"OK ladies, take a knee," were the words I'd been waiting for after running what seemed like an endless number of sprints at the end of practice.
I was out of breath, but tried not to let it show.
"Big game tomorrow," Coach Martin said. "It's our season opener and our first conference game. Eat a good meal tonight. Get plenty of rest. We've got a two-hour drive after school tomorrow to Sullins Academy."
"You know what that means, ladies," Coach Parker chimed in. "Bring your gear to the bus by 7:45. Bring your uniforms to the locker-room and come by and change into them during your lunch period. They won't be opening locker-rooms up for us. The only restrooms are at the concession stand. We pull out at 2:30. The game is at 5:30."
"Lacy, bring your uniform to my office, the volleyball locker-room's going to be used for P.E.," Coach Martin said. "Knock on the side door. You can change in there."
Coach Martin then went over starting positions.
"Rotating at fullback are Jessi Mears and Lucas Lacy," Coach Martin said. "I want crisp passes out of both of you. You were a bit sloppy today. Kim Arnold will start at keeper. Lucas you're backing her up."
"Be prepared Hobbettes," Gina Lenetti said. "I don't want 'The Beast' scoring many goals."
"The Beast?" Kim asked.
"She's a 6-foot-1 eighth grader, she's gotta be on ’roids, I swear," said Melanie Piper, one of our eighth graders.
They were talking about a girl named Becky Madsen. She led Sullins to the conference championship in field hockey, basketball and softball. According to Coach Martin, she was a star basketball player in summer AAU ball and a college prospect.
"They killed us last year," Melanie said after practice. "Gina was the only one who could keep up with her."
"Lucas, come here," Coach Martin said as I walked to mom's car.
"The dress rule has been waived for you tomorrow," she said. "But I can't waive the uniform rule. It's not practical."
I told her it was no big deal. But I dreaded the kidding I was going to receive in chorus and English, the two classes I had after lunch before the athletic period.
Mom prepared a bit of a spaghetti feast that night. She heard somewhere that pasta was good for athletes to eat the night before the game.
"Dad still not happy?" I asked.
"He's furious," mom replied. “He said, ‘if I had custody of that boy, he'd be playing football instead of that damned girls’ sport,’”.
She reminded dad that men also played field hockey, but he didn't listen.
"But he's not going to come from California to claim you," she said. "The bitch won't let him. I'd fight him anyway."
I rolled my eyes. The "bitch" was my stepmother. I had a half-brother and half-sister and my dad's world revolved around them more than me.
But I didn't care. My mom, little sister and I were doing just fine. And playing field hockey almost made me the anti-him, "Mr. Football Star", which was fine with me.
"I want to show you something," mom said, bringing out her old yearbook.
She turned to a page that showed her in a field hockey uniform when she played at the high school.
"I didn't know you played field hockey, mom," I said.
We knew all about dad's exploits. But turns out mom was all-conference at midfielder. She helped the team to the state championship her senior year. She was also a champion swimmer.
"I worry about you, the teasing at school, and what you'll probably here tomorrow," she said. "There were a couple of boys who played at other schools when I played, and they really caught hell. But no mom will be prouder to see her baby wearing the skirt of the Lady Tigers tomorrow."
"Nice legs, Mr. Lacy," my chorus teacher Mr. Skinner said when I returned from changing at lunch, much to the laughter of my classmates.
"You know I'm just kidding, don't you?" he said.
I knew he was. And most of my classmates were doing it out of good humor.
I walked up to my row as we got ready to practice and got high-fives from Jessi Mears and Emily Crue, my teammates in the class.
"We make these uniforms look good, don't we Mr. Skinner?" Emily asked.
"Yes you three do," he said with a laugh.
"Mr. Lacy, would you like to be grouped with the girls, your voice is almost high enough," he said jokingly. "I'm sure you'll feel more at home."
"No, Mr. Skinner, I'm good," I said.
I really didn't mind the humor. He always tried to be funny.
I didn't appreciate some of the snickers I got walking down the hallway to English, some of it coming from the football players, guys I once thought were my friends.
"Oh, don't worry about them," Kim said. "They're just a bunch of jerks."
