The summer before Caleb and Tessa enter high school, friendship has blossomed into a relationship . . . and their playful sports days are coming to an end. Caleb is getting ready to try out for the football team, and Tessa is training for cross-country.
But all their structured plans derail in the final flag game when they lose. Tessa doesn’t want to end her career as a loser. She really enjoys playing, and if she’s being honest, she likes it even more than running cross-country. So what if she decided to play football instead? What would happen between her and Caleb? Or between her two best friends, who are counting on her to try out for cross-country with them? And will her parents be upset that she’s decided to take her hobby to the next level? This summer Caleb and Tessa figure out just what it means to be a boyfriend, girlfriend, teammate, best friend, and someone worth cheering for.
“A great next choice for readers who have enjoyed Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s Dairy Queen and Miranda Kenneally’s Catching Jordan.”—SLJ
“Fast-paced football action, realistic family drama, and sweet romance…[will have] readers looking for girl-powered sports stories…find[ing] plenty to like.”—Booklist
“Tessa's ferocious competitiveness is appealing.”—Kirkus Reviews
“[The Football Girl] serve[s] to illuminate the appropriately complicated emotions both of a young romance and of pursuing a dream. Heldring writes with insight and restraint.”—The Horn Book
About the Author
He is the author of Toby Wheeler: Eighth-Grade Benchwarmer, Roy Morelli Steps Up to the Plate, The League, and The Football Girl. To learn more about Thatcher and his books, visit him online at spitballinc.com or follow @theldring on Twitter.
Read an Excerpt
Sunday, May 8
It was the day of the Pilchuck Scramble, the biggest trail run in town. I signed up as a team with my two best friends when we heard it was open to everyone. Marina, Lexie, and I were fourteen, so we were in the youngest age bracket for women. With five hundred yards to go, the runner ahead of me was fighting the trail, breathing harder, glancing over her shoulder. A few steps in front of her, the race leader was just reaching the top of the last hill. Marina and Lexie were right behind me, trying to keep the same pace.
“Showtime,” I said to myself as we came to the last straightaway. In a burst of speed, I flew past the second-place runner, with Marina right on my heels. Now we were second and third. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lexie get caught in traffic as the other racers surged forward on the narrow path. She hadn’t done anything wrong. It could have happened to any of us. That was why it was important to have three of us in the race. We won as a team or lost as a team.
I shortened my stride, picking up my pace, and took over first place as the finish chute came into view. I saw the look of shock as I breezed past my latest victim. She seemed to lose heart, and her pace fell just enough for Marina to dart into second, right behind me. And that was how we finished.
After the race, Marina, Lexie, and I posed arm in arm in arm for a million photos, mostly taken by Marina’s mom. When we finally had a moment to ourselves, we high-fived and hugged. Marina hosed me with her water bottle while Lexie laughed like crazy, so I doused her back. We were drenched when a woman in a Pilchuck High School cross-country shirt came up to us.
“Congratulations, girls,” she said.
“Thanks,” we all said at once.
“You three make a great team. How long have you been running together?”
“Since sixth grade,” I said. “We all go to the Rosemary School.”
“We’re going to Pilchuck High this fall,” Marina added.
The woman smiled. “I’m Coach Harper. I hope you’re thinking about cross-country in the fall.”
“Definitely,” said Marina.
“We’re a package deal, though,” Lexie explained.
“Well, I could see all of you being in my top seven,” Coach Harper said. “You’ll have to earn it, but I like what I see.”
“She loves us,” Marina said after Coach Harper had left.
“Top seven,” Lexie repeated, savoring the words. “We’ll actually be able to win races—as freshmen.”
While Marina and Lexie were celebrating, I was looking across the park at a group of boys playing a game of two-hand-touch football. About a year ago I had started playing pickup with the boys on my street. Now we were on a flag football team together, something I didn’t talk too much about with Marina and Lexie. I was afraid they would think it was weird. After all, there were no other girls playing football in Pilchuck.
“Tessa,” Marina said to me, “isn’t this awesome?”
“It’s the best,” I said, trying to be enthusiastic.
Marina and Lexie gave each other a look.
“What?” I asked.
“Tessa, it’s obvious you’re dying to go over there,” Marina replied.
Lexie nodded. “We can see you staring.”
“Do you mind?” I asked. “I just want to say hi.”
“Suuure,” Marina answered. “On one condition: you need to tell us which one of them is the lucky boy.”
I did my best to laugh it off. “Oh, he’s just my neighbor,” I said, trying not to blush. “His name is Caleb. You know him, right? He goes to Riverside.” He was another one of my secrets.
“We’ve seen him around,” Lexie said. “So when are you going to introduce us?”
“Soon,” I said. “I promise.”
After one more quick round of high fives and hugs, I said goodbye and walked over to the football game. I was a bit relieved when my friends didn’t try to follow me. I loved them, but I wanted to keep football and Caleb to myself a little while longer.