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Sometimes the comments from the bleacher seats are subtle; other times they're not. McCormack, coach at CBC for three seasons now, has heard the whispers and shouts. "It's acutely unfair," says McCormack, who played with a number of black players when he was at the school in the late '70s/early '80s. "I don't think people understand the Lasallian tradition. Father La Salle, who founded the Christian Brothers, had a philosophy of teaching kids from inner cities. If people can't take that" -- he stops in frustration. CBC's school population is 3.76 percent African-American, but McCormack says that critics don't look beyond the sports teams. "They view everything by what we put out on a field or on a court," he says. "There's a commitment to ethnic backgrounds of all types of students. We don't have the same athletes as a SLUH -- never have, never will. That makes us unique. I really turn deaf ears to it."
If McCormack tunes it out, Maclin and the other players do hear it.
"Because we land in one school, they think they recruited us," says Maclin, whose public-school district was Ladue. "When we play at Ladue, all the people are calling me a traitor. I don't listen to the fans. I prove what I have to prove between the lines."
D.J. Hogue wound up at the school after his parents moved from Jefferson City back to Maplewood. Hogue's father had played at Maplewood High against McCormack and knew CBC from other relatives who'd gone to the school. "That it's three minutes from our house made it a natural choice," he says. "It was a sort of homecoming."
Johnson's mother considered several factors before deciding to send him to CBC rather than one of his other possibilities, Lutheran North and Vashon. "I had initially planned on him going to Lutheran North," Askew says. "My brothers had gone there, my niece and nephew. At the last moment, I checked around and finally decided in July. In fact, I didn't know much about basketball or football programs there. It was the most important time in Ryan's life. The stuff with girls had already started, and I thought, 'Hmmm, we don't need girls around.' And CBC was there! People say what they want to say, but parents choose CBC because of academics."
Johnson remembers things differently.
"My mom was telling you a story," he says. "She had to be pulling your leg. I went because of Justin. She knows how guys can get, showing off for them (girls). I'm sure if I went to a school with girls, it wouldn't have distracted me."
Says McCormack, "His parents wanted a good education for their son. He's gotten that. He's also a heckuva football and basketball player, too."
Whatever the reasons black basketball players attend the school, CBC teams continue to serve as a prime target for opposing fans. In the school's Metro Catholic Conference, DeSmet's and SLUH's crowds give them a verbal beating, with entire sections of fans in matching cargo pants, sweaters and haircuts chanting in unison. On the other side, city schools such as Vashon (and, just as important, their fans) take delight in beating them, for reasons that transcend athletics.
"No doubt, there's animosity within the conference," says McCormack. Says Johnson, simply, "We're the team that people love to hate."
Two days after the Vashon win, Wolverines coach Floyd Irons gave his take on what happened at UM-St. Louis, where the fans created what was nearly a Thunderdome-type environment. Sections of the audience seemed more interested in yelling at each other than in watching the game.
"The intensity is just quadrupled in that atmosphere," says Frank Cusamano, of KSDK (Channel 5) and KFNS (AM 590). "It's a big, big game atmosphere. There's a lot of people, and it's intimate at the same time."
The players catch as much heat as the refs. With a vocal portion of Vashon fans, there's a will not only to beat the other school but to dominate them. Their fans leap from their seats as if the stands have been hit by lightning when Vashon dunks. That's what they've come to see: a win, certainly, but also a dismantling of the other team's confidence.
"I think it's a different type of atmosphere when it's DeSmet-Vashon or CBC-Vashon," Irons says. "It's not the same atmosphere anywhere else we play. There's a lot more racial overtones. There's things that go beyond the court at CBC and DeSmet.
"Because there's several African-American kids at CBC, DeSmet treats them just as bad. It hardens them for the next level. It's reality. It takes a type of kid to get over that. They know what they're up against. The experience of playing a DeSmet -- the chants you hear from the student sections toward the CBC kids. I've heard them, calling them 'deseg kids.'
"I don't think a kid needs to go through that. If I had a white kid on my team, that white kid would never experience what a black kid on an all-white team experiences when he plays against a DeSmet."