My First Job This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

Being 17 without money can be frustrating. So when the chance to referee elementary basketball came my way, I jumped at the opportunity to have more than just lint in my pockets. I thought it would be a fun way to earn some “easy money.”

I have always enjoyed the game and looked forward to seeing it from a different point of view. My love for basketball and my familiarity with it convinced me that this would be the perfect job. When I played or watched from the bleachers, I often found myself criticizing the referees for bad calls. How could you miss that? or Do you need glasses? I wondered. I convinced myself that I could do better. How difficult could it be, especially with a bunch of second- and third-graders?

I looked forward to my first night as a referee, but right after the tip-off, my fantasies faded. These sweet, innocent third-grade boys transformed into demon children. A fire burned in their eyes. Never in my wildest dreams had I imagined that such competitiveness boiled within these miniature monsters. Claws protruded from their fingers, and some even began to growl. I felt like a peacekeeper trapped in a coliseum filled with lions. A battle raged on the court while the inhumane spectators yelled at every play.

Suddenly, even the coaches, who I thought would be my allies in this chaos, took off their masks and revealed themselves as my worst nightmares. My only companion, my whistle, suffered from a severe case of stage fright, filling my head with doubt every time I thought about blowing it.

My lack of action fueled the heartless crowd. Even on the rare occasions that my whistle gained enough courage to pause the fighting, the ruthless bystanders were still not appeased. I could do nothing right.

Frustration flooded my cringing soul. With only 3:30 left on the clock, I spotted the light at the end of the tunnel. Oh, how heavenly it appeared before my eyes. It revealed itself as an angel floating from the neighboring court to rescue me. Michael came over just in the nick of time, saving me from losing my sanity and helping me dodge the storm of rotten fruit that would soon be thrown in my direction. In a flash, I passed my whistle and authority to him, as I quickly scampered to the safety of the bleachers.

Sitting by myself, far from the screeching of the hostile masses, I managed to find an inkling of pride. My sense of dignity did not come from the fact that the people were now yelling at fresh meat, but because I had not been banished from my duties as a referee.

The horn sounded, and the nightmare ended. I awoke to reality, and what were once little monsters were now adorable boys running around, laughing joyfully. The ruthless parents and coaches patted me on the back, telling me what a good job I had done. Either they were trying to be kind, or maybe they were overcome with guilt for bashing my confidence to smithereens. I longed to escape from the gym, but I had to wait for my “easy money.” I cherished every dime I earned that night.

I now realize how difficult refereeing is. I could have let this traumatic evening ruin my future on the court, but instead it kindled my determination to do better. I still hope to become a great referee, but I know now it will take hours of hard work. No matter how much I wish the cash could be handed to me without any effort, I learned that there is no such thing as easy money.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

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