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A New Sport
After my 8th grade graduation, summer came and went, and then it was time to start high school. I, like the average freshman, was extremely nervous. First, there was the social aspect: my old school had thirty people per class, and Chaminade had nearly three hundred. I really didn’t know anyone except for one girl, and since we didn’t have any classes together that year, we hardly ever saw each other. Then, I was unsure about the academics. I heard of people pulling all-nighters a few times a week, and I didn’t want to work during the wee hours.
For the first month I hated school; I hated waking up earlier, I hated the immense crowds, I hated not knowing anyone, starting from scratch, and having to always be energetic, perky, and friendly. Although I was coping with the work load, there was something else that was weighing down my mind: field hockey.
It had been my mother’s idea. She had thought about my future in applying to colleges, and took it upon herself to make sure my schedule was jam-packed. The best way to do this, she reasoned, was for me to join field hockey. I wanted to do volleyball—I had played it for six years, and wasn’t bad. But my mother saw my height and knew I was too short. I wanted to do cross country—there were no height limitations there. Again, my mother said no: she told me that I wasn’t a runner. “But at least I know how to run!” I argued. “I don’t know how to play field hockey!” It made no difference. My mother bought me a field hockey stick and stranded me on the field the night after my first day of high school.
Inwardly cursing my mother, I tentatively walked up to a group of girls, all laughing at something one of them just said. They grew quieter as I walked up, but still held the smiles on their faces. I drew up all my courage to say: “Hi, I’m Caroline. You guys play field hockey, right?”
I waited for them to burst out laughing and say that they were part of another team: softball, maybe, or track. But instead a girl, a broad grin stretched across her face, stood up and said, “Yeah, that’s us. I’m Evy, I think you’re in my Film class.”
I nodded, trying to remember if she actually was. I really had no idea if she had been, but I agreed anyway, for lack of knowing what else to say.
“And I’m Tito,” said another girl, smiling at me. What kind of name is that? I wanted to ask. But I didn’t. Later, she explained to me that her real name was Nikhita, but the team called her Taquito, Tito for short. She continued, “Where are you from? And why are you playing field hockey?”
A few murmured they’d been wondering the same thing.
I grasped for the bucket floating in the well of chattiness inside of me, and answered: “I went to Saint Martin of Tours, in Brentwood? I moved here a month ago. And I play soccer, and one of my teammates plays field hockey and she told me it’s really similar.” I didn’t mention I was being forced to be there right now.
Even through that small introduction, all of them accepted me into their little huddle, and I rode the wave of conversation until the coach showed up. Again, I introduced myself, stated my slightly abridged reasons for being there, and then I was sent into drills with the others. I tried to do well. But it was so difficult! To use a thin stick to hit a heavy yet small ball was no easy task, and I knew I looked silly attempting it. I was easily the worst one, and that was the part I hated most of all. Being horrible at something I didn’t want to learn in the first place made my stomach curl into knots and gave me the urge to sit down, cry, and give up.
But the one thing that kept me going was the girls. They were so easy to talk to, so nice. I met others, some sophomores, some juniors, some seniors. But the friendliest were the freshman. They began to be the ones I would say hi to in the hallways, the ones who would sit next to me in class, and the ones I hung around with during the first dance of the year.
There was another girl, who I instantly deemed an expert at field hockey. Maybe it was the way she held her stick, or the way she talked to me about her favorite types of sticks, or the way she knew all the rules of the game and took the time to describe them to me. Her name was Bree. She and one of her friends, Chelsea, befriended me, taught me, and gave me an enthusiasm for the sport.
However, the real turning point was when I had somehow earned a few minutes of playing time from my coach. It truly did help that I was in shape from soccer, and I found out it was the same strategies as soccer players used. There was a breakaway, and I sprinted back to the goal to stop the point that was surely about to be scored. I caught up with the girl and tried to “jab” at the ball, which was a field hockey technique. I missed the ball several times, instead illegally hitting her stick. It wasn’t called, fortunately. But it was enough to slow her down, and once she was going at a mere walking pace, it was much easier to actually push the ball away.
From then on, I was a player who was guaranteed some playing time; since I had little skill, I think it was because of my effort. That gave me high spirits that I had accomplished what other people consider a negligible success, and soon the rest of my high school problems corrected themselves and my life fell into an effortless routine. And thanks, Mom, for forcing me out of the car onto the field, making me face my cowardice, and pushing me to live to my fullest potential.
Highland Park, IL