The most delectable irony of all for Pat Harris? When she wanted to play basketball as a student at Oxon Hill High School in the late '60s, there was no girls team. Now she coaches the boys at her alma mater -- the first female coach of a boys varsity basketball team in Maryland.

"I find it kind of funny, actually," said Harris, 39. "I certainly wish we had {a team then}. The girls really don't appreciate it today. It's just not pushed in this country."

As coach and builder of girls programs at Crossland, Central and Friendly, Harris pushed her players to the limit for 16 years. Her teams made the playoffs in all eight years at Crossland, never seeded lower than No. 2. Her last Friendly squad was a Maryland regional finalist.

Harris, who graduated from Frostburg State, says she had every intention of returning to Friendly for the 1990-91 season, until a friend suggested she apply for a job opening at Oxon Hill two weeks into the school year.

"I remember saying, 'The boys? Are you sure? The boys?' " Harris said with a laugh.

Oxon Hill Athletic Director Christine Johnson did not hesitate to hire her to replace Carrington Smith, who left to become an administrator at Potomac.

"I knew she was quite capable and knowledgeable at her position," Johnson said. "I had a lot of people calling me, but I never really opened up the job, preferring to hire from within {the county}. Her authority is respected and well-recognized around the school."

Harris's performance on the sideline two weeks ago during Oxon Hill's season-opening 86-72 loss to Forestville also was recognizable. She danced, gyrated, quarreled with officials and solved problems.

"There was one time when we had a problem getting the ball up the court, so coach called time out," senior forward David Alston said. "She solved it immediately, and we got several layups in a row."

But all the coaching in the world may not help a team that has graduated most of the top players who led the Clippers to a 19-1 record two years ago. Oxon Hill is 0-3 following losses to Forestville, Crossland and Eleanor Roosevelt. But win or lose, Harris sticks with her trademark: pressure defense.

"She'll keep pushing, nice at first, but if she sees you're taking advantage, she'll get mean," said Alston, who scored 12 points against Forestville, six against Crossland.

"If we learn to play defense, we can beat anybody," Harris said. "It's a learning thing."

Forestville Coach Gary McCorkle said Harris coached well in the opener, but admitted that his team had an added incentive.

"She recognized her team's strengths -- quickness, pressing ability -- and used them well," he said. "Her boys are well-disciplined, but our boys read the papers too. They wanted to be a part of history, but not in a bad way. They wanted to win."

Harris says her reception by the other coaches has been smooth for the most part, and she disregards any whispers.

"No one will say anything to my face," she said. "I heard that another coach said, 'I'm not going to be beaten by any damn woman.' Wait a minute, I'm not playing, the boys are.

"I asked my own boys whether it would be a motivational factor to play a team coached by a woman," she added. "They said, yes, not by losing the game, but by {their} coach's reaction. Maybe I should use it as a factor, coaching against a man."

So are there any differences in a boys team coached by a woman?

"Only in the locker room it's different," senior forward Greg Moore said. "We talk outside, but it's different to go back and get dressed by yourself. There's no coach in there, so you can goof off a little more."

Added Alston: "She has to wait for us to put on our uniforms to give us a pep talk."

Harris says all her preconceived notions about coaching boys have gone out the window: "I thought boys would grasp things faster. They don't. I thought boys would have higher skill levels. They don't. I thought boys could play defense better, but I am starting out with conventional man-to-man. The girls I coached before played more intricate defenses."

Harris's biggest supporter has been Johnson, who coaches volleyball at Oxon Hill.

"I wanted to do this myself, many years ago," Johnson said. "I'm pulling for her, being a female A.D. and all. She's happy, the kids are happy. That's all that matters."