In Sacramento, the locals refer to the area simply as The Heights. Its more formal name is Del Paso Heights, or just plain Northern Sacramento to strangers.
Nestled between high-tech Sacramento--as in the new Kings Arena, home of the National Basketball Assn. team--and upper-class suburbia, The Heights sits a couple minutes north of the American River. The State Capitol Building is located another 10 minutes down the road.
Just off The Heights' main strip on Marysville Boulevard sits Grant High School, the home of the Pacers. An inner-city school with an enrollment of barely 1,200 students, Grant is a school with a winning tradition in sports.
"The area might not be the highest class in Sacramento," a Sacramento writer said, "but they sure have a lot of pride in their teams."
Like most teams at Grant, the girls' basketball team is good. This year, it won the Division I Northern Regional championship last weekend and will meet Point Loma for the state championship at 6:15 Saturday in the Oakland Coliseum Arena.
Two years ago, in the Pacers' first visit to the state championships, they were beaten by Buena High School of Ventura in the Division I title game. Less than a week later, Grant's coach Don Boyce was fired.
Felix Duncan, a Grant graduate now in his second year as the coach, wasn't around when Boyce was let go. And he says he's not too worried about losing his job Saturday.
"I don't know exactly why Don was let go," Duncan said. "Let's just say that I was in the right place at the right time to take over."
Then Duncan laughed: "No, I'm not too worried about losing my job if we lose this week."
Instead, Duncan is worried about trying to stop Point Loma's run of state championships at two.
"I've heard a lot about them and I don't like what I hear," Duncan said. "They sound pretty tough to me."
But Duncan's Grant Pacers are tough, too. After all, The Heights is a tough neighborhood and all of Duncan's players are home-grown.
"Hey, when you come in here to play, you know that you've been in a ballgame," Duncan said. "These kids go wild up here for their teams."
This season, the Pacers were 30-5, defeating Bella Vista, 55-46, for the Northern Regional Championship last Saturday. The victory put an end to one of the season's fiercest rivalries.
Bella Vista and Grant played five times this season and the Pacers won only twice. One win was for the Capital Athletic League championship and the other sent them on the road to Oakland.
"I think the kids from the two schools have developed a unique friendship," Duncan said. "They're more like the upper-class suburbia kids and we're more inner-city. But, by the end of the season, they all had a great deal of respect for each other."
Duncan plays 10 players a game, using two different groups of five. Tasha Irby is the top scorer with 13.3 points a game and Debra Anderson is the leading rebounder with 16.0 rebounds a game.
"People always think that Grant is an undisciplined bunch," Duncan said. "But that hasn't been the case this year. This is the best team I've ever had in reference to character and personality. It's a great program."
This is literally a program which has arisen from ashes. In 1974, the gym burned to the ground--Duncan said it was because of faulty wiring--and for two years, the school had no home court.
"The gym that burned down was so unique," Duncan said. "It was one of those two-story buildings with all-wooden bleachers that seated about 5,000 people. When it burned down, the people in this community worked very hard to get us a new one."
In two years, Grant had a new gym. However, its biggest concern right now is Saturday's game down the road in Oakland.