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Ready to Win This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   I ran out of my house and rested on the car door, trying to catch my breath as myfamily trudged out the door. I looked at my warped reflection in the door andnoticed that even though I appeared two feet tall and 200 pounds, I looked prettysnazzy in my uniform. My maroon shorts fell just below my knees, and mybasketball jersey hung to my waist. I was ready to play.

"Comeon!" I hollered. "We're going to be late!"

When my parentsand sisters finally reached the car, I was jumping up and down while my dadunlocked the door. I leaped in and buckled my seat belt before anyone else hadeven opened the door.

"We're going to miss my game!" Iyelled.

We arrived at the gym ten minutes before anyone else on the team,but I was still pumped. Our team had made it to the county championships, and wewere to play our rival for the title. I greeted my teammates as each walked in,and we all sat together in one corner of the gym. Our short legs dangled from ournine-year-old bodies as we all rather impatiently waited for ourcoach.

When he arrived, he gave us a quick pep talk about trying our best,working hard, and all that business. Five minutes before game time, butterfliesfluttered in our stomachs and our palms leaked sweat. The team was nervous, butthe confidence that had been growing all season had not begun to fade.

Ourstarters ran onto the court and waited earnestly for the other team. You couldtell by how we held our bodies, and the sparkle in our eyes, that we were readyto win. I sat on the bench, and watched with delight as the gamebegan.

***

The buzzer rang for the second time, indicating it washalftime. Our team had been neck in neck with our rivals for most of the firsthalf, but we had pulled ahead in the last few minutes.

We felt larger thanlife bouncing into the nearby hallway where our coach took us to discuss thegame. Then I noticed that only five of my teammates were red-faced and sweaty.There had been no substitutions during the first half. I blocked out all my coachsaid as one question ran through my head: Am I going toplay?

***

The buzzer ending the third quarter rang in my ears, andI sat on the bench with my head down. Our team was still winning, but I had yetto get in the game. My mind was no longer filled with joy for my team, but withangry, self-absorbed thoughts. All that mattered was getting to play.

Withone minute left in the fourth quarter, I gave up hope. My team was still in thelead, but I couldn't have cared less. With 12 seconds remaining, I heard my coachcall me off the bench. I slowly walked to check into the game. I saw fourteammates follow, for they too had been called to glory for these 12seconds.

My size-four sneakers squeaked as they jolted against thehardwood court. We all ran around like chickens with our heads cut off. I wantedso badly to get the ball, and to make a difference in the game. I could tell thatmy bench-warming teammates yearned for that too. Just as my adrenaline beganflowing and I felt I could make an amazing play, the buzzer sounded. The game wasover and I hadn't even touched the ball. None of the players who had beensubstituted for those 12 seconds had touched the ball. We walked off the courtwith our heads down. To my surprise, we were greeted with hugs and leaps of joyfrom our teammates.

"We won!" I heard a teammateshout.

"We are the champions!" anotherbellowed.

"Yes! Victory!" a third shouted with delight.

Icould not help feeling sorry for myself. Large smiles were pinned across everyface on our team except mine. Even those who had played just as little as me hadthe decency to smile. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my shoulder. I swung around andsaw my mother.

"Wow!" she said ecstatically. "Your team didgreat!"

Your team. Your team. Her words rang through my head, and agrin spread across my face. I was part of the team. No matter how much I played,I was still part of the team. I ran to join my teammates in their triumphanthuddle, and for that moment, I felt that all 13 of us were one.

I staredout the car window as an incredible realization came to my mind: it was not inthat single moment on the court that the 13 of us had become one - we had been asone all year. We were a team, and the accomplishments of the starting five werethe accomplishments of the bench warmers as well. We were a team with players ofdiverse abilities and personalities that had blended perfectly to become the mostunified and talented team in the county. And I smiled triumphantly.

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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