HOUSTON (March 29) — Cinderella has taken over the Big Dance in the NCAA Final Four basketball championship this coming weekend. And not only will she be beautifully coifed, but she’ll also know how to drive safely, how to make clay pottery and how to count to ten in Spanish.
None of the four teams that will play for the men’s collegiate hoops title were expected to survive this far into the tournament. Top seeds and traditional powerhouses alike fell before inspired efforts by some of the smallest schools ever to make it this far in the annual 68-team competition.
In this Saturday’s first semifinal game, the Paul Mitchell Cosmetology School of Akron, Ohio, will face off against the World Famous Comedy Traffic School of Los Angeles. The evening matchup will pit Sunshine Divine’s Pottery Cooperative of Bangor, Maine, against Mrs. Haroldson’s third-grade Spanish immersion class from Delray Beach Elementary School in Florida.
“We didn’t even watch the tournament selection show on television, that’s how small we thought our chances were,” said coach and teacher Mrs. Haroldson. “It was only when one of the kids came in the next morning holding his father’s brackets and shouting ‘¡mira aqui!’ (look here!) that we knew we had made the tournament.”
Mrs. Haroldson said her class will often use some of their recess time playing with one of those multi-hole playground contraptions, throwing whatever balls, rocks or clumps of dirt they had handy into the hoops. She thinks it’s this experience that has allowed her collection of seven- and eight-year-olds to knock off the likes of Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown in the run-up to the Final Four.
Opposing the children will be members of fabric artist and potter Sunshine Devine’s collective of aging hippie women from coastal New England. This group of 18-20 regulars has met every Tuesday night for over a year to learn how to turn unmolded wet clay into carefully crafted ceramics that often sell for upwards of $40 to $50 in the gift and curio shop run by Devine’s cousin.
“We got a lot of people into our little group by offering a free first lesson at throwing pottery. We called it ‘free throw’ night,” Devine said. “I guess I didn’t understand the basketball connection at the time, but we’ve really come on strong since then. Especially since (6-11 center) Windsong Anderson has developed into such a force in the paint.”
The first contest Saturday could be the more exciting match of the evening, when GED graduates from lower-class northeastern Ohio neighborhoods do battle with California drivers forced to attend traffic school to regain their licenses following DUI convictions. The beauty school attendants cite their experience of “being around basketball-shaped heads all day” as a primary reason for their rise to the top of the sport. The traffic school attendees claim their ability to weave in and out of traffic on crowded freeways has given them the knack to break free from the crowd and crash the glass in an attempt to claim rebounds.
“We’re the easiest online traffic school in the state. We show lots of videos and require very little reading,” said coach and actor/comedian Regan Burns, who also goes by the name “Captain Traffic.” “That gives our students’ minds the chance to wander, and set up some awfully creative inbound plays.”
LaTonya Carter, assistant professor of toenails and leg waxing at the Mitchell School, thinks her group of “wide bodies,” as she calls them, will allow the Fightin’ Beauticians to prevail in what’s expected to be a physical, defensive contest.
“Don’t you try to get all up in our grills, because we’ll beat you down,” Carter said. “My girls will put yo’ haid through the hoop just as easily as they’d put a basketball there.”