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I woke up bright and early to the sound of my blaring alarm clack. I sat at the edge of my bed and looked at my bedroom. Next time I throw a party with the guys, I should really think about cleaning up after wards. There were soda cans and food wrappers all over the floor, along some of my trophies thrown about. I picked up a picture frame that had fallen over. There I was in high school, I used to be the water boy of the school’s football team, now I was a coach. I wonder what some of the guys on the football team from high school would think about me now. I turned to the clock and saw that it was now 4:45 in the morning. I would have to shower soon, otherwise I would be late for work. I rinsed quickly and strapped on my blue and white tennis shoes and headed out the door. I always did my morning jog before heading towards the school, because I wanted my body to be ready for the day’s activities. As I was jogging, I started to think about the try-outs for the Girl’s basketball team today.
The Girl’s basketball team was not exactly the cream of the crop, especially last year’s. Last year’s team had only won two games the entire season. Although, that year was awful, there were many other years even worst than last, like one year almost the whole team was suspended for vandalizing the bathrooms. I never really looked forward to the try-outs, either. Believe it or not, their try-outs were actually worse than their playing. As soon as I stepped into the gym, the shocked and nervous girls lose control of the basketballs and many start hurdling towards me in a painful manner. One year it was so bad, there were so many basketballs head towards me, I could not feel my face for nearly a week.
After my jog, I made my way toward the high school, at which I worked. The high school itself had a long proud history, besides the Girl’s Basketball Team. Some of the most intelligent and successful people graduated from this school. The school colors were navy blue, and white, which were the colors of the actual building. The building was navy blue in color, and in the front of the school with bold, white letters it read “ Jefferson High School ”. Actually, the school’s motto was Carpe Diem.
Once I arrived at the gym, covered in blue mats with silver benches, I noticed a line of gossiping girls; obviously, there were going to try out for basketball.
In order for a student to try-out for any sport, they must arrive early in the gym. Then, if they can’t arrive early in the gym, then they have all day ‘til 3:30. The chances of you being chosen for the team, depends almost entirely on what time you arrive for try-outs.
I blew my whistle to quiet the noise. “Alright, girls. This morning you are to complete 25 push-ups, five laps in the gym, and ten baskets! Go!” With that, they immediately started on their push-ups. It wasn’t until then, that I realized there were only five girls that showed up to try-out. This would not do, the team would need at least ten people, not counting back-ups! Hopefully, there would be more girls that showed up. Luckily, in the morning, I had revised the try-out requirements that would allow me to leave the gym in one piece.
I waited all day, while the students played dodge ball. I couldn’t help but feel a little nervous about the girls that would try-out. That would mean another season of torture and humiliation. Unless, I could’ve devised a way to improve their playing, everything would be a disaster as always. Lost in my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed a girl come into my office. It was lunch time, and I was peeling my orange.
“Can I try-out?” She asked bashfully.
“Oh, yes. Sure, give me a minute.”
The girl had long, light brown hair that reached her waist. She had light blue eyes that sparkled with glee. After I got up and headed inside the gym, I told her what she needed to do.
“25 push-ups, five laps around the gym, and ten baskets.”
She quickly finished her try-out in less than ten minutes. I was amazed at her speed, and she didn’t seem at all tired.
“I have never played basketball before.” She said.
“You’re kidding!” She had shown amazing talent.
“Nope, and I’m going to do whatever it takes to join the basketball team.”
At first, I though about telling her that there probably wasn’t going to be a team, but decided not to. Only the next morning did I really know what she meant.
I woke up the next day, remembering that it was time for the Boy’s basketball Try-outs. I needed to get there even earlier, so I could post a message on the bulletin board. I went out for my daily jog, and started thinking about the decision I would have to make tonight. The Boy’s Basketball team was always the hardest decision to make all year. After I finished my jog, I headed to the school. There was a strange feeling in the put of my stomach, telling me that today was going to be very awkward.
I opened the gym door and peered inside. There was already a line of boys, waiting for instructions. I gave them their exercises, and watched as they tried out. Everything was going fine, until later that morning. The boys were jogging around the gym, when a girl appeared at the gym of the door. I looked at the face, and noticed it was strangely familiar. Suddenly, it hit me; it was the girl who had never played basketball! There she was, standing tall and straight, all 5’4” of her. She looked proud to be here, with her glistening blue jersey. She approached me with a large smile.
“Am I late, coach?” she asked.
“I don’t know what you’re doing here, but this is not the Girls’ Basketball Team try-outs. That was yesterday, and you should know that.” I replied.
“What do you mean you don’t know what I’m doing here? I’m here to try-out, of course!”
“Look, you apparently can’t read. There is a sign that says ‘ Boys’ Basketball Team try-outs’. Last time I checked, you are not a boy.”
