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Chapter 9

It was a conversation I wasn't supposed to hear, wished I didn't hear.

Serves me right for arriving at a team meeting early.

"It's Lucas' fault!" I heard Coach Parker say in Coach Martin's office.

"If he hadn't come out for the team, this wouldn't have happened," Coach Parker said. "It's like the Little League Softball World Series all over again. We're going to be playing a stacked team for the championship."

"How can you blame Lucas, Myra?" Coach Martin said in my defense. "There have been other boys play in the conference before. There are a couple of boys playing in high school now in other parts of the state."

"But a boy hadn't played in our conference in years," Coach Parker said. "I don't think one had played in middle school in years. Then what happens? We get one and get a lot of news coverage, and look what happens at Creekmore!"

"That's different, Myra, and you know it!" Coach Martin said. "Lucas playing for us is not a game changer. Everybody in our conference knows that."

"No, but Lucas coming out for our team opened the door for them to pull a stunt like this," Coach Parker said. "I don't like the idea of our girls playing against a team with two physically MATURE boys. It's not safe."

The girls were gathering at the door. Jessi and Emily put their arms around me.

"Don't listen to her, it's not your fault," Jessi said.

"Myra, what do you want me to do?" Coach Martin said. "Do you want me to forfeit the championship to them? How do you think they reached the championship game to begin with? We're 7-0. The girls have worked too hard to get here, including Lucas. Even with those boys, we can beat them."

Just then Gina barged in.

"I hate to interrupt, but we're all outside the door, even Luke," Gina said.

The room grew quiet.

"Tell the girls to go get dressed," Coach Martin said. "We'll have a little meeting in 15 minutes. Tell Lucas to come in here. I want to talk to him."

She looked at Coach Parker.

"I want to talk to him alone!" Coach Martin said.

I just looked down walking into coach's off. I was afraid to look at Coach Parker.

I almost felt like crawling under a rock, or at least a filing cabinet.

"Take a seat!" Coach Martin said. "You heard every word?"

I nodded my head yes.

"I meant every word I said," Coach Martin said. "You have been nothing but a joy to coach. What happens here has nothing to do with what happens at other schools, I want you to understand that."

"Coach...I'll quit if you need me to," I said. "What if Coach Parker is right? What if it is my fault?"

She shook her head.

"You have 10 minutes to get your practice clothes on and get your gear," Coach Martin said. "You'll have to run laps if you're late. I don't want to hear anymore talk about quitting."

#####

It was the quietest I've ever heard our locker-room.

I sat in my usual place on the front bench while we waited on Coach Martin and Coach Parker to enter the room.

"I have something to say before we talk about Thursday's game and what we're going to do at practice," Coach Martin said. "I know most of you heard the conversation I had with Coach Parker."

We nodded our heads yes.

"Before we go any further and talk about the challenge we face against Creeksmore, I want you to know Lucas has offered to quit the team for the good of the team."

"Coach, can I say something? Gina said, raising her hand.

"Of course, you're captain," Coach Martin said.

"If Luke don't play, I don't play," she said.

"I won't play either." Melanie said, followed by Emily, Jessi, Kim and every girl in the room.

"I didn't think you'd want to play," Coach Martin said. "I didn't even give him the option. But I'm glad he got to hear you say it. I'm glad other people in this room got to hear you say it."

All of the girls turned around an looked at Coach Parker.

"Coach Parker is entitled to her opinion and you are to respect her," Coach Martin said. "But at the end of the day, I'm the head coach. If there is anyone in this room who doesn't believe in what we're doing, if there is anyone who doesn't believe we can beat Creekmore, they are free to go."

No one left.

"Good!" Coach Martin said. "We need to be united when we hit that practice field. It has been a joy to watch you grow together as a team, as sisters."

"What did I tell you little sister?" Gina whispered to me.

"You've all been like my children, like my daughters," Coach Martin said.

"Even Lucas?" Emily asked, jokingly.

"Yes, even Lucas," Coach Martin said. "Even when you move up to the high school, you will always be my girls. We've used too much time. Let's hit the practice field."

#####

"They look old enough to drive," Melanie told Gina as Creekmore took the field for pregame warmups.

They had two boys on the team. They joined at midseason. They both were about six-foot-tall. They also played football.

They were eighth graders, very mature eighth graders.

"I checked their birth certificates," Coach Martin told a parent. "They're 14."

Creekmore changed their uniforms once they joined their team. They switched to shorts. They beat Sullins 2-1. "The Beast" got hurt in the game. She was out for the rest of the season.

Bedford and Lakeland, two of the better teams in their division of the conference forfeited rather than face them.

"Spartans, what's your profession!" one of the boys asked the rest of the team as they met in a circle at midfield.

Spartans was Creekmore's mascot name. The line was from the movie "300."

