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“Football, Julia?” MAG
I always loved the first day of school. Everything was so new - the teachers, the classrooms, the binders. Everyone was trying out for a sport - cross-country, tennis, soccer, or football. My best friend Lizzy and I decided we would try out for the football team.
I don’t know what convinced me to play football. But something made me walk through those gym doors. All 82 boys turned to look at us in the silence of the gym. When we took our seats, noise broke out - laughter, pointing, and smiling. The coaches quieted the room, but their eyes still wondered why we were there.
Later my mom looked at the football forms, frowning. “Football, Julia?” “Please.” “Why? You’ve never played football.” “It’s feeding my artistic soul,” I tried. “Julia, this team is serious, and these boys want to make it. They won’t care that you’re a girl - they’ll tackle you.” “I know.” “Well, tackling starts Wednesday. That’s after first cuts. Here’s the deal: If you stop before Wednesday, then you can try out.” “Deal.”
I was going to play football!
When I spoke to Lizzie, she told me she couldn’t try out. “My mom said it was too dangerous. I’m sorry, Julia.”
Before tryouts, one of the coaches asked,“Julia, tell me, why are you doing football?’ “To try something new?” I answered. “No, seriously. Why?” I took a breath. Why was she questioning why I wanted to play football? Because I was a girl?
Later when I ran onto the field, the boys looked at me. “Guys, Julia came!” yelled Jake. “What are you doing here?” one asked. “Just playing football,” I replied.
We started with running, which wasn’t bad because I like to run. Then we stretched. As we stretched our legs, I looked around. I still couldn’t believe I was doing this. It felt surreal. We did lots of drills. After each other players gave me a high-five. The worst drill was the crawl. We had to get on our hands and feet, and crawl to the end of the field. Your legs always went faster than your hands. It may sound like fun, but do not be deceived, it’s humiliating. After a few steps, you start tripping and falling. You are supposed to look like a bear. The guys said I looked like a bear with a broken arm and leg. Then we did the 40-yard dash. Guys were doing it in less than six seconds. They made jokes, and made tryouts fun.
Everyone then went to do push-ups. Most guys did 45, some did 60. I only could do four. The guys laughed, but they weren’t laughing at me. They were laughing with me. And I laughed at myself too. Then we did sit-ups. Most guys did 30, some did around 45. I did 40. Everyone was in shock. I had beaten most of the guys. As I left practice, I knew they had some respect for me.
Later I went to an amazing party with snakes, parrots, confetti, and fire-throwers. Although I really wanted to dance, I sat down with two of the guys who were talking football. I listened intently. I kept wanting to know more. After an hour, a friend came over and said, “Julia, this dance floor is amazing. You have to dance.” “Maybe later,” I replied. “We’re talking football.”
When I woke up the next morning I was still in my dress, confetti in my hair, exhausted. All a sudden, I thought, Today’s Saturday. I have football practice at 7:45! I looked at the clock. It was 7:20. By the time I showered and grabbed a water bottle, it was 7:32. I had to go. Running out the door, my father right behind me, I jumped in the car.
At the field, the boys were surprised I had shown up. We did a quarter-mile warm-up lap. The grass was wet with dew. I didn’t want to get wet and dirty but when we did stretches, we had to lie down. By the time I got up, I was soaked. Then, we did up-downs. It was bad enough to just drop onto the hard ground, but face first into the dirt was just gross. Then we had to do the crawl. I slowly lowered myself and for the next 10 minutes we dug our hands and feet into the dirt, which was much worse because the grass was slippery. By the time we were finished, I was so dirty I couldn’t even see the color of my hands. My clothes were disgusting. There was grass in my hair.
“Well, boys, it’s the moment you’ve been waiting for,” the coach said. The mile was twice around the school. The whole team would race, and we would be timed. They said we should run, but that was an understatement. It was more like “sprint for your life.” Some guys had lots of water right before running, which was a big mistake.
And then we were off. I was in front, but since I wanted to pace myself, I slowed down. Gradually, boys passed me. By the first lap, my side was starting to hurt, but I kept going. I tried to think of something to distract me. Looking around, soon I was in a zone where I didn’t feel the pain anymore. I looked at the trees, the sky, the grass. I was almost done. I could barely breathe. I took small sips of water, catching my breath. A few guys were throwing up the water they had drunk.
