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How I Made the Team
"Where's Kelly?" Mr. Lester's face was very pale. "How can we practice without Kelly? Doesn't anyone know where he is? It's two-thirty."
Mr. Lester, our history teacher. I thought he might cry. For myself, I felt like laughing, laughing hysterically.
We were standing back of our school near the playing area, eleven of us, feeling very silly in brand-new red shorts and yellow T-shirts with "S.O.R." on our backs. If any dog catchers had come around they would have swooped us up for a bunch of stray mutts. Everywhere else on the field kids were running, tossing, kicking, all that stuff.
So far during two practices we had done two things. Since none of us knew the rules, Mr. Lester read them to us. Then we ran around in circles while he read the rules again, to himself. He didn't know them either. Second practice? We just tried kicking he ball. Wasn't easy.
"Gentlemen," pleaded Mr. Lester. "We have our first game tomorrow. Doesn't anyone know something about Kelly?"
No one said a word. The truth was going to hurt and no one wanted to hurt Mr. Lester. He was a nice guy.
"We have to play tomorrow," he said, as if we didn't know. We knew it too well.
It was my special buddy, Saltz, who let it out. "He no longer goes to our school. His father's job was transferred somewhere. Kelly kind of tagged along." I don't think we had our new uniforms on for more than thirty minutes, but Saltz, a natural slob, looked like he'd slept in his for twenty years. And he, like the rest of us, was only twelve.
"No longer in school?" said Mr. Lester, who had actuallyvolunteered to be our coach. "But what about our game, our first game?"
"He wanted to be with his family," said someone. I think it was Eliscue.
The coach sighed. He was a history teacher, and we were not what they write history about. If South Orange River Middle School had a worse collection of athletes than the eleven of us, they were already on display in the museum mummy section. But there we were, Hays, Porter, Dorman, Lifsom, Saltz, Radosh, Root, Barish, Eliscue, Macht and me, Sitrow. In a school that was famous, positively famous, for its teams and all-stars, we were not considered typical.
"Who did he think was going to be goaltender?" asked Mr. Lester. "Doesn't he understand, you can't play soccer without a goaltender. He should have told me." He said that just the way he might explain the sinking of the Titanic.
"His father probably got the job because Kelly didn't want to play," said Dorman.
When Mr. Lester got red in the face from frustration, he looked like an overripe tomato. His round face puffed and the few bits of topside hair were like old, dead leaves. It was clear he regretted being coach just as much as we regretted the thought of playing.
For example, me. I was so bad I was designated as the one sub. I didn't expect to play at all. But then, none of us expected to play. The thing was, our school had a requirement that you had to play at least one team sport each year you were there. We had slipped through the first year. None of us had played. None of us wanted to. But once they caught on, they made up a team for us, fast.
"Let's go back to the locker room," suggested Mr. Lester, who, I guess, needed to think things over.
Just as glad to skip practice, we followed him. Luckily, the locker room was empty. Everyone else was either playing or practicing.
I sat on a bench next to Saltz.
"Let's hear it for Kelly," he whispered.
"Maybe they'll call the whole thing off," I thought out loud.
He shrugged. Saltz and I had been pals since kindergarten. So I knew what he'd rather be doing: writing some of that poetry he likes.
"How many do we have here?" asked Mr. Lester.
"Two," said Root. He was our math genius.
"Gentlemen," said Mr. Lester, "this is not a joke. Please line up."
Our cleats clicking like bad pennies on the cement floor, we went up against the wall, all eleven of us. Porter was on one side of me, Saltz on the other.
"Maybe we'll get shot," said Porter.
"Only if we're lucky," said Saltz.
"Please, gentlemen, quiet," said Mr. Lester. He stood there looking miserable. You could tell he didn't like what he saw. But then, considering what we saw in the future, starting the next day, we didn't like it either.
"Gentlemen," he said softly. When Mr. Lester shouted, his voice got softer. "Gentlemen, you know why you're here."
No one said a word. Seventh-grade boys don't make good farewell speeches, not in front of execution squads.
"Do you?" he asked. My guess is that he was wondering himself.
"It's good for us," Lifsom said, as if describing someone's need for a head transplant.
"South Orange River Middle School has a fine sports tradition," continued Mr. Lester. "'Everybody plays, everybody wins.'" That's the motto of our program. And you, gentlemen, have been here a full year without being on any team."
"That's because we've got better things to do," said Barish.
Mr. Lester's face got positively purple. But he went on, believe me, softer. You had to strain to hear. "That's exactly the point. You are all -- each one -- nice, smart boys. You have, however, avoided sports. Too much desk work."
"Computers," slipped in Root. "The future."
Mr. Lester's face made the ultimate transformation. He turned deathly white, and spoke as though from the grave.S.O.R. Losers. Copyright © by John Avi. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.