very young but we'll still play anybody," said Sheahan. "We welcome the competition and the exposure. "We only start one senior. Next year, we'll be pretty good."