When a determined girl is confronted with the culture of toxic masculinity, it's time to even the score.Michigan Manning lives for hockey, and this is her year to shine. That is, until she gets some crushing news: budget cuts will keep the girls' hockey team off the ice this year.If she wants colleges to notice her, Michigan has to find a way to play. Luckily, there's still one team left in town ...The boys' team isn't exactly welcoming, but Michigan's prepared to prove herself. She plays some of the best hockey of her life, in fact, all while putting up with changing in the broom closet, constant trash talk and 'harmless' pranks that always seem to target her.But once hazing crosses the line into assault, Michigan must weigh the consequences of speaking up even if it means putting her future on the line.
About the Author
Carrie S. Allen grew up in the Colorado mountains, at 10 000 feet elevation. She worked as a certified athletic trainer, first in a high school, and then in collegiate sports medicine. She lives in Colorado Springs with her husband, kids and dogs. When she's not acting as an unpaid chauffeur, she writes about athletes. Not female athletes, but athletes who happen to be female.
Read an Excerpt
It's the hardest I've ever worked for an A. Late nights. Focused studying. Constant testing.
Raw skate bite on my ankles and puck-shaped welts on my ribs.
I hold the palm-sized embroidered A up to my shoulder, even though I'm wearing a tank top instead of my hockey jersey. "How's it look?" I ask Brie.
"It goes great with mine. Matching accessories." My best friend pushes her chest next to mine, sporting a gold C safety-pinned to her cashmere T-shirt. They'll look even better when we get them sewn on our jerseys. "Of course, I expect to be addressed as Captain from now on, Mich."
She's only slightly joking. Brie has the right enthusiasm for a captain. But I suspect my A is supposed to stand for Anti-Brie instead of Assistant.
"Aye aye, Captain," I say.
She shoves my shoulder with hers. "And we'll call you Ass Cap."
I shove her back. No retort from the girl whose parents named her after her home state.
"Congratulations," Coach says, leaning back in her desk chair. "You earned them."
Yes, we did. We get to run this team for the next two years. I smile, thinking of the upcoming season. I can practically smell the damp air of the rink, the propane fumes of the Zamboni. My quads ache in anticipation of the killer workouts I've got planned for them. Last season we finished a respectable fourth in the league, but this year we're bringing home hardware.
Brie's grinning but I doubt she's daydreaming about playoffs. Ten bucks says she's mentally creating the playlist for our first locker room dance party of the season.
"Katie Perry," she says, bumping my hip with her own. Coach rolls her eyes but I laugh. We're a good team. I'll lead the drills; she'll lead the conga line. Besides, I'll admit I've had our team's welcome-back movie night planned for months (Miracle, followed by Mystery, with Ambassador's BLT pizza and a box of Mackinac fudge I've been hiding from my brother since July).
I'm ready to sprint to the rink this very minute. Or at least bum a ride off Brie.
"Does this mean you want us to start captain's practices right away?" Brie asks. It's only the first day of school and our hockey team doesn't usually start captain's practices until late September. But it's never too early to get in the weight room.
Coach hesitates. "This means that I want to know the team is in good hands."
Brie waves her manicured fingers in the air. "The best!"
There's something in Coach's tone that freezes me in place before her sparsely decorated desk. Beside her laptop, she always keeps a current team picture and a framed, signed Julie Chu puck on her desk. And they aren't there now. In fact, the desk calendar has been torn off to a blank sheet, and the whiteboard on the wall, usually crowded with lines and drills, has been scrubbed clean.
"Why? Where are you going?" I ask. Brie's breath catches and she grips my forearm.
"I have ..." Coach exhales and flicks at the cracked laminate corner of her desk. "I am taking a new opportunity."
She doesn't sound excited. I try to read her face and wonder what's appropriate for me to ask. As usual, Brie's words are faster than mine and she ignores that line between coach and athlete.
"What? Where?" she demands. "Why would you leave us?"
Because we're a small-town team of sixteen girls who win some and lose some, and unless you grew up here, you don't stay in the Upper Peninsula forever. Coach did not grow up here.