“I can read. I decided that if I can’t join the Girls’ Basketball team, I will settle for the Boys’.”
Images of last year’s team winning a cup and a girl completing destroying it filled my mind.
“You can’t try-out for this team.”
“Sure I can, watch me.”
She certainly wasn’t going to leave this gym without trying- out, so I let her. I gave her the exercises and watched as she quickly caught up with the boys. She finished and came up to me.
“Girl, you can’t be serious.”
“Well, I’m certainly not joking either, now am I?”
“That certainly is the truth, but could you do me one favor?”
“Sure, anything coach!”
“Please fill out the try-out sheet?”
Since she had come very late to the try-outs, she had not grabbed the try-out sheet. The try-out sheet contained the players’ physical, name, age, grade, and any other after-school activities they joined that might interfere with basketball games. She quickly filled out the form, and handed it to me as she skipped out of the gym. I looked at the form and read her name, Fate Liberty.
I thought about the try-outs the whole day. When I arrived home that night, I had already chosen eleven players. I was very perturbed at who would get to be the last center on the team; it had to be someone good, someone that could bring up the team quickly. I ate thoughtfully through dinner, thinking about Fate’s try-out. I’m going to do whatever it takes to join the basketball team. I was so into my thoughts, I hadn’t noticed that I spilled soup all over my pants. I snapped back to reality long enough to clean up the soup and get ready for bed.
There were good players out there, I remembered my college coach’s best pupil. His name was David; he was a stupendous basketball player! When he picked up that ball, there was no messing around. Basketball was so important to him; he got a full scholarship to Louisiana State University . No one could believe how passionate he was about basketball, that’s all that was on his mind. Basketball practice tonight, basketball game next month, basketball practice canceled.
I sat there reminiscing for a while before coming to a decision. I would type out the notice and put it on the bulletin board first thing when I arrived tomorrow morning. I was sure my decision was the right one.
I the morning, I realized I hadn’t set my alarm clock at night, so I was going to be late. I quickly put on my gym clothes, grabbed a handful of energy bars, and headed out the door. After running for ten minutes, I realized I had left my gym bag at home. I ran back, struggled with the lock, and headed straight for the school, not thinking about continuing the jog. I went into the printing office, and noticed the extremely long line of teachers waiting to print out their notices. When I finally arrived at the front of the line, I quickly grabbed my notice and ran to the bulletin board. I pinned it on and left to prepare for the day’s activities.
I was sitting in my office; I had just finished lunch, and now had my feet on my desk with a satisfied appetite. I was drinking from my water bottle when my door was slammed open. I turned to see Fate; she had the bulletin notice in her hands with a very large grin.
“Thank you, coach! Thank you for putting my on the team!” Fate screeched.
I put my feet on the floor and turned to her
“That was not me, girl. That was all you. But getting on the team is just half the battle.”
She gave me a bewildered expression. “What do you mean?”
I walked over to my door and opened it so Fate could see the team warming up.
“You see them?” I asked.
“They’re all boys, right?” I asked.
“What’s your point?”
“Right?” I asked, sternly
She dropped her eyes to the floor and replied. “ Yes, yes they are."
“Those boys are not going to treat like a boy. They’re going to treat you like a disease, something nobody wants to be near. Understand?”
She simply nodded.
“Now look at me,” I said, pulling up her chin,” Are you prepared? Are you prepared at what they throw at you? Can you handle what they are going to say? Are you going to show them, you can be on this team?”
Fate thought for a while. She looked back at the team then, with intrepidity flooding her face, she said “Yes!”
I smiled and replied,” Good, because I can’t come telling them all the time to treat like a member. You have to do that yourself. “
“Got it, coach! I won’t let you down!” Fate added.
She shut the door softly, and left. If only David saw her, he would be impressed.
We had our first game a week after try-outs. From only being on the team a week, I could tell the guys were really beating Fate. They would not permit her to use the same basket as them, pass the ball with them, or even drink from the same fountain. On the night of the big game, I just had to drag in the team for a little pep talk.
“Alright everyone, huddle up! I want to have a little talk with you guys.”
The team moaned but they seen gathered in a circle around me.
“Listen to me, you guys. I know this is our first game; I completely understand that we haven’t had all that much to practice. But I will say one thing ‘we can do this’. Listen, we can do this. You have to understand that no one on this team is a girl, a guy, or anything. I chose everyone on this team because of how well the played, not by what gender they were. We are not basketball players. We are a team! Now, let’s get out there and win that trophy!”
The whole team then gathered and put there hands in the middle. After we stacked hands, they all yelled “Go Cougars!” Then, they were off, all fired up and ready for a fight.
After the game, the whole team was hopping with joy as they held the gold trophy. Everyone was overexcited that they had won their first game. Now, started their first argument, who should take home the trophy first?
