The Half-Time Challenge This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

September 28, 2014

It was the final home game. Just about everyone in the school showed up. I wanted to start, but I didn’t hold out much hope. I didn’t get along with the coach.

Sure enough, I didn’t start, but I did get more playing time than normal. When the first half ended, I was still in the game, so I headed to the bench to hear Coach’s pep talk for the second half. The score was 38-33, our lead.

As I approached the bench I noticed my teammates were digging through their bags. I realized they were pulling out the raffle tickets we had been given as we walked through the door.

As I was digging through my bag I heard the announcer say, “We are about to begin the shooting contest.” Immediately I started praying my number wouldn’t be picked. I was a bad shooter and had horrible stage fright, so I didn’t want to make a fool of myself in front of the whole school.

The announcer said, “The number is … 1780526!” I heard my teammates sigh in disappointment that it wasn’t their number.

Watch it be mine, I thought. I found the ticket in my bag and looked at the numbers, and of course it was 1780526.

Quickly I debated what to do. I knew I could hand this ticket to any of my teammates and they would take it happily. Instead I walked out onto the court with a reluctant smile on my face.

What the heck am I doing out here? I thought as stage fright pulled my stomach into a tight knot. I gave the announcer my ticket in exchange for a basketball, and he asked my name. The audience was clapping loudly, which just increased my nerves.

“Okay, everyone! Drew Smith is about to attempt to beat the challenge we have set!” the announcer said.

My body was ready to turn and run, but I didn’t for reasons still unknown to me. The announcer gave the rules: “Drew will need to make a layup, a free throw, and a three-point shot in 30 seconds!”

Why me? I am probably the worst shooter here! my mind screamed.

I turned and walked to the top of the three-point line. The announcer came up behind me and whispered, “Good luck, kid.” Great – even he knows I’m screwed!

The audience quieted down as I took my position outside the arc. I made an attempt to block out the crowd. I glanced at the score board and saw 30 seconds. Why haven’t they started the clock yet? Oh, they must be waiting until I take my first shot. In that case, I will make sure I take as long as I need to make it, I thought, feeling good that I had a plan.

Standing at the top of the key, I took two dribbles and put the ball in position, spent another second making sure it was lined up, then released.

As soon as the ball left my hands, I knew I had put too much arc on it. I air-balled it.

Quickly I retrieved the ball and sprinted back to the top of the key. As soon as I got there I turned and shot without even thinking about lining it up. It hit the backboard at about 100 miles per hour.

Suddenly I felt the dread of realizing how many people were watching me. I stumbled and tripped over my feet. Again I grabbed the ball, ran back to the three-point line, and was about to throw it but stopped. I forced myself to stand up straight and take a deep breath.

What are you doing? The clock is ticking! I had to stop the thoughts or I knew it would be over. I positioned myself and shot. It hit the rim but missed.

I looked at the clock and was shocked to see that I only had 12.3 seconds left.

Then I heard someone yell from the stands, “The order doesn’t matter!” At first I was confused what he meant but then realized I didn’t have to get the three-pointer first.

I might as well make the layup, then I will at least have one basket, I decided.

I grabbed the ball and dribbled toward the basket. Faster, faster! As I dribbled I realized I was looking the audience square in the face. I almost stopped right there, but my instincts took over. I took two more dribbles and put the ball up. I hit the backboard by accident, but the ball went in. Yes!

I grabbed the rebound and went straight to the free-throw line. You can make this – just focus! I took two dribbles, then raised the ball up and took the shot I had made hundreds of times in my life. I held the position until I saw with relief that I had sunk the ball.

I risked a glance at the clock and was horrified to see I had just 3.6 seconds left! I grabbed the rebound and went to the top of the key. I was ready to throw a shot up as soon as I turned around, but instead I hesitated. Focus!

Looking at the clock one last time, I saw I had 1.8 seconds left. But my favorite coach always said, “Two seconds is a lot of time for a basketball player.” I realized I didn’t have time for two dribbles this time, so I took one. I watched the ball fall and as soon as it hit the ground, my head snapped up at the basket. In my head, I heard my favorite coach giving me tips: “A good shooter sees his shot fly and feels the ball leave his hands a hundred times before he actually takes the shot.”

I looked at the basket and felt the weight of the ball in my hands as I pictured myself jumping, pushing the ball out of my hands, and seeing it go right into the basket. Now if only I can do that!

I looked down at the ball still on its way back up to my hands, caught it, put it in position, risked one last look at the clock – .6 seconds. It’s now or never. I took a breath and felt my body do what it knows how to do. My knees bent and propelled me up into the air. I felt my shoulder flex as it lifted the ball, and finally my wrist flicking to send the ball on its way.

As soon as the ball left my hands, I knew it was going in. I threw my arms up into the air as I heard the buzzer go off. I felt so proud of myself for doing it.

Then all of a sudden I heard the deafening roar of the crowd. I immediately dropped my arms to my sides, feeling like I was being a show-off, and ran off the court as fast as I could, horrified at the attention I was getting.

My teammates were waiting and slapped me on the back. The assistant coach had a big smile on his face and said, “I can’t believe you waited so long before taking that final shot. Most people would have just thrown the ball up and missed. Well done!”

“Thanks,” I replied. “I was glad that the audience was quiet for that thirty seconds.”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“Everyone was quiet so my nerves didn’t get going and I was able to pretend like I was in practice,” I said, a little confused by his question.

“Drew, the crowd was screaming after the first 15 seconds, and after you made that final shot they exploded out of their seats,” he said, laughing.

I was so surprised I almost didn’t believe him, but then I listened and realized just how loud everyone was. I was embarrassed to be getting so much attention, but I was proud of myself too.

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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