Sweat trickles down my face as my foot sat right on the edge of the line, ball in hand. As the other girls stand on the sidelines, it’s just me and the basket. Everything is moving in slow motion as I spin the ball in hand and dribble once, then once more. I move my feet to be able to make the perfect shot. I take a deep breath and lift the ball up in form and shoot. With hand still in perfect form midair, I close my eyes as I hear the ball swish through the net. My teammates run up to me and pat me on the back and most even sigh in relief knowing that if I did not make this shot, the coach would have had made us run more suicides.
The team gathers up in the middle of the court to listen to coach about the upcoming game against Hamilton High. Ever since the star players left last year we’ve had to step up our game. Coach grunts in approval as he sees we are sweaty and tired. He looks around the group of girls then begins to speak, ”Two weeks ladies. We have two weeks to get you into shape and ready to face Hamilton,” Coach walks towards the middle of the circle.
“Now, I know majority of you think that this is the year we fail. Let me tell you something. Our ‘top’ players may have left last year, but we have a strong team here. I am willing to help you if you’re willing to help yourselves and stop with the slacking and the whining and start busting your asses.”
As we heard the tone of his voice we all stood up straighter.
“Two weeks until kickoff of the season and I’m determined to make sure Hamilton knows we still have a strong team that won’t back down. Let’s make sure they remember who they’re dealing with. Let’s make sure they know we have haven’t lost our game,” Coach takes one more look around. “Be here right after school. Boys have a game tomorrow so we’ll have to cut practice short. Be ready to put in a lot of work this season.” A phone starts to ring and with a tired look on Coach Derby’s face he takes off to office to take the call. As he walks off you can hear him say, ”Listen Don, the girls are giving everything they have and are improving. We just need time. That’s all we ask. Don’t take it out on them.”
That is all I could manage to make out before he heads into his office. I know what the phone call was about and I know the town wants to take away the girls team since our star players left last year. They do not want a failing team, not in this town. If we cannot pick up the slack we will not have a team before the first game even starts.
As the other girls get their bags and leave, I stay behind to put in more work. I pull up for a jump shot and close my eyes as the ball leaves my hand. I listen to it glide through the net, waiting for the ball to hit the ground. Not hearing an echo of a ball hitting the floor I open my eyes. Standing there with my ball in his hands is Elijah Johnson. Star player of the boys’ basketball team, yet not very talkative or jockey. Annoyed I ask him, “Is there a problem or can I have my ball back?”
Elijah just stands there staring at me, but not in a rude way, more like he’s analyzing me. He gives me a nod and with red tinted cheeks he finally speaks, ”Nice shot.”
He passes back the ball and walks out without looking back. I stand watching the door he just exited for a few minutes then decide it was time to head home.
The next day I wake up from my slumber and get ready for school. I enter into the school and head to my locker. As I finish grabbing my materials and head to first period I hear a voice over the intercom.
“Girls basketball team is to meet in the library during lunch.”
That’s all I heard before I zoned out the routinely announcements. Throughout the first half of the day I barely paid attention in class. All I could think about was what we would be told as we enter through the library doors. I had one more period before lunch time before I could get to hear the news that I had a gut feeling was bad news.
Lunch time arrives and I head towards the library doors seeing that some of the other girls are there. We all enter and sit, waiting for coach to enter. I sit near the back of the room taking everything in. Coach enters and he looks worn out. You can tell that he has aged since we started conditioning. He stands in front of us, looking around the room with a sorrowful look. His eyes land on mine and in a way it seemed like he was saying sorry with his look. I close my eyes as he begins to talk.
“You girls have put in so much work, so much sweat, and pain and so on,” Coach takes a moment to take a breath before he starts again, ”You all have made me proud, but the community board doesn’t have faith in you like I do. They don’t see the potential, the pain you’ve put in, all of your hard work. As a result they have made their final decision. If we don’t beat Hamilton they’re getting rid of the girls’ team.”
I feel the tears creeping out of the corner of my eyes. Not wanting to hear more of the news, I leave. Hearing Coach Derby’s voice I speed up. Turning a couple of corners and entering into the gym I lean against the wall and fall to the floor. My world has collapsed. Everything that I have worked for is gone. No matter how hard we work we won’t be able to beat Hamilton. We couldn’t even beat them last year with our star players. As I sit on the gymnasium floor I take in the court. The court where I shared many laughs, many tears and hard work with my girls. All of that gone.
When I compose myself enough I head out the doors. As I leave I stare at the ground not wanting anyone to see my mascara smeared face. Doing so I run into someone and knowing my balance is not the best I close my eyes and brace for a bruised butt, but my butt never hits the ground. I feel an arm wrapped around my body and open my eyes to see Elijah. Not letting go yet he asks, ”You okay?”
Feeling my face flare up in embarrassment I nod, ”Yeah, sorry. I wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“That’s not what I’m asking about,” He nods to the mascara smeared on my face and I look down.
“Yeah, I’m just having a bad day.”
I feel him staring at me and I quickly wipe my face then look up. Smiling I tell him, ”See, all better.”
“Just because you put a smile on your face doesn’t mean you’re better.”
He goes to walk past me and as his shoulder skims mine he whispers, ”Don’t give up on your team, don’t give up on yourself.”
I close my eyes, not wanting to cry again. When I open them and turn around to say thank you, I see nothing.