"Ladies, wear the skirts to practice, Coach Martin."
That was the sign that greeted us on the door of the auxiliary gym.
"Hey coach, what gives?" Emily Crue asked coach before we went to get dressed.
"CNN is here to film our practice and football practice," Coach Martin said. "They want to interview Lucas and Beth after we're done this afternoon."
"And they want to see me practice in a skirt?" I said, rolling my eyes. "Coach Martin, do I have to do this?"
Someone e-mailed them the story the local newspaper did on us. That someone was Coach Martin.
"You are an extraordinary young man," she said. "Beth is an extraordinary young lady. I think you've got an extraordinary story to tell."
She also confessed to another motive.
"We are 4-0 heading into our homecoming game on Wednesday," Coach Martin said, "yet we can't get anybody in the seats to see how hard you and your teammates play. If this gets more fannies there to cheer us on, it will be worth it."
CNN wanted to show me practicing in a skirt and Beth in football gear to get "the full effect."
"The field hockey player takes ballet and is one of the school's homecoming princesses. The star receiver for the football team holds the state record in the 100 meters for 13-year-olds and is quite a home run hitter. That may not sound unusual...unless the field hockey-homecoming princess happens to be a boy...and the football playing-home run king happens to be a girl. That's the case here at Spring Hill Middle School, I'm Soledad O'Brian and this is their amazing story."
"You know this is all your fault," I whispered to Beth. She knew I was joking.
"Oh shut up, you're enjoying this," she said. "You are such a diva!"
I was wearing my field hockey skirt. She was wearing her football practice gear. The CNN reporter was sitting in a chair between us.
The interview lasted about 30 minutes. They also interviewed our coaches and our teammates. We told the reporter about the teasing we took, the cheap shots on the field. We also told her how much we appreciated our teammates rallying around us.
"I know it may seem strange to other people, but I love playing field hockey, I love my teammates," I said during the interview. "I don't mind wearing the skirt, it's part of the uniform. It's no big deal."
It was neat listening to our teammates stick up for us, especially the ones who didn't want us on the team when the season started.
"Oh no, I didn't want Lucas on the team," Gina said. "I did my best to run him off. But he really works hard out there. He's proven to us he belongs. He's one of us. He's one of the girls, now. As for the teasing he takes, he knows we have his back."
"Beth is an amazing athlete," Josh Bryan said. "She outhustles us. She's got the best hands on the team. If she's open and I throw it to her, I know she's going to catch it. She's like a little sister to us. If someone takes a cheap shot, we'll go to her defense. She knows we'll protect her."
"OK gang, that's a wrap," Coach Martin said.
"Have you got choreography rehearsal next?" Beth asked.
"Yup, and I'm really tired," I said. "I'll be glad when its over on Thursday. I really appreciate your help with the tap routines."
"I'll bet the dances are going to be really cool," Beth said. "I'm looking forward to seeing you in the top hat, tap shoes and cane."
"I know I'm complaining too much," I said. "It's a lot of work, but its actually a lot of fun, too. It could be worse, too. The eighth graders are having to do a talent competition as part of the vote for queen."
"I've never seen this many people for a field hockey game before," Coach Martin told Coach Parker when we took the field for warmups for our game against East Highland.
Mr. Boldin, our principal, told her a few minutes later that he counted 7,000 paid receipts in a stadium that was normally near-empty for our games.
"At $5 a head, you've just funded the entire girls' athletic budget for the next two years," he said. "But more importantly, I looked it up. This will be the largest crowd ever to watch a field hockey game in the history of the state. Not even the high schools or colleges have drawn this much for the game."
The entire football team showed and sat in the student section. Every one of them wore skirts, as Josh promised, except for the lone solitary player in the middle of the crowd, Beth. She wore jeans.
"She would have worn a skirt, but the guys insisted she wear jeans to go better with the theme," Coach Jackson told Coach Martin.
"Oh my God, now that's funny," Gina said, draping her arm around me. "And it's pretty ugly."
"Lacy, please take this as a compliment," Melanie Piper said, also draping her arm around me as the three of us stood in amazement looking at the student section. "But you are the only boy who can pull the look off."
"Yeah, you always look good in a skirt," Gina said. "They look pretty ridiculous -- funny -- but ridiculous."
"Thanks, I think?" I said.
"Same starting lineup as last week, except one change," Coach Martin said. "Megan's cramping up. Lucas I need you at midfielder. Jessi, you're starting at fullback. I'll rotate the three of you if Megan gets to feeling better. If not, there will be no breaks for the two of you. You'll be in there the entire game."
Midfielder, at least on our team, is an offensive position. But I knew my job would be getting the ball to Gina, Melanie and Emily. They were our scorers. I was still expected to give Jessi and the other defenders help.
We fed off the energy from the crowd. Gina took the ball from the opening whistle and raced right down the field untouched. She easily put the ball in the net.