She averts her eyes and stands. "I don't want you guys to be late for your meeting with Mr. Belmont. He'll talk about it there. I wish I could explain ..." She comes around the desk to hug me, an unusual gesture for a woman whose coaching whistle never seems to come out of her mouth.
"Good luck, Michigan," she says firmly before she lets go. "I mean it, the team is in good hands with you."
Our new captain still stands with her arms crossed, that lower lip slipping farther out by the second. Brie doesn't do well with "I wish I could explain." Coach shoots a look at Brie. I take the hint.
"Principal Belmont, Brie. Hope you're not in trouble," I quip.
She snorts. "Yeah, right." There's no trouble Brie could get in that Daddy can't fix.
As we leave, Coach's brows are pulled together. I can't tell if she's angry or sad. But I am not looking forward to Belmont.
Partly because the man is half-creep, half-Napoleon with a vengeance. He was probably always creepy but the vengeance part had to have slipped in when he had a miserable high school career and decided to spend the rest of his life making other high schoolers miserable.
But Creepy Napoleon aside, now I'm sure something's wrong. Did Coach get fired? It's more likely that Brie's Pomeranian learned to skate than Coach got herself in trouble.
As we near the cafeteria, I slip the A into the front pocket of my jeans. Brie not only keeps her C on, but puffs her chest out proudly.
"You earned that," she says, pointing to my pocket. "Flaunt it, baby."
I shrug, even though I'm still grinning over my new role.
"I'm serious, Mich. I don't care which of us has the C."
I roll my eyes at her.
"OK, I totally care. I want the C. But I can't do this without you. I wouldn't want to. You're the Anti-Brie."
My mouth slides open. "Oh, my God, I was just thinking that."
"Come on, Ass Cap." She links her elbow in mine and pulls me through the cafeteria doorway. Our hockey team is squished around a long laminate table filled with backpacks and purses and first-day-of-school gossip. Strangely, the boys' swim team is here, too, sitting at their own cafeteria table.
I slide onto the bench next to Jeannie. "Are we in trouble?" she asks me. Jeannie wouldn't recognize trouble because she's never been in it.
"Not that I know of. Why is the boys' swim team here?"
Kendall leans across the table. "Did I miss some crazy party with them or something?"
"Like you'd miss a party," Jordan tells her. Kendall looks proud rather than insulted.
Brie eyes the swimmers. "I'd be up for a crazy party. Those boys have definitely been working out this summer."
Principal Belmont's shiny balding head draws my attention to the cafeteria entrance. He hurries to the front of the room, flipping through a thick bound notebook. He doesn't look angry, like we're about to spend my junior year in detention. He's not even looking at us. "Is anyone missing from your teams?"
Brie, having been captain for approximately three minutes, stands and takes a head count. "All of our team is accounted for." She flounces back down next to me.
"We're all here," says a voice from the swim table. Jack Ray. We've never spoken, but I know who he is. Everyone does. Jack Ray is an amazing swimmer. Olympic trials amazing. Going-to-Berkeley-for-free amazing. But he acts chill about it, so no one makes a big deal.
Oh, and he's also hotter than noon on Mercury.
"I won't beat around the bush," Principal Belmont says, cradling his notebook to his suit jacket. "We're facing large budget cuts this year. We're halving our arts department, we're making do with outdated technology and we're limiting the library's intake significantly. In looking at our budgets closely, we knew we would have to make cuts to extracurricular activities as well. It's only fair, when academic programs are cutting back. We can no longer justify —"
"You're cutting our team?" Brie screeches. She stands, smacking both palms flat on the table.
Jerk doesn't even flinch. "The school has decided it would be wiser to cut underperforming teams than to make smaller, detrimental cuts across the board to all programs."
My core stiffens at the insult. Or maybe it's soreness from the punishing workout this underperforming athlete woke up at five-thirty for. This can't be happening. "Underperforming" is repeated in varying degrees of decibels and anger around the tables. Vigorously sprinkled with question marks.
"I demand an audience with the school board." Brie flips her hair off her shoulder, and the gold threads of the captain's C sparkle under the fake lighting of the cafeteria. "My parents will demand an audience with the school board."