English wasn't too bad. Four of my teammates, including Kim, were in there. We spent most of the class discussing our reading assignment, “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
"Lucas, can I see you a minute after class?" said Miss Hunter, who was one of our younger teachers, almost fresh out of college.
"Watch carefully," she said as she sat down in a chair and tucked her skirt tightly under her legs.
"Notice how your teammates sit," she said. "Sit this way if you're not going to cross your legs."
I was a bit embarrassed.
"Don't be embarrassed," she said. "No one saw but me. But you can't sit like a boy when you're wearing your skirt."
"What did Miss Hunter want? We're curious," Kim asked as we arrived at the bus.
"Oh, nothing important," I replied.
"OK ladies, it's time to get our faces painted and shoulders before we have to get on the bus," Gina said. "That includes you, Lacy!"
I got a green paw print painted on one of my cheeks. Another one was painted on my shoulder for team solidarity.
"OK ladies, get on the bus, we need to get going," Coach Parker said as we filed in.
It was a small bus. Coach Parker was the driver. Coach Martin rode shot gun. There were seventeen of us crammed into a small bus, including two managers and a girl who was our trainer.
"Hey, queer. Hey, faggot, get off the field," chanted a bunch of boys from Sullins Academy and a few fathers when I went in to sub for Jessi.
"Don't let them get in your head," Melanie Piper told me. "Keep in the game."
I did my best to block things out. I was a bit nervous and made a couple of mistakes. I let "The Beast" get by me as she scored the game's first goal.
But I redeemed myself with a pass to Gina, who tied things up a few minutes later.
It didn't sit too well with "The Beast", who intentionally tripped me and drew a penalty card.
I got the chance to take a penalty shot, but missed. Just when I was beginning to tire out, Coach Martin pulled me for Jessi, who was now rested. It paid off. She scored the next goal to put us in front 2-1.
"You're doing a good job, Lucas," Coach Martin told me on the sidelines. "A little dirt in the skirt never hurt anybody. Pay attention to how they're playing. You're going to be back out in a few minutes."
Just before I went back on the field, “The Beast” raced past Jessi and hit a shot past Kim, tying the score at 2-2.
We were able to hold them scoreless the rest of the half.
"Gina, you're going to have to do a better job of guarding Madsen," Coach Martin said. "And Jessi and Lucas, the Garner girl's been getting by you two too many times. You're doing a good job, but you've got to do better. And Melanie, do a better job of passing it to Gina when she's open. And Kim, keep it up, you're keeping us in this game."
Jessi started the second half, but I gave her a break a few minutes in. I thought I did OK.
We shocked Sullins about midway through the half. Melanie raced past "The Beast" and hit Gina with a great pass, putting us up 3-2.
"We can win this game Hobbettes if we can play good defense!" Gina shouted to me and Kim as she raced down field.
We were on the verge of a huge upset when "Godzilla Woman" made a vicious hit on Kim while trying to score. She was about as tall as she was wide. I'm guessing she weighed 200 pounds easy.
"Hey ref! That's intentional!" shouted Coach Parker.
It was in vain. We didn't get the call.
Melanie, Coach Martin and I picked Kim off the ground. She got the wind knocked out of her.
"Lucas, suit up," Coach Martin said when we returned to the sidelines. "I've got Mears going in for Lacy, Lacy for Arnold," she told the referee.
I looked up. There were three minutes left on the scoreboard.
"Nothing by you Hobbette, nothing by you," Gina said when I took my place in goal.
The final minutes seemed like an eternity. The Garner girl got past Jessi and took a shot. It was wide. My heart pounded when I couldn't get to it, but we still held the lead.
"The Beast" took matters into her own hand in the game’s final seconds. She raced past Gina.
The only thing that stood between her and the goal was me.
She fired the shot.
I knocked it away.
The whistle blew.
Lady Tigers 3, Lady Lions 2.
I sat on the ground, exhausted and dirty. Our sideline was celebrating like crazy. No one had beaten Sullins Academy in two years.
Gina reached out her hand to pick me off the ground. She dusted off the back of my seat and jersey.
"Way to go Hobbette," she said. "Way to get dirt in the skirt!"