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Under the Lights This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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There is nothing more exciting than making that big play under the lights. Night games are my favorite. I have always felt a jolt the morning of an important game.

This day was different. When I opened my eyes from a troubling sleep and stared up at the ceiling, I did not feel the excitement I expected. I went through my day absentmindedly. I knew I had a big game, but I just couldn’t get my mind off what had happened the night before.

I arrived at school for the pre-game walk-through and got my equipment ready for this game that would determine whether we would get to the playoffs – a game I would normally be eager to play. My teammates all seemed determined and ready, so I put on a serious expression. I didn’t speak because I didn’t want them to know I was agitated. The look on my face told them I was in the zone, which seemed to be working since none of them suspected I was troubled.

We were at war with our arch rivals, and the crowd was booming, but I did not hear the crack of helmets against shoulder pads or the thump of bodies hitting the turf. The only thing I heard was his hoarse voice yelling, “I’ll give you a knuckle sandwich!”

As I finally grasped the reality that he was gone, rage took over. All I could do was attempt to make a tackle or score a touchdown. It seemed meaningless, but then my friend Andrew rested his hand on my pads, and I imagined Grandpa Charlie’s hand clenching my shoulder in his backyard saying, “Now, Chris, when you catch the ball, just run and don’t look back.” I wanted to make him proud, and a sudden rush of adrenaline replaced the anger and sadness inside of me.

The next play I was in the backfield driving the lanky quarterback into the turf. In the stands, past the sea of white jerseys on the sideline, I heard my father screaming, “Good job, Chris!” as I lined back up in the crowded huddle, the sweat dripping like tears from my face. The lights cast a spell on me; I felt invincible. No matter where the ball was headed, I would be there. The quarterback dropped back to pass, and as the ball sailed through the air with the white laces rotating in a perfect circle, I read the pass and picked off the ball.

As I jogged off the field, Coach Santabarbara approached me with a serious expression. Although I had not told my coaches about the loss of my grandfather the night before, Santa-B, as we called him, grabbed my helmet with both hands and said softly, “That was for him.” Smiling, I looked up into the dark sky past the tall, bright lights where I knew Grandpa Charlie was watching.

I missed him already. I could not believe that my Sunday trips to Casa Del Sol with my dad and Grandpa were over. I would never again taste the Italian combo with the oil and vinegar seeping through the bread. I would never again sit at the lime-green dining room table with him watching “Sunday Night Football” and talking about our previous week’s events. I would never go to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets in the same way again, because they were his favorite team. It was all gone.

The horn signaling the end of the game wailed, and it was time to bask in the glory of a dominating victory. I waited until my teammates cleared the locker room to get changed. As I took off my grass-stained uniform, the silence deafened me. Suddenly, I heard Grandpa say, “When I played, we would have beaten that team by more than 30 points!” I chuckled, got on the bus, and headed home.

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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