"The school board gives us a budget. Sometimes it's just not enough to cover our expenses." Principal Belmont articulates slowly, as if Brie is a child who doesn't understand budgets, one who's always had a credit card with a generous allowance. This treatment is probably warranted. "We go through it line by line and determine where we can apply cuts —"
"Why are we just learning about this now?" one of the swimmers asks. "We didn't get any input."
"And what can we do?" I ask. "Can we raise money for our programs?"
"I'm sorry. It's a decision that has already been made. I know this is a difficult way for you to start the school year. A letter has been mailed to your parents explaining this development."
Because we're too dumb to tell them ourselves?
I can actually see Brie calculating the worth of her SUV. "How much do we need?"
"How much money?"
"This is not about putting a Band-Aid on the issue. This is a long-term decision made for the betterment of the school."
I stand, even though I'm not sure my legs will hold me. "We're a team," I say. "We don't have anywhere else to play. There is no other hockey program for teen girls in this town. If you take our team, we can't play hockey." My voice quavers. I wish I could aim fury at him, like Brie's I'm-going-to-stab-you-with-my-skate stare. But all I can think of is the A in my pocket and the pride I felt when Coach handed it to me and told me I earned it. I did earn it. I biked to the weight room in August when I could have slept till noon. I did homework by the light of my cell phone, bouncing up and down on a freezing cold school bus, to play games all across the Upper Peninsula. I skated until I puked. Four times.
I'm happiest when I have skates on my feet, a stick in my hands and my teammates joking on the bench next to me. "Please ..." My voice cracks and the rest of my plea sticks in my throat. Jeannie rubs my back, which makes my eyes flood even more.
"Please tell us what we can do," someone finishes for me. It's Jack Ray, and I'm so grateful to have thirty eyes suddenly on him instead of my tear-threatened face.
"You can go to school," the principal says, his expression never erring toward sympathetic. "You can find another club to join. This is a public school, people. We aren't obligated to provide extracurricular activities. They are a privilege, not a right."
"But we didn't do anything wrong," Kara says.
He holds his hands up. "It's not personal. It's simply numbers. Ladies, you are an expensive endeavor. Travel, equipment, ice time."
"But the guys' team —" Brie begins.
"Traditionally has a larger, more competitive roster and a higher win percentage. You don't even fill your roster, and there's just not enough demand for your team. You only have one goalie, for heaven's sake. What would you do if she got injured?"
I don't point out that she played with bronchitis last year, that we've all played sick before. We sacrifice like the boys never have to. Yes, this school could only scrape up sixteen girls to play hockey. But we do just fine with our short bench.
"What about us?" Jack asks.
"Title IX regulations require us to offer a proportionate number of opportunities for males and females, so we have to cut an equal number from each gender." He flinches nervously. "We, uh, have come up with an alternative option for the girls' swim team at the Rec Center. Financially, we cannot support our pool facility any longer. The natatorium will be torn down and that space will be used for a much-needed parking lot."
There's a unified gasp from the boys' table. They're tearing out the pool? My eyes lock on Jack Ray's face as his jaw clenches. I've been to the pool on several occasions. The wall behind the starting blocks is lined with pennants for league titles and team records. Jack's impressive swim history is recorded on that wall.
"When?" he asks.
"The pool is closed," Belmont says. "It's already undergoing demolition."
That's the point when the former Owl River High School boys' swim team walks out.CHAPTER 2
I'll never eat Ben and Jerry's again. We should have binged on kale chips or something else I'd never miss.
We could rebuild the natatorium with the empty ice cream cartons littering the floor of Brie's bedroom — and by bedroom, I mean her palatial chamber where all sixteen of us are comfortably sprawled on the plush carpet. I took down an entire pint of Americone Dream myself. Ironically. By the time my spoon scrapes the bottom of the container, my face is streaked with tears and snot and my mouth is numb and thickly coated in cream. I'm not sure if my headache is sugar induced, brain freeze, or from too much crying. Or D: All of the above.
