I went into the game thinking we’d already lost. If they were the sharks, we were the guppies. They looked good, with their silk jerseys and the most fans I’d ever seen for a ninth-grade team. We needed to focus.
As we worked on lay-ups, I ran with the ball bouncing against my fingers like rain dripping off a tree after a storm. Soon I had graceful moves like a ballerina as I set the ball off the backboard and watched it drop through the white lace, then fall to my rebounder’s hands. When warm-ups were over, I was nervous but remembered Coach’s advice: “The key to winning is to play hard, have fun.”
The first quarter was in our hands. We should have played harder. We were better, we could beat this team! We were down by four points. As I pinned a girl, my guard lobbed the ball to me. I grabbed it, jabbed left and went in for a right-handed jump shot. As the second quarter drew near, we were winning, but it didn’t feel that way.
Soon it was the middle of the third quarter and the game was tied, but we had the ball. I went wide to the corner, then dodged right and went left, trying to avoid my opponent. I got the ball and thought, I can take her. I tossed the ball over her head and it hit the corner of the square on the backboard, taking forever, it seemed, before dropping straight through the net. I went to the line to shoot. It’s a big one. I need to make this.
“Follow through, elbows in and arc,” I heard Coach say. I do my routine and the ball falls in. Now it’s tied, but they have the ball. We press them and one of my teammates knocks the ball away. Our hustle for the ball is unbelievable, but they are still on our tails.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the fans for the other team are cheering like mad, but we don’t give up. It is our game. There are two minutes left; they are getting aggressive and look like a whole new team. It is now a six-point game as they make a three-pointer. With 30 seconds left, they start fouling us so they will have more time on the clock. It’s a good strategy and they are lucky because we don’t hit our foul shots. They have the ball now with 15 seconds left. The only thing I think is, Play hard, have fun, running over and over in my head. That’s exactly what I do. I hustle, stepping up as a leader to help my teammates. Five seconds, three seconds, one second. We win! We did it, we never gave up.
I came into the game with a negative attitude when I should have had a positive one. That day I realized that you can never win unless you believe you can. We had determination and hustle and we put tons of hard work into the game, which is how we did it. l
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.