Al Hairston, athletic director, leaves his first-floor office at Garfield High School for the ``Family Room,'' where he becomes Coach Hairston. But today, Coach Hairston must wait.
Dean of Students Hairston stands in a parking lot outside his gym until he is satisfied the situation is under control. Around him are three police cars, an equal number of officers from the Seattle Police Department's East Precinct, and three still-cursing girls.
Apparently, there was a fight just before school let out. At least one of the girls does not go to Garfield. Not a routine occurrence, but no one is surprised.
``It's the full moon, probably about boys . . . it was probably over something that happened last summer,'' administrators are saying.
Hairston says nothing, just watches. More police arrive, so Hairston leaves for his room.
Garfield is a ``microcosm'' of the real world, Hairston says. Principal Perry Wilkins calls his school a ``slice of life.'' The world goes to Garfield - artists, geniuses, gang members and everyone in between. But at its heart, Garfield has great basketball players. Probably always will.
The Family Room is not so much a room as it is a shrine, located in the back of the main dressing room below Garfield's gymnasium. When Hairston took over as head coach of the Garfield boys basketball team in 1979, it was an ancient, smelly storage room.
Hairston painted it, rearranged it, decorated it and put up a blackboard, turning it into a meeting room for his players. He explained its name.
``We laugh here, and cry here about some game we should have won,'' he said. ``We've had cake and ice cream in here. And most of our misery has been in this room.''
This season hasn't had room for misery. The Bulldogs are ranked No. 1 in the state, and despite absorbing their first loss of the season last night, they are still within kissing distance of their fifth state championship of the Hairston era.
With a fifth championship would come a special distinction for Hairston. He is one of three coaches in the big-school classification to have won four. Irv Leifer from Renton and E.L. ``Squinty'' Hunter from Lewis & Clark are the others, both retired. No one has won five.
Three coaches - Bob Tate, Ron Patnoe and Fernando Amorteguy - guided the Bulldogs to a total of five state championships before Hairston. Tate won the school's first in 1955. Hairston won his first in 1980, with a team he inherited from Amorteguy, winner of two state championships.
``I just stayed out of the way and let them go undefeated,'' said Hairston, whose career record is 267-60.
The Bulldogs were 25-0 in Hairston's first championship season, one of two undefeated campaigns in school history.
Next season, Garfield and the other Metro AAA teams will become Class AA. And for that reason, Hairston said, this state tournament is special.
``I think it's going to affect the followers of the program more than the program,'' he said.
Passion. It's written, sprayed, drawn, and sketched on the walls of Garfield. The school has unintentionally become a publicly funded art gallery. Think of a mural, and it's here.
Some of the larger ones took an entire school year to complete. One of Hairston's favorites can be found in the science wing, next to the mural of the solar system.
This one fills three walls. It starts with a view of the ocean - a sea turtle, an octopus, some tropical fish - moves to prehistory - webbed and winged dinosaurs - and finishes in a meadow at full bloom, untouched by civilization. The rest of the mural, completed by another student, shows tree stumps, litter and a cityscape of Seattle, shrouded by a gritty, gray sky.
The world truly is represented in the hallways of Garfield. All of life's themes - social, scientific, commercial and aesthetic. At one corner are the flags of the nations, at another a ``transformer robot.''
``The kids want to get rid of that one,'' Hairston said.
Passion. You can hear it coming out of Room 207 every afternoon when the school's jazz band rehearses. The band has it all, timing, subtlety, and the greatest of all intangibles, swing. The band is going to the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland this summer.
Quincy Jones, known by one letter (Q) in the town known by two (L.A.), went to Garfield. In 1983, the school dedicated its auditorium, now the Quincy Jones Auditorium, to its Grammy-winning alumnus.
Jimi Hendrix was schooled at Garfield. So was Bruce Lee, and so was Debbie Armstrong, who won a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
The school has its own boat, a floating marine biology lab for its students, and is a collective character in a novel written by a local author about a high-school basketball player.
If greatness is nurtured, Garfield is its incubator.
It's no coincidence that Garfield will graduate 15 national merit scholars this spring, more than any school in the district, more than most in the state. Sixteen national merit semifinalists in Garfield's Class of '92 wait to take their places.
Garfield stands opposed to the inner-city myth: That which is worthy and wholesome moves to the suburbs. Garfield also stands in the Central District, the threshold you must cross to get from downtown Seattle to its upper-crust neighborhoods of Madrona, Leschi and Madison Park.
The street-gang influence at Garfield is also real, Hairston said, but kept in check. And he is the last to forget the teenage boy (not a student) who was stabbed in the throat at a Garfield basketball game last season.
