Without a home court or a school mascot to call its own, the basketball season is a long and anonymous road trip for the Canterbury School. But with a 20-year-old rookie head coach, the area's leading scorer and a 12-2 record, the small school in Accokeek, Md., is beginning to make a name for itself.
Sitting in the headmaster's office of the Canterbury School, Chris Chaney looks more like a student awaiting disciplinary action than a high school coach.
The boyish looks, the whiskerless face complete with blemishes and frequent blushes, the eyes that stare at his feet when his voice sometimes cracks and the habit of calling his elders "mister" and "sir" -- all of these give away Chaney's youth.
But when the Canterbury basketball team takes the court, Chaney heads to the coach's seat and stalks the sideline in a coat and tie like a 20-year veteran.
Thus far, he's been successful in his rookie year, guiding his team to a 5-0 record in the Washington Small School League as part of its 12-2 campaign.
Chaney looks like a student, and he is -- a sophomore majoring in history at the University of Maryland-Baltimore County. Although only a few years separate him from his players, Chaney said that from the start he's had little trouble earning their respect.
"I told them my age and where I played high school," Chaney said of his first address to the team. "I wasn't going to be easy on them, and I told them not to take me lightly just because I'm only a couple of years older than them.
"They grew to like me and respect me. The team keeps winning, so I guess they can't argue with that."
Chaney played two varsity seasons at Southern High School in Harwood, Md., where, as a senior, he captained the team and averaged 15 points as a shooting guard.
His athletic skills continue to shine in a different area -- tennis. As a high school senior, he was Anne Arundel County singles champion and he attends UMBC on a tennis scholarship.
Chaney said he "could have played Division III basketball," but opted for Division I tennis, a decision that kept him from basketball his freshman year in college. Coaching, thought Chaney, was a way to get back into the sport.
Originally, Chaney wanted to return to his alma mater as an assistant, but, because he was under 21 and didn't have the necessary training, he couldn't coach in a public school. His former coach at Southern, Tom Albright, suggested he try a private school, and Canterbury was the first one he called.
"Chris came and he was very energetic about pushing his candidacy, and I kind of liked the way he was doing it, so we hired him" for the vacated position, said Headmaster Heinz Bondy.
Not surprisingly, Chaney's coaching style is similar to that of Albright, featuring a lot of running and a 1-3-1 trap defense designed to create turnovers.
"Chris has been a special kid," said Albright. "He understood what you could and couldn't do in a game situation" compared with other high school players. "He was a student of the game. He knew game plans to the last detail."
Rather than hampering his studies, Chaney says his coaching commitment has forced him "to be more disciplined and budget my time in school."
The Canterbury School has 65 students in grades seven through 12 and a faculty of seven. Primarily a preparatory school, Canterbury lacks funds and facilities for a strong athletic program, said Bondy.
For example, behind the main building on the grounds of Christ Episcopal Church, which founded the school 30 years ago, stands an indoor-outdoor basketball court, with a concrete surface, fiberglass, fan-shaped backboards, no walls and a sheet-metal roof.
Because weather is often a problem, the team sometimes practices at a nearby naval ordnance facility in La Plata. Because of the Persian Gulf War, Chaney needed to get security clearance for his team to practice there.
Without a gym, Chaney holds practice only twice a week, including the day before a game. "At practice, we scrimmage a lot and try to work on what we need to do to win the next game," said Chaney, who lives with his parents in Lothian, Md. "We're usually ready."
Chaney has the area's leading scorer, sophomore guard Preston Rucker (38.8 average), and freshman Terrell Holliway (20.3) in his backcourt. Together they account for 77 percent of Canterbury's scoring average of 76.6 points a game.
Rucker, who transferred from Eastern High School this fall, "is a real good outside shooter, an excellent scorer and passer, but right now I'm working on his defense," Chaney said.
Bondy, who admits to being overprotective where his students are concerned, said he prefers the 6-foot-1 Rucker not be singled out because he believes it's important to maintain a "team atmosphere" and because he doesn't want "these kids to think that because they're getting some publicity, that basketball is their future. Their future is really in academics.
"I just don't want them to start dreaming about the NBA and thinking, 'We don't have to study because we're basketball players.' The chances of that happening are much smaller here" at Canterbury.