I never had a problem with Beth Garrison.
She was the best athlete in the seventh grade at Spring Hill Middle School.
I was on her team in Little Baseball. She was the only girl on the team, but she could hit the ball farther than any of us.
She excelled in basketball, volleyball, just about any sport she played.
But everyone was shocked when she showed up on the first day of two-a-days. As good of an athlete as she was, girls weren't supposed to play football.
It didn't sit well with most of the guys on the team.
"Everyone will laugh at us if she plays," said Ray Lefford, a big offensive lineman who already weighed around 250 pounds.
"I'm afraid there is nothing we can do about it," our coach, Coach Jackson said. "Since girls don't have a football team, we can't keep her from playing."
He mentioned something called Title IX. He also mentioned something called a "no-cut rule."
"That's the reason we can't keep you from playing, Lacy," said Josh Bryan, our quarterback.
That was directed toward me. I was one of the smallest on the team, and not the best athlete. I didn't think I was the worst either.
There was one way to keep Beth off the team. She never backed away from a challenge.
Big Lefford challenged her to a duel in a drill we call "bull in the ring." She would go head-to-head with another player on the team in full pads.
Whoever lost the battle would quit the squad.
What does this have to do with me? Lefford was too big, she wouldn't possibly go up against him and it would be fair.
There were a few players she could go one-on-one with and it would seem fair.
I was one of them. And despite my protests, I was chosen to go up against her one-on-one.
"You can do this," Lefford said.
I got into a three-point stance. So did Beth.
"I'm going to take you down, Lucas," she snarled.
As soon as Josh blew the whistle, we collided while the rest of the guys cheered. Rivets seemed to pop when our helmets and shoulder pads collided.
Things got really quiet when she knocked me flat on my back.
She raised her arms and danced around.
"You've got to quit Lacy, not me!" she shouted.
The guys were in disbelief.
Me, I was totally embarrassed.
"I...I challenge you double or nothing," I shouted back.
"Well, I dunno," she said.
But then she thought for a second.
"OK, if you win, you're back on the team," she said. "But you may not like what you'd have to do if you lose again."
"And what is that?" I said, hoping for a chance at redemption.
"Field hockey practice starts this afternoon from what I hear," she said with a wide grin. "You lose, you'll have to join the field hockey team."
The guys started laughing.
"You mean the girls' field hockey team?" I asked.
"I don't believe there's a boys team," she said.
"Do it, Lacy, knock her on her seat," Lefford said.
"You beat her and maybe she'll challenge you to the best two-of-three," Josh said. "Then you can get her to quit."
"Better think long and hard about this, Lacy," Beth said. "You lose, and you'll look awfully cute chasing a ball with a stick...in a skirt!"
"You're on!" I shouted, getting back in a three-point stance.
Josh blew the whistle. The guys cheered. Rivets popped.
She knocked me on my seat again.
The auxiliary gym was no man's land.
It's where the girls had P.E. It's where the cheerleaders practice.
It's where the girls athletic teams have their locker-rooms.
It was also where the field hockey team was holding signups. It was where the team meeting would be held before it hit the field.
It was going to be the second scene of my humiliation.
Beth and some of the football players walked behind me to make sure I followed through.
I never felt more alone as I shut the door between them and me and walked into the gym, joining the line of seventh grade girls joining the team for the first time.
"Can I help you, Mr. Lacy?" asked Coach Martin.
We had co-ed P.E. classes in sixth grade. Boys and girls were in separate classes in seventh and eighth grade. She was my teacher last year.
She was young. All of us boys in our class last year had a crush on her.
"I'm...I'm," I stuttered.
"Spit it out," she said.
"I'm here to join the field hockey team," I said.
The chatter, the giggling in the gym stopped. You could have heard a pin drop.
"Coach Martin, we can't let him be on the team," protested Gina Lenetti, who was an eighth grader and team captain.
Coach Martin looked up at Gina from her seat.
"Our state has an equal rights amendment," she said. "If he's serious about being on the team, he gets to be on the team. You remember, Bay Springs had a boy on their team a couple of years ago. You are serious about this, aren't you, Mr. Lacy?"
I nodded my head yes.
"Ok, then, take a seat on the bleachers with the rest of the girls," Coach Martin. "We'll start our meeting as soon as we're done with signups."
I got some strange looks as I walked over to the bleachers.
"You can sit by me if you like," said Kim Franks.
I'd known Kim since Kindergarten. I was glad to see one friendly face.
"OK ladies, listen up," Coach Martin said as she approached the bleachers with our assistant coach, Coach Parker.
"Coach Parker and Miss Lenetti are going to pass out forms you need to get your parents to sign. We'll have a trainer here tomorrow to give physicals. You will also notice a sheet with team rules."
I looked down at the sheet she was talking about.
"Girls, being a Lady Tiger is a priviledge, not a right," Coach Martin said. "To be a member of this team, you must follow all of the rules to the letter. There are no exceptions. Any questions, raise your hands."
I was still sort of in a state of shock when I read the rules. Some were universal. Others, I thought, couldn't possibly apply to me."
I was a too scared to raise my hand. I felt like crawling under the bleachers. I didn't want to draw attention to myself. I wanted to be as stealth as possible.
I found out that wasn't possible, not when a few hands shot up.
The first question was about me.
"Yes Miss Mitchell," Coach Martin said, acknowledging the first hand that shot up.
"Everybody has to follow the rules, including Lucas?" she asked.
"Every rule is to be followed on that sheet to the letter, no exceptions, not even for Mr. Lacy," Coach Martin replied.