Tuesdays had never been my favorite days. Most Tuesdays I had to do both mine and my little brothers chores because he has to go to Technology club. Some Tuesdays I have to go pick him up at Harris Creek Elementary School which is 5 miles from my school and 20 miles from my house.
But today was going to be different. I knew this when I awoke to my mama and daddy yelling about who was going to do the dishes and clean Gunner’s room this afternoon because I wouldn’t be there to do it, and who would have to take off work to get him from Technology club. I smiled at this as I crawled out of bed and headed to my closet to get my helmet and shoulder pads. I realized that I had to get something to put them in so I went into my older brother, Tyler’s, room and got his old Harris Creek duffle bag from the top of his closet and threw my football equipment in it.
Tyler was an all-middle Georgia linebacker two years ago, but a neck injury and a bad SAT score kept him from playing in college. He ended up at the local not-community-college-but-anyone-can-get-in-so-it-seems-like-a-community-college college. Now, he lives in a dorm with two other one-hit-wonder football players.
I hadn’t worried about the time all morning until my mother called down the hall, “Come on you guys. You’re going to be late.”
I glanced at the clock on my bedside table and gasped as I read the bright red 7:34. I had to drive at least 75 miles an hour if I was going to get to school on time. I ran into Bailey’s room to make sure she was awake and ready to go. She was awake but not completely dressed. Her “I love hugs” t-shirt was hung around her neck and she was trying to get one arm in while she was brushing her teeth with the other hand. Then, I ran into Gunner’s room and he was awake and dressed and brushing his teeth also.
I walked out to my car and started the engine. I sat in the driver’s seat while I waited for Gunner and Bailey to make an appearance on the front porch. I turned on the radio to the local radio station, WYGZ. I listened as Jimmy Garrett, radio personality and Vince Garrett’s father, talked about the football team.
“Well, after talking to Coach Starks on the telephone last night, it seems as though my boy, Vince, is not good enough for his starting quarterback job and he has acquired a female to take over the position. Stephanie Simpson, the senior that won the powder-puff game last year, is going to be suiting up in the blue and orange this Friday for the Crusaders. I hate to say it, but she has a very good arm and could help this team more than Vince did.”
This was the first time I had ever heard my name on the radio and I was in a daze as both Gunner and Bailey came running out of the house.
I put the car in reverse and we backed out of the driveway on our way to school.
When I first got to school, I didn’t think much of Brent smiling, parked across from me, behind the wheel of his Chevrolet Silverado. Ty was standing beside his truck on the other side of Brent smiling too. It wasn’t until I got into my first hour class, not tardy, when Trevor asked me what I thought of all of the attention that I realized I would be more popular now, more than I had ever been.
“I haven’t really gotten much attention, yet, other than a few of the football players waving at me when I walked in the school.” I told him.
“Oh, well, wait until you win a game.” He said. “You will be the most well-known person in this school.”
“Really?” I asked.
“Yeah you will.” Brent said from in front of me. I didn’t even know he was listening.
“We’ll have to wait and see.” I told them as I got my Trigonometry notebook out of my book bag and started writing down the equations that we had to memorize for the quiz Friday.
Hollie was never late for school and was already writing down the fourth equation in her pink spiral notebook. Apparently, she hadn’t heard the boys or the radio this morning and was just oblivious to the fact that I was going to be playing football, because she didn’t turn around and ask or even look at me in a weird way. I hadn’t told neither her nor Savannah about my new hobby, so I decided now was a good time.
I reached over and tapped her on the shoulder. She threw up one finger, indicating I should wait a second, so I did. She turned toward me, put her pencil down, and said, “What?”
“Did you hear about the football team?” I asked.
“What about it?”
“They have a new quarterback now.” I was trying not to give too much away.
“Oooh. Is he cute?” She crinkled her nose as she said this.
“Um, no,” I said. “He is a she.” I told her. She obviously had no idea what I was talking about. “And she is me.”
“Wait,” she understood it now. “So you are going to play football?”
“Really? Are you even good?”
Brent decided to jump in. “Yeah she is. She is a very good player and I’m glad that she decided to join the team.”
“I am too.” Trevor said.
Hollie continued to look at me like I was a new kid she had just met. But I knew she would realize that this was not a bad thing, especially not for her. She could get to know Trevor, he could get to know her, and she wasn’t even the one who had to get hit.
Heading into weight training, I wasn’t expecting anything to be different, but as I walked in, I was surprised to see Coach White standing at the door of the squat room (we were supposed to be doing squats) waiting to talk to me. He led me into the hallway and told me, “You know, you don’t have to go so heavy on the weight today. You can just do 65 pounds or so. I just don’t want you to hurt yourself lifting weights when you have a bigger role playing football now.”
“Okay Coach White, but shouldn’t I be lifting more weights now that I’m playing football and not less?”
“If you were a guy, yes, you would be lifting more weight. But, since you are a girl, I don’t want you pushing yourself to get more weight than you are used to.”
“Well, then, shouldn’t I just keep squatting the weight I have been doing?”
“Yeah, I guess that would be okay. I just didn’t want you to try to do more weight. At least, not yet.”
“Okay Coach, I won’t try to do more weight.”
And that was it, but before now, Coach White would never pull me out of the room, one-on-one, to tell me how much weight I should do.
After school, on my way to the field, was when I realized, for the first time, that I would have to be like wonder woman to not only the players, but the coaches as well. I was unsure of how I would go about doing this, but the first thing I would do is perform to the standards that Coach Starks had set for me even before I knew I would be playing for him. I could say that I would be the best quarterback to ever walk through Harris Creek, but I would be lying. Before that can be truthful, I have to perform like a champion in practices, games, and even in the classroom. I have to show these guys that I can play like any other male player. They need to gain my trust. So, today at practice, I have to be extraordinary.