Let Hairston remind you that Garfield is a sampling of general society, ``all races, all colors, all creeds, all kinds . . .'' There is both the beautiful and the ugly.
``The pride of the Central District. That's what we called our school,'' Levi Fisher remembered.
Fisher played basketball at Garfield, and later at Washington with current Husky Coach Lynn Nance. Fisher graduated in 1963 after winning consecutive state championships in '61 and '62. His team nearly won three in a row, but lost the state championship game, 36-29, to Blanchet. Garfield, especially its basketball team, was always the focus of the community, Fisher said.
``I have a hard time explaining it,'' said Fisher, whose nephew, Roy Fisher, plays for Cal. ``It's a feeling you have inside. I remember going out on the court, having this feeling that we were always going to win. The thought of losing never entered my mind. Patnoe hated to lose. He was a competitor. It was definitely all the attitude.''
Substitute Hairston for Patnoe, and that could be a present-day Bulldog talking. From star to scrub, this team is enveloped in winning.
``It's like we're expected to win state,'' reserve Chris Roth said. ``If we don't, it's not a successful season.
``There are a lot of younger kids around here with intentions to play basketball. When you first come out to practice, it's intimidating. When I was a freshman, I was scared. I didn't want to come out.''
It has been said that Garfield's bottom five could beat most teams' top fives. You wouldn't have dared anyone to say that in between seasons. Garfield's state runner-up team last season graduated nine seniors. Only three, Bryant Boston, Derrick Quinet and Robert Starin, returned.
What happened over the summer is pure Garfield.
In came LeNard Jones from King's High School of North Seattle, Andre Winston from Cleveland High School, and the two 6-foot-7 cousins from Houston, Texas, Joshua McMillion and Jarvis Kelley, whom Hairston called ``the best sophomore kid'' he had ever coached. All have started or are starting for Hairston.
``Luck is preparation meeting opportunity,'' Hairston said. ``We were prepared to take in those kids. They could have opted to go somewhere else.''
Jones and Winston grew up in the Central District and always wanted to play for Hairston. The cousins from Houston have mothers who live here. While in Texas, they read about Garfield in USA Today.
Hairston, 45, the kid from Detroit, the Bowling Green basketball star, the Seattle SuperSonics rookie guard, the University of Washington graduate, has taught at only one school.
``I really don't have a perspective,'' he often says.
He starts practice with a few sentences. ``Any questions?'' There are none. All Hairston has to do for the next 10 minutes is blow his whistle. He doesn't have to say much. The kids know their stuff. And they all respect their coach. Completely.
The least adorned room at Garfield is the gymnasium, cavern of the school's most celebrated extracurricular activity. There are no championship banners hanging from the rafters, no displays of conquest. There is only one thing to remind you where you are. A giant Bulldog's head, drawn on the north end of the gym, fangs bared, eyes squinting, wearing a spiked collar.
Evidence of the great teams of Garfield's past is scattered. Some of it in the Family Room, some in the aged trophy case by the main entrance to the school, still more outside Hairston's office, stowed away above some cupboards.
Outside the gym, Wilkins is dealing with the aftermath of the fight, shooing away curious onlookers.
Not every principal holsters a two-way radio, or spends a sunny afternoon watching teen-age girls get hauled off his campus in a squad car. ``You get some rough spots and some really nice smooth spots'' at Garfield, he says.
And it's not every principal who can say his basketball team has won nine - perhaps 10 by next weekend - state championships.
As Wilkins says, ``It takes something special to go to Garfield.''
GARFIELD'S TITLE RUN
-- Al Hairston, now in his 12th season at Garfield with a 267-61 record , will be trying for a record fifth state title. Garfield has won nine state titles in all.
YEAR RECORD COACH OPPONENT, SCORE ;
1987 25-4 Al Hairston Roosevelt, 63-60 ;
1986 24-3 Al Hairston Curtis, 51-41 ;
1983 21-7 Al Hairston Walla Walla, 44-42 (OT) ;
1980 25-0 Al Hairston Bellarmine, 59-53 ;
1978 20-2 Fernando Amorteguy Sammamish, 58-56 ;
1974 24-0 Fernando Amorteguy Richland, 79-67 ;
1962 16-5 Ron Patnoe Bothell, 36-34 ;
1961 19-3 Ron Patnoe Ballard, 58-51 ;
1955 17-1 Bob Tate O'Dea, 46-38 ;
# Note: The Metro League did not play in the state tournament until 1945, even though the tournament began in 1923.