"Aooh!" the rest of the team shouted.

"What dipwads!" Melanie said with her arm around me. "Don't they know the 300 were men? Sure they've got burly giants on their team. But we like our boy just the way he is on our team, even if he is a bit girly."

"Gee thanks, Mel," I said sarcastically.

"Anytime, just got to build up your ego," she said.

"And you do such a good job at that, too," laughed Gina.

"Okay Lady Tigers, gather 'round!" Coach Martin said.

"We can beat them!" she said. "Gina, Melanie, their boys are quick and physical. They're going to pound on you. That's what they've done against other teams. But they are not a very fundamentally sound team. We are. We are far more disciplined."

She then looked at me, Jessi, Emily and Amber.

"The key is for you four to attack the girls on defense," she said. "When they pass it to them, you swarm them like Bedford did us. They're not very good passers. They're going to commit turnovers. We'll have plenty of opportunities to score."

She then looked at Kim.

"You've been solid all year," Coach Martin said. "You must hold your ground. Lucas is going to sub for you for a few minutes in each half. It's going to be really physical."

The boys pounded Gina and Melanie alright. They were getting cheap shots in. I couldn't remember a game where they hit the ground so much.

Both of the boys targeted me. Tripping me from behind and laughing. They got away with it. They were getting cheap shots in when they could.

They were fast. They jumped on top of us 3-0 in the first half.

"We've got to attack their weakness more!" Coach Martin said. "Remember what I said. They're not disciplined. They're not fundamentally sound."

That began to show in the second half. They weren't in very good shape.

Gina outran one of the boys to score our first goal. Mel matched her to cut their lead to 3-2. But they got their second wind and scored two more goals to lead 5-2.

But then we got pesky. We swarmed their girls. I forced a turnover and made a pass to Emily, who scored. Jessi forced two turnovers and passed them off to Gina and Melanie, who both scored, tying the game at 5 all with just a few minutes to play.

Kim made a couple of great saves at keeper with time running out.

Finally, Gina broke away with less than a minute to go. Both boys chased her, with one chasing her down. He kicked her leg out from under her. The ref didn't call it.

She went crashing to the ground.

I heard her scream.

"Lucas!" she yelled, passing the ball off to me.

I had an open shot on goal as both boys closed on me. I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw Jessi all alone.

"Jess, think fast!" I said, passing the ball to her right before one of the boys tripped me.

Jessi ran past their keeper and hit the ball into the net right before the whistle sounded.

We won the game 6-5. Our crowd, the team went crazy. We won the championship!

I looked around and saw Gina still on the ground. She was in tears. She was in pain.

"Somebody get the trainer!" I yelled, kneeling by her side and weeping with her. Coach Martin joined us. She held both of our arms when they put her on the stretcher.

"We did it, little sister!" she yelled, trying to act like she was Okay.

But I knew she was in pain.

####

All of us piled into the waiting room while Gina underwent surgery. We were there for hours. Nobody thought about the championship we won earlier that day.

All we cared about was Gina. Beth and some of the other football players were there, too, including Josh, who looked like he had lost his best friend.

"She's made it through surgery," her dad said. "You're going to have to wait before you can see her."

It didn't bother us. We weren't going anywhere.

Suddenly, her mom entered the waiting room.

"She's still a little groggy, but she can take visitors now," her mother said. "But only two or three at a time. Coach, she wants to see you, Lucas and Melanie first."

We entered the room. She was in bed with her leg in a cast.

"How are you feeling?" Coach Martin asked.

"Oh, tired and a little sore," she said groggily.

"It's a pretty bad fracture," her mother said.

"I'm filing a protest with the state committee," Coach Martin said. "I'm sending them the film from the game. The referees let the game get out of hand. And those boys should not be allowed to play anymore with the way they played."

"That's why I didn't want boys to play in the first place," Gina said. "Thanks to them, I'm going to miss lacrosse in the spring."

She then saw the tears in my eyes.

"What's wrong?" Gina asked.

"I still feel like it's all my fault!" I said.

"No, it's not," Gina said. "I don't have a problem with boys playing, now, as long as they play by the rules."

"But still, I was thinking I should quit," I said.

Gina looked over at Coach Martin.

"I want you to run him until he drops in the offseason, just for that remark," Gina said.

"Consider it done!" Coach Martin said.

"Listen here little sister!" Gina said. "You're a Lady Tiger! Lady Tigers don't quit. I'm looking forward to kicking your tail into shape when we're both on the high school team."

She looked over at Melanie and then back at me.

"Once you've worn the skirts of the Lady Tigers, you're in the sisterhood, isn't that right, Mel?"

Melanie nodded her head.

"What sisterhood is that?" I asked.

"The Sisterhood of the Traveling Skirts," Gina said, brushing my hair out of my eyes. "Don't you ever forget that!"

 



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