“I think that since I am a forward, I should take it home first.” Argued Jefferson
“No way! Without me, you wouldn’t be able to take a break! Back-ups are the best; I should take it home first!” Yelled Bobby
I couldn’t take the arguing anymore, I walked into the locker room and blew my whistled. Everyone groaned as the covered their ears.
“What are you guys fighting about?”
“Uh, Coach Tanner. We are discussing who should take the trophy home first.”
“That’s what you’re fighting over? Alright, here’s a way to settle this. Who scored the first basket?”
“Fate.” Everyone said in unison.
“Who worked the hardest?” I asked
“So, who takes the trophy home first?”
“Hold on, coach. Why does Fate get to take it home first? She’s… She’s a girl.” Jefferson asked.
“Whoa! Are my ears really hearing this? Jefferson , I can’t believe you just said! Jefferson , I discussed this before the game. No on here is a girl or a boy. Everyone here is a team. So Jefferson , let me tell you something. The next game that we have, why don’t you sit on the benches. Let’s let Bobby have a chance to stretch his legs. End of conversation.”
“What part of end, don’t you understand? Now come on everyone, let’s go home. We still have practice on Wednesday.”
With those last words, everyone left; including Jefferson mumbling under his breathe about “Fairness”. From that night on, Fate started talking to me more than any other player on the team.
From what she had told me, she lived with her father and seven brothers. Her father had gone on a scholarship in soccer. Her seven brothers had their own sport, such as: soccer, hockey, swimming, baseball, tennis, wrestling, and golf, all of which Fate had tried. All of Fate’s brothers had found passion in one sport they were really talented in, Fate did really well in any of these sports, but she just didn’t feel the magic her brothers felt. After that game, I could just see it in Fate’s eyes that Fate had found her sport.
Fate walked into practice ten minutes late as usual. Everyone was already warming up, I walked in front of them and said
“Alright, today is Captain Day. Today, we choose our team captain! Anyone want to be a candidate? Just keep in mind, this captain must be good. They must be the best player on our team. They must be our secret weapon.”
Three boys raised their hands, Jefferson , Aldercy, and Bobby.
“Alright you three, get up here. All those in favor of Jefferson ?”
No one raised their hands.
“This is strange, Bobby?”
No one raised their hands.
“Well then who do you guys want to be team captain?”
The team left me alone for a little while, I listened as they murmured a decision. They all came back with an agreement on their decision.
“We have come to a decision, Coach Tanner.”
“Who is it?”
“Fate.” They said in unison.
“Fate it is, get on up here!”
A scarlet faced Fate came up to the front of the group. I placed the badge on her jersey and continued practice.
Then, the most tragic event happened. It was the night of our final game, the one that would continue the Boys’ Basketball Team’s tradition. The one that would put us in the paper, give us another trophy for our cabinet. The night that all our practice’s improvements would show, an atrocious event happened.
I had gotten up and put on the school’s uniform for the basketball game. I picked up my gym bag and headed outside to get to my car. I normally didn’t drive my car, but the distance was far and I couldn’t run that far. The team was going to meet up at the school, where we would then take attendance and get into the bus to drive us to “ Alamo dome Stadium”. It was a well respected stadium and would be perfect for tonight’s game. Luckily, it was still in town and it would less expensive to enter. I arrived at the gym and waited for the entire team to show up. The whole team was there and Bobby took attendance.
“Sir, we only have eleven players.”
“Who are we missing?”
“Fate. No one received any information why she’s not here. She was fine in school today.”
“Alright, then Bobby can you watch the team. I need to make a phone call.”
I stepped into my office and dialed Fate’s phone number. I was anxious when they didn’t pick up on the third ring, finally on the fifth they picked up.
“Hello?” A deep voiced man answered.
“This is Fate’s coach, I was wondering where Fate is.”
“Oh yes, I forgot to call you. Fate had some bad Chinese food and is in no condition to play basketball.”
“You don’t understand, this isn’t just any game. This is the finals! She has to come!”
“I can understand any game I have seven boys who all have important games to go to, too. I am telling you, she won’t be able to do much to help the team; she would just be sitting on the benches. So I’m telling you this, coach Tanner, she will not make it to the game. Good-bye!”
Then I heard a click and the line went dead. I stared at my phone as if it were the reason Fate couldn’t make it. I entered the gym again and spoke to the team.
“Uh, team. Fate is sick. She has food poisoning; she won’t make it to the game.”
“Coach Tanner, this is the finals!” yelled Bobby.
“I understand that! We are… we’re just going to have to win this game by ourselves. Now, everyone, on the bus!”
The team reluctantly boarded the bus. The once spirited team was now hunched in their seats, not speaking a word to anyone. When we arrived at the stadium they all slowly put on their jerseys and sat on the benches waiting for the game to start. This
was not the right attitude for a team to hold if they were going to win. I gathered them up after leaving the bus and spoke.