Brie passes me her half-used Kleenex. We're running low and rationing essentials at this point. She's still in the anger phase of the grief paradigm. Self-diagnosis; her mom is a psychiatrist.
"Since you guys won't help me slash Belmont's tires, my newest idea is going to be solitary sabotage. I can get access to his coffee mug, and I'm going to spike it."
Hanna swallows nervously. "Like with ... poison? Or just something to make him sick?"
Brie shrugs. "Depends on how pissed I still am."
I shake my head at Hanna. Sophomore hasn't learned yet how to ride out a Brie mood.
"Screw the school," I say. "Let's go out on our own. We can register with USA Hockey and play —"
"Who?" Brie asks. "No offense, Mich, but Assmont was actually right about there being no teams for us to play. None of the high school teams will be allowed to play us if we're not in the league. And where are we going to get the money to field a team?"
"And no, my dad won't sponsor us. Not that much money."
OK, I'll admit I'd been thinking it. But she's right, hockey's steep. Ice time for an hour is like $150. Travel, with massive amounts of gear, in the middle of winter, adds up fast. Coaching stipend, officials for home games, insurance, registration. Gear and supplies. I almost can't blame the school. Almost.
"At least my idea is more productive than coffee spiking," I mumble.
"I got it," Brie says, her face suddenly shining. "Oh, I got it. This is a good one, ladies."
This is the part where we're supposed to let Brie's theatrics build before she tells us. Emma rolls her eyes at me, but I lean in, waiting for our new captain to save the day.
"I'm going to tryouts," she says. Insert dramatic pause. "For the boys' team."
Even I didn't see that coming. We're all silent. I don't even bother to come up with a Supportive Friend Response because it's Brie and she's going to provide her own.
And she does. "You know I can skate faster than almost all those boys. And I can take a check. We'll flood their tryouts and when all the boys are pissed that they can't even make their own team, Assmont will have to give us ours back."
Cherrie, cradling her goalie helmet like a security blanket, shakes her head sadly. "Avery and Eddie are the best players on that team. I won't make it."
"Coach Henson picks the team," I say. "None of us will make it."
"If we're faster and better than the boys, he'll have to take us," Brie says. "That man likes to win." He has to, or the boosters will toss him like they did his predecessor. Coach Henson has been here three years and he's still trying to whip those boys into shape. My guess is he's getting nervous watching his game clock tick down. He can't afford to take a chance on us.
I scan the room, mentally placing bets on our odds. I have no doubt Brie could hang. She was the only girl on her teams growing up. She'd never played with girls until she moved to Owl River and joined our team freshman year.
Cherrie is right. The coach will keep his two stellar goalies, no need for a third. Laura splits time between swimming and hockey, and while our coach had allowed it, most wouldn't. Delia is tiny, which won't work so well for playing defense against bigger guys. Jordan just doesn't have the speed and skill.
I don't know where I fall. Coach always said I have the best shot on the team. I'm pretty fast. For a girl. But I've never thrown a real hit. Not on a guy, most of whom are twice my size.
Out of sixteen girls, I figure only Brie is a sure bet. And that's because I know she can bully her way into a spot. Not only does she have an unfiltered mouth and Daddy's credit card, but she did date the captain of the boys' team last year. None of the rest of us have that kind of leverage. I'm reaching for my phone to google "how to spike coffee" when Brie's parents poke their heads through her doorway.
Dr. Hampton's eyes go straight to the pile of oozing Ben and Jerry's containers in the middle of Brie's ice-colored carpet. I hastily scrub a licked finger across a drop of chocolate on the floor next to my foot. Unsuccessful.
Mr. Hampton's gaze focuses immediately on his daughter, purposely avoiding the other fifteen girls in the room. For an attorney with a killer reputation, it's funny how terrified he is of teenaged girls. As soon as Brie hit dating age, he started blood pressure meds. If you play Lady Gaga near him or talk about tattoos, you can actually watch the migraine forming. It's kind of a game for us, usually resulting in a later curfew and extra money for our evening out.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Michigan vs. The Boys"
Copyright © 2019 Carrie S. Allen.
Excerpted by permission of Kids Can Press Ltd..
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