Read A Different Game Online

Authors: Sylvia Olsen

Tags: #JUV000000

A Different Game (2 page)

“Most days aren't good enough, Nephew.” Uncle Rudy cuffs Murphy good-naturedly on his shoulder.

“Every day. Nothing less than every day. Dedication makes a good athlete.”

“Okay, okay,” Murphy says.

He knows Uncle Rudy is right, but Murphy would rather play a game than do the exercises. It's the same with the other boys.

“That's why I'm here on Wednesdays,” Uncle Rudy says when a few more boys arrive. “It's a workday. Drills, running, drills, running—we are going to make superstars out of each and every one of you.”

He matches the boys up in pairs and leads them through agility and ball-handling drills. They do strength exercises and even some yoga. The first time Uncle Rudy had the team do a yoga breathing exercise, the boys laughed at him. But after a few weeks of doing yoga stretches, Murphy could tell the difference. Those weird moves make him feel two inches taller and way more limber.

Uncle Rudy works the boys in small groups and individually. It isn't until after they have a break and eat oranges, which Uncle Rudy always brings, that he leads them in a game.

He makes sure Albert and Murphy are never on the same team. That way Murphy gets to experience trying to save Albert's shots. If it weren't for Albert,

Murphy would never have become such a good goalie. Albert's skills have made Murphy faster, tougher and smarter. And for that he is thankful.

And besides, Albert is the only player who works Murphy's left side.

Uncle Rudy runs the sidelines hollering at the boys.

“Think about it, Jeff. Anticipate.”

He watches each one of the players.

“Don't just give it to Albert, Connor. Make him work for it.”

He doesn't criticize, but Uncle Rudy doesn't believe in praising everyone all the time either.

“Albert, Danny's all over your fancy footwork.

Let's see some smooth, solid ball control.”

After Rudy blows the whistle, he sits on the bleachers, and the boys gather around on the grass.

“We're making good progress. But I'm not here to blow sunshine in your face. I'm here to push you to get better. You are all good players, and every one of you can get better. It's like the soccer field is on an uphill slope. You are heading up—always, always up.

Improving, improving, improving.”

The boys nod their heads.

“Come on,” Rudy says. “I'm looking for some more enthusiasm. Which one of you wants to stay as good as you are today for the rest of your life?”

Haywire tosses up his hand for a second until everyone starts to laugh at him.

“Really?” Uncle Rudy laughs.

“I want to be better?” Haywire says it like it's a question.

“Right on—you figured it out.” Uncle Rudy nods his head. “You are better this week than you were last week, and if you do your drills and run, you'll be even better next week. Carry on like this, and who knows how great you will be in the future.”

“Right on.”

“We'll do it.”

“Yeah.”

The boys clap their hands and slap each other on the back.

“You grade sevens only have three weeks before school starts. That means there's not much time to work on your game. I want all you other boys to help them out. This is a team effort. And”—he points his finger at Albert, then Jeff, then Danny, then Murphy—“you and you and you and you are going to make us proud.

You are the best lineup I've seen heading up to Riverside since I was in grade seven.”

“Yeah right,” Murphy says. “You told us only one guy made the team that year and that was you.”

“But I forgot to say I was as good as all four of you put together.” Uncle Rudy laughs and then says, “Seriously, you guys, I've got to tell you. I don't think I was as good as any one of you. And that's the truth.”

The boys stand up.

“We've got one rule, and what is it?” Uncle Rudy hollers.

“Give 'er all you've got!” the boys shout together.

“And?” Uncle Rudy shouts.

“Get 'er done!” they shout louder.

“What's the rule?” Uncle Rudy hollers again.

“Give 'er all you've got!” the boys reply.

“And?” Uncle Rudy shouts.

“Get 'er done!” everyone shouts in unison.

The boys gather in a huddle and put their hands in the middle like spokes on a wheel and shout:

What's our name? Yeah!

What's our name? Yeah!

Get 'er done and win the game!

Gooooooo, Buckskins!

They head back onto the field and take their places.

“Twenty minutes to show your stuff,” Uncle Rudy shouts. He blows the whistle, and the game starts again. “Every play, every minute counts.”