“Alright team, we’ve got to move on without Fate. She may have been a V.I.P. on our team, but now we have Bobby to get us the trophy.” I added, trying to sound encouraging.
Everyone moaned at the thought, and Bobby slowly dwindled in the back.
“Hey, now come on. We have to keep raising the bar! We have to jump over this obstacle and move on. Was it Fate that brought us here, or was it our teamwork? Was it Fate that made all those baskets, or was it our own cooperation? So let’s get out there and win!”
Unfortunately, the only one encouraged by my words, was myself. They sat there and didn’t even attempt to put their hands together and shout “Go Cougars!” Instead they mumbled it and walked sulkily away from the bus.
The game started out with Mable throwing the ball to Bobby to make a basket. Bobby missed it by a mile and tripped over his own shoe laces. Everyone became angrier as Bobby kept messing up. By the end of the first quarter, we had a score of 12:54. We had to bring out the mascot and the cheerleaders to get some spirit, but nothing worked. After I called a timeout in the middle of second quarter, and discussing our game plan, we decided to switch Bobby with Trevor. Trevor really improved the game; we caught up 70:72.
IT was the last three minutes of the game. Everyone was on their toes. This would mark who would be able to take home the pride to their school, which team practiced harder, who worked harder. This was the last chance for the team to prove themselves worthy of keeping the tradition of the Boys’ Basketball Team. Everything was going smoothly until the opposite team made eight more baskets. I asked for another time-out and the referee whistled. The team came in looking very drained and spiritless.
“Come on, what’s going on you guys! You played better on your first practice than this! We almost had it! We have to come up with another plan and quick!” I commanded, seeing as that we only had a minute and a half left for our time-out.
I ruffled my hair as I realized that we would probably not win this game. There will be other games. Maybe you’re being too hard on them. I thought.
Suddenly the stadium door was opened and in came a figure wearing white and blue. As the figure came into the light, everyone recognized the figure as Fate. Everyone cheered as she walked over to the benches, even with a disheveled set of hair and a flushed face, Fate looked better than the rest of the team. She was wearing her jersey proudly and beaming at the team.
I looked at her and asked, “Are you sure you’re up to this?”
She simply smiled and replied, “Would I be here if I wasn’t?”
“Aren’t you sick?” I asked with a confused tone.
“Coach Tanner, let me tell you one thing. As long as I am still part of this team, and I am still team captain, I will not let my team down. ‘For better or for worse, in sickness and in health’” She replied.
“You’re not married to the team, Fate.” I said, chuckling.
“I might as well be!”
Right at that moment the whistle blew for the end of the time-out. I told Trevor to stay behind and switched him with Fate. As Fate was on her way to the court I said, “Hey, Fate” I said as Fate turned around “Knock ‘em dead.”
She smiled and ran onto the court.
From that moment on, the game was amazing.. With only two minutes left, Fate had caught us up with the opponent. With the last thirty seconds of the game, we were neck-in-neck with 84:84. Everyone was at the edge of their seats, biting their nails. All eyes were on Fate.
Seeing Fate show up at last minute for the most important basketball game, reminded me of David’s playing. Anyone could see, just from the way Fate held that ball that she was born to play basketball. No one but David would be able to see the passion inside her eyes when she dribbled the ball or the small grin on her face when she passed the ball. Just by looking at Fate, right at this moment, the only thing on her mind was winning.
Fate looked at the white, stringy hoop as she bounced the orange and black ball on the shiny, reflective surface. Fate stared threatingly at the hoop, as if to say, “This ball better make it, or else.” She threw the ball at the taunting hoop and waited, holding her breathe as everyone else did. All eyes were glued to the hoop as the ball circled it. Just as the buzzer rang, the ball fell in, marking that we had won. Everyone cheered with excitement. The entire team ran up to Fate and put her on their shoulders. They congratulated Fate as she made her way to the bathroom, claiming she had “an upset stomach”. After the team left, and Fate appeared from out of the bathroom, she approached me and said, “Coach Tanner, I just want to thank you. No other coach would have believed in me as you did.”
I laughed and replied, “The only reason I believed in you, is because you remind me of one of my colleagues.”
Her eyes brightened at the thought, “Who?”
“His name is David, he’s a basketball coach now, but he could’ve become a professional at basketball if he wanted to.”
“Why didn’t he go professional?” She asked.
“Well, let’s just say he had to get his priorities straight.”
“Oh, well still, thanks for believing in me. I always knew you were behind me one hundred percent.”
I laughed, again, and told her she had to leave. She reluctantly left while I opened my gym bag. On top of everything else was an award from the principle. Best Gym Teacher award awarded to: David Tanner, working here since 1987. I started to reminisce my years at Louisiana State University . I promised myself that I would have to find a way to get Fate a scholarship there, just so she could make her own memories there, too.