It caught East Highland completely by surprise. Jessi stole the ball on their first trip up the field. She flicked it to me.
I made one of my best passes all season to Melanie, who put it easily in the net. We led 2-0 in the first minute of the game. We won going away,8-0. Gina played the game of the year, scoring five goals.
We were proud of Kim, pitching a shutout at keeper.
We raced off the field to a standing ovation.
"I'm so proud of you!" Coach Martin said. "East Highland is a better team than we made them look today. I want you to enjoy the homecoming activities the rest of the week. Really support Gina and Lucas tomorrow night at the show. Come back Monday ready to work. If we win next week, we're in the conference championship game."
Dress rehearsal for the show was in the afternoon. The queen candidates each went out and bought dresses for the talent competition.
That wasn't the case for the seventh grade members of the court. We had three dance numbers to perform at the beginning, middle and end of the talent competition.
We had been practicing with our canes, top hats and tap shoes since we were nominated. Miss Baldwin, the cheerleader sponsor, rented the costumes.
"Sorry Lucas, I got the costumes before we knew who was going to be in the court. I didn't even remotely take into account that we would have a boy in the court."
The costume? I could have died when I first saw mine. There was a white blouse, a red neck tie and a black tuxedo jacket. Yeah, I know that doesn't sound too bad. But did I mention the jacket was sequined?
But that's not the best part. There were the matching black sequined shorts, which were, actually, well, a little short. Did I also mention we had to wear stockings...fishnet stockings?
The topper was having Mrs. Tanner, the drama teacher, apply the makeup.
"You have to wear makeup because of the lighting," she said. "Guys have to wear makeup in our shows."
That's true. But normally their makeup doesn't match the girls. Normally, they don't wear makeup with glitter, which I was told was supposed to go with the sequins.
"Oh come on, you look cute," Beth said, trying to reassure me She and some of the football players were working as part of the tech crew.
"Cute wasn't exactly the look I'm going for," I said. "Besides, everybody I know is going to be out in the audience."
That included my mother. I knew she was going to die when she saw me in this get up.
"Oh my God, look at the crowd!" one of the other members of the court said before we took the stage for our first number. She was right.
It was packed.
I have to admit I forgot what I was wearing when we went out on stage. I really enjoyed it. And to my amazement, I didn't mess up!
"Coach Martin, I think my eyesight may be going," Mr. Boldin said. "Which one of them out there is supposed to be the boy? I swear, I don't see a boy out there."
"Lucas is third to the left, and he's doing so good!" Coach Martin said. "And your eyesight isn't going. I've heard the girls on the team say he has got to be the only boy in the school to pull something like this off. It's amazing how he blends in."
She turned around to talk to Miss Hunter.
"I really don't know how he does it," she said. "I addressed the team as only ladies and girls at practice at first because I knew about there were mixed feelings. But its amazing how he fits in and has never had a problem with it. It's weird. He's not one of those really effeminate boys. He doesn't act sissy and he's a better athlete than people give him credit for. But he embraces his role. When he's at a team meeting, practice, at a game, or up on that stage, he's one of my girls."
Mom and my sister sat with Jessi and her family during the performance.
"I wish I brought my camera," Mom said. "He looks so cute out there. And my boy can really dance."
"Yes, he sure can, he's doing awesome," Mrs. Mears said. "Jessi, I know he's probably dying in that costume, but he looks so cute, not gaudy at all. And I've got a digital camera in my purse."
I rushed off stage following our second number. Gina was about to take the stage for her number. From the look on her face, she looked really nervous.
"You look gorgeous, Lucas!" she said, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
"Thanks, Gina, you know this look is growing on me," I said, hoping the humor would help her relax. "You think we can talk Coach Martin into letting us wear fishnet stockings instead of Under Armour when the weather gets cold?"
"And glitter makeup, how cool would that look?" she said before walking out on stage.
"You know her look is about as radical for her as yours is for you," Beth said when Gina took a seat at the piano.
She wore a red sequined, strapless dress. Her hair was in curls.
"I think she's glamorous," I said.
She wowed the crowd. I never knew she could sing, or play the piano.
She brought the crowd to its feet as she sang and played Gershwin's "I Got Rhythm."
"You know Hobbette, I'm so glad we're going through this together," she said when it was over.
I was really amazed when it was over. I was scared it was going to feel like a freak show.
Everyone's reaction really surprised me.
Gina and I posed for pictures together for her parents, for mom and for Coach Martin.
"Miss Hunter, will you take a picture of me and my kids?" Coach Martin said, putting her arms around us. "They did so good tonight. They've also got a big day tomorrow."
"Yes we do, baby sister," Gina said. "Mom and I will be around to pick you up early. We get to skip school tomorrow to get all dolled up for the parade and the football game."