I already had half of the playbook memorized from staying up until midnight the night before; I knew what plays I would call in practice today. The only thing was the Coach White kept coming into the huddle, never giving me a chance to run a play on my own. So, after I made a comment about it to the guys in the huddle, the next time he popped his head into the huddle, Ty told him, “Coach White, Stephanie’s got this. She knows what she’s doing. Go get yourself a PowerAde and sit on the sidelines and watch what she can do. You don’t have to keep making sure she is okay on her play calls.”
“Okay.” Coach White said as he threw his hands up. “Just making sure.”
We all watch him walk to the sidelines, slumping, as he grabs a PowerAde and sits on the metal bench.
As I turn back to the huddle Ty says to me, “He’ll be okay. He just doesn’t take denial that well. He’ll be okay in a few minutes.”
“I don’t care how he feels as long as he doesn’t interrupt me anymore.”
“No, I don’t think he’ll be back over here. At least not until he still has some PowerAde left.”
“Okay, anyway, where were we?” I ask no one in particular. “Oh yeah, I-right Z 23 on two. Ready, break!”
We break the huddle. I stay behind as the linemen and receivers line up. Brent stays behind me and Ty, Blake, Bruce Miller, the left tackle, Brian Johnson, the right guard, and Antonio Grant, the right tackle, line up in front of me. Blake does his normal pointing and shouting, and I start the count, “Down. Set. Hut.”
Everyone was frozen for a split second. They knew what was coming next.
Blake pushes the ball into my hands. I turn around to my left. Brent is there waiting, I throw him the fake pitch. Monstavion Turley, the tailback, is also waiting behind me, waiting for the handoff. I give him the ball, trying not to make it look so obvious. I turn back around to face my offensive line. Two defenders were already on the ground. Ty had knocked both Ian Lattimore and Jeremy King to down by himself. Blake had Bentavious Martin, the defensive tackle, wrapped up in his arms as Monstavion ran behind him and into Will Grimes’ arms as he tackled him.
Coach Starks and Coach White both came over to me after the play was over while Monstavion was getting to his feet.
“I’m glad to see that you know not only some passing routes but also some running plays, too,” Coach Starks said to me, “but, I want to see how far you can throw. Do you know what a Hail Mary is?”
“Yes, sir, I do.”
“Good, because you are about to throw one, okay?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Alright. Let’s do this.” To the rest of the team he said, “Everyone gather ‘round.”
I was half-listening, because I was about to have a heat stroke, as he explained that the defense, running backs, and offensive line were going to take a “breather” and that this drill was just for me and the receivers. He said he wanted me to throw the ball to each receiver once. I wasn’t going to have any pressure from a defense, so I shouldn’t be forcing the ball to the receivers.
Coach White was on one knee on the twenty yard line with a football in one hand. Coach Starks tells me to throw it to whichever receiver I wanted to throw it to.
I walked up in front of Coach White, bent down as if I were under the center and just decided to yell “Hike!” instead of going through the “Down, Set” part. I mean, it’s not like I was trying to get the defense to jump off-sides or anything like that.
Coach White practically handed me the ball, a drastic change from the ball being forced into my hands by Blake. Chad took off first; he had a good jump off the ball I had noticed from my two days at practice. Gerchavion was running faster though, as he caught up with Chad at the 25 yard line. Jesse was slower than both of them just making his way to the 25 while Chad was passing the 20 and Gerch, as we call him, is at the 15. I heave the ball toward Chad. I didn’t want to even try to get it to Gerch and throwing the ball to Jesse would be too easy, so I threw it to the man in the middle.
The ball flies through the air in a perfect, tight spiral. It ends up a little to the right of Chad, but he reaches out, grabs it, and hauls it in for the touchdown. My first touchdown. I was so excited that I ran down into the end zone where Chad was and jumped on him. After I did it, I realized that maybe I was being a little too enthusiastic and as I turned around, everyone, even the old man cutting grass on the other side of the field, was staring at me. Chad was standing beside me now, also staring. “Good throw,” he said slowly, “but this isn’t a game; you don’t have to celebrate yet.”
I could feel my cheeks turning red under my helmet. “I know. I guess I just felt like celebrating my first touchdown.”
“Just don’t do it again.”
The next Hail Mary didn’t go as well - I overthrew Jesse by about five yards- and the next one was worse – I underthrew Gerch by ten yards.
Coach Starks let us go home fifteen minutes earlier than usual because his wife called him and said she needed him immediately.
On the way home, as I was singing along with the radio as it played “Photograph” by Def Leppard, I passed by Coach Starks’ house, just like any other day. But I could tell by the crying Mrs. Starks on the front porch that this was not any other day; something was wrong.
I decided to go home first and at least see if my parents had heard anything about the Starks’ that I hadn’t.
Once I got home, I was shocked to see my mother and father already talking about the Starks’ and everyone else associated with the Harris Creek Chalk Mine. It turns out that the mine is going out of business because of all of the other chalk mines coming to town. They will be completely shut down within the next year. Mrs. Starks is the secretary at the mine and has been for 22 years.
“With her unemployed,” my daddy says, “and with the Board telling Gary that if he doesn’t get at least 7 wins this season he could be fired as head coach, they could lose their house.”
“So she lost her job?” I asked him.
“Yes, but it’s nothing you have to worry about. Go upstairs and get ready for bed. You three are not going to be even close to late in the morning.”
I headed up the stairs and thought about Coach Starks and his wife. They were too nice to be unemployed. They were the best people anyone around here knew. Everyone in town, I knew, would be devastated, either for their family or for the Starks’ family. Tomorrow was not going to be a good day. That I was sure about.