Then we had practice. When they threw me the football, I kept missing. I really wanted to catch one. I ran forward, and turned right. A teammate was throwing the ball right at me; I could do this. I saw the coach watching and was determined to catch it. I jumped, and caught it in one hand. And as quickly as this victory began, it was over. The ball slipped from my hand. I saw the coach look away.
The next morning, I could not get out of bed. I’m dead serious. Moving my legs hurt. And I was extremely hungry. I groaned, smelling waffles downstairs. I couldn’t stand and dropping to the floor, I slid down the stairs as slowly as possible and crawled into the kitchen.
Then Monday arrived - my third day of tryouts. We did the usual jogging warm-up. I saw five of my friends, lined up and cheering. Laughing, I gave each of them a high-five. They cheered louder. Then I saw a soccer ball roll by. “Sorry!” the soccer player said, giggling.
I rolled my eyes - this was the twentieth time she’d done this. It was obviously not an accident. I couldn’t blame her though: I had been on the soccer team last year. We always kicked the ball onto the football field to flirt with the boys. But now I was seeing this from a different point of view. It wasn’t funny or cute. It was annoying. We were trying to play football.
As we continued to sing a silly nursery rhyme and run, I thought, I love this. Not just the exercise, but the feeling. I looked around at the faces of 80 boys, and realized I had proved myself. I hadn’t quit, no matter how hard the drills were or how discouraging the remarks were. I had done it.
On the last day the coach divided the field into six stations, and put us into groups. First we did push-ups. My previous record was four. Today I did 10! Then we did the other stations. We jumped and caught balls. We sprinted and rammed into bags. It was the most amazing experience, except for one annoying seventh-grader who wouldn’t stop yelling at me. And he wasn’t yelling encouragement. He was throwing me insults, one after another. Then, we did catching. I wanted to catch the ball so badly. Jake threw the ball, and I ran forward. I turned left. Arms out, legs running toward
the ball, I leaped, and at 30 yards, I caught it. I danced around, ball in hand. The boys started to cheer. I cheered right along with them.
Then it was the day for football cuts. I felt so mixed. I didn’t want to make the team, because I thought I’d get killed. But playing would show everyone I could do it. I wanted to make that team more than anything. I loved practice - joking around with the boys, waking up early, playing football, jogging around the school.
I stepped onto the field and smiled. Today I was going to do my best, and what happened, happened. We started jogging, and I decided to go faster so I’d be near the front of the line. When the seventh-grader realized I had passed him, he got angry and tripped me, then pushed me down.
I watched the rest of the runners tower over me as they passed. Pain hit my whole body, but I ran faster than ever. I finished, and then tried to clean the cuts on my knees and hands. The coach had the trainer fix me up. I sat on the couch, tears streaming down my face. I could barely flex my legs. This was the last day! I cried for the pain but also for something else. “Does it hurt?” he asked. I couldn’t speak, so I nodded. “I know why you’re crying. It’s because you’re mad.” I shut my eyes. I was. All this hard work - for nothing?
I felt like such a failure. “What are you even doing here?” one boy hissed. What was I doing here? I wasn’t going to make the team. I didn’t want to now. I just want to leave. I didn’t belong here.
I walked over to the coaches and they looked at me. “I think I’m going home.” They looked at each other. “Are you sure?” they asked. I nodded. “Okay. You did a great job, Julia. We really respect you for coming out. Almost no girls try out for something like this. You did great.”
I ran into my house, jumped in my bed, and soaked my pillow with tears. I really wanted to be on the team. I let myself down. I thought about all that had happened, how I was respected by the boys for trying out, how no one believed I would play, and how I had proved them wrong.
The next day was very long. My knees shook as I walked down the hallway to my bus. I saw a crowd of boys blocking my way. I realized the football team had been posted. Wanting to see who had made it, I pushed through. When I got to the sheet of paper, my eyes scanned the list. And there, printed in bold letters, was my name.