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School was starting soon,which meant one thing at my house - soccer season. I was in seventhgrade and it would be our family's fourth year in the local league. Thisyear started just like any other, with my brother ready an hour earlyand my sister still putting on her shin guards 10 minutes after we weresupposed to leave.
Some of the girls had been on the same teamwith me for years; we greeted each other and sat down to wait for thecoach.
"Okay, everyone, my name is Tom Pavlosky. Just callme Tom, I don't expect any of you to learn how to say my lastname," he said with a grin. "Welcome to team 126, girls under12. Before we get started, let's introduce ourselves. Tell us whatposition you play."
"My name is Beckie, and I playfullback and sometimes goalie," I said when my turn came. When wefinally got to the last girl, she didn't say anything.
"Thisis Jim," Tom said, gesturing to a man sitting next to the girl."He's going to be our assistant coach. Jim, why don't you tell thema little bit about your daughter."
"This is mydaughter, Tanya," Jim began. "She plays sweeper, and she'sdeaf. She doen't use sign language much, but she can talk and read lips.So as long as you make sure she's looking at you when you're talking,she should be able to understand you."
Tanya and I quicklybecame friends. Maybe it was because we were close in age, or because wewere both a little shy, but our personalities just seemed to click. Tomnoticed our friendship and by the first game, she was playing sweeperwith me just behind her at center fullback.
Most of the time,Tanya's deafness didn't hinder her, but occasionally she would needhelp.
"Tanya, move up," I heard Jim say from thesideline during our second game. Tanya, however, was so intent on thegame she did not even realize her dad was talking toher.
"Tanya, your dad wants you to move up a little," Isaid, enunciating my words and showing her withgestures.
"Okay!" she replied."Thanks!"
That was the first time I went out of my wayto help her, and as the season progressed, I was amazed what adifference a little something like that could make.
Unfortunately, when something so little can make such a positivedifference, the slightest insensitivity can make just as much of anegative one.
Arriving for one game, I saw the referee and myface fell in dismay. He was the worst in the league. Before every game,Jim would talk with the referee and explain that Tanya was deaf, but hada hearing implant that allowed her to hear certain things, like thewhistle. He would even point Tanya out.
In the middle of thesecond half, the ref blew the whistle and made a pushing call againstTanya. Hearing the whistle, Tanya stopped the ball, but did not knowwhy. She looked at the ref, but instead of making the call again moreslowly, he repeated it faster and louder. Frustrated and confused, Tanyabacked off and avoided the ref for the rest of the game.
I wishthe soccer side of this story was as happy as the friendship part, butthe truth is that our team gained a reputation for one thing, and it hadnothing to do with our record (we finished 1-9).
Getting outHalloween decorations, I found a tube of blue lipstick and decided towear it to a game; it matched our uniforms perfectly. Two games later,every girl on the team wore the lipstick, making it our trademark. Asthe end of the season approached, Tom and Jim made a bet with us. If wewon, they would dye their hair and mustaches blue for the next game.Since we had not yet won, I guess they figured they were safe. But wewon that game, and at the next one, Tom and Jim had blue hair andmustaches.
Closing ceremonies a week later was bittersweet. Itwas the end of a really fun, if not winning, season. Tanya and I hadmade all-stars, which was a first for me. She would not be playing thenext season because she was moving. It was the last time I would seeher.
"Beckie?" Tanya asked. "Can my mom take apicture of us?"
"Sure," I answered.
Her momtook the picture and afterward, we hugged. I pulled away and, looking ather so I was sure she understood, I whispered, "Good-bye, I'll missyou."
"I'll miss you, too," she said.
Ihaven't seen her since, but the impact she made on me is something Iwill always have. Sometimes, when I was with her, I completely forgotshe was deaf. I never felt sorry for her, I never thought of her as"disabled." She was just another player, and one of the bestfriends I ever made through soccer. I am sure she is a successful, happyperson wherever she is now. Not Tanya the deaf girl, but Tanya thesoccer player, my friend, a person I will always remember.