The boys are tired and hot. It's been a long practice. But with Uncle Rudy on the sidelines, they all try their best. Especially Murphy. He makes sure no one, not even Albert, gets another goal.

The next three weeks scoot by like they're just a couple of days. Murphy wishes there was more time. He wants to work on some of his moves. Mostly he wants to work on his confidence. He's only been playing soccer for seven months or so, while the other boys have been playing since they could walk. Everyone plays soccer on the reserve. Little kids look like they have soccer balls attached to the ends of their feet. Murphy was more interested in computers right up until he and his mom moved to Long Inlet.

It helps when Uncle Rudy says stuff like, “Don't agonize over the last play, anticipate the next play.

You're the best you've ever been today, and you'll be better tomorrow!”

Sometimes Murphy doesn't understand the words Uncle Rudy uses, so after practice he asks Mom how to spell the words, and then he looks them up on the computer.

Ag-o-nize: to think about something intensely,
usually in great detail and for a long time,
before making a decision

An-tic-i-pate: to imagine or consider something
before it happens and make any necessary
preparations or changes

Once Murphy looks up the words, he knows exactly what Uncle Rudy is talking about. That's the thing Murphy likes about Uncle Rudy—he doesn't think things should come easy. He thinks if it's worth having, you should have to work for it.

Uncle Rudy also understands how the boys feel about leaving the tribal school.

He says, “You're going from what you know and what's comfortable to what you don't know and what feels scary. That's okay. That's called growing up. That's called challenging yourself. Without a challenge, you will stagnate.”

Stag-nate: to fail to develop, progress or make necessary changes

What Uncle Rudy says makes it easier, but Murphy still feels a little worried about going to Riverside.

Especially when it comes to the soccer team.

“I think you're ready,” Uncle Rudy says on the last Wednesday before school starts. “I know you're ready. I am positive you're ready. I absolutely have no doubt in the world that you guys are ready. You guys are the Formidable Four. Riverside has never seen anything like it.”

The Formidable Four
. Murphy rolls the words around in his head.
The Formidable Four
. The words sound awesome. All the boys hold their heads up and pump their chests out when Uncle Rudy shouts, “The Formidable Four. Riverside”— Uncle Rudy spreads his hands like he is making a grand announcement—“let me introduce to you the Formidable Four.”

His enthusiasm is catching. The younger boys shout, “The Formidable Four! You go, guys!”

All the boys are excited when they stand in a huddle and shout:

What's our name? Yeah!

What's our name? Yeah!

Get 'er done and win the game!

Goooooo, Riverside!

Saying
Riverside
pumps the boys full of excitement. They run out into their positions faster than usual. Everyone except Albert. Although Albert looked excited when they cheered, Murphy is surprised by how slowly he runs to center field. Something has been different about Albert for the past week or so. Murphy noticed it first at a practice when Haywire ran right past Albert. Haywire can run fast, but no one can run as fast as Albert.

The boys play the best game of the summer. Danny takes a couple of shots on Murphy that are harder than ever. But that only happens when he can get past Jeff, who plays defense like a trooper—he's got his territory covered. Murphy guards the net like he's protecting the Queen—no one's going to get past him without a fight. Even Haywire and the others play like stars.

“The Formidable Four. The Formidable Four!” they cheer each time a play is made.

After practice Murphy repeats the words over and over. He loves the way they sound. There's something about the words that make him feel bigger and better than ever. When he gets home, he looks up the word
formidable
on the computer.

For-mi-da-ble: inspiring respect or wonder because of size, strength or ability

“Formidable,” he says to his cat, Mousetrap. “The Formidable Four. That's us, MT. What do you think about that?”

Chapter Three

“Good morning, Riverside students. I hope you are all settling into your new classes. There are a lot of announcements this morning, so everyone listen up.”

Ms. Clarkson, the principal, has a scratchy voice that makes Murphy cringe, like when Mom stirs cheese sauce in a saucepan with a metal spoon. He ignores the principal until she says, “The first senior boys' soccer tryout will be held on the upper field after the second lunch bell at twelve fifteen. Coach Kennedy wants me to remind you that only boys with full soccer gear will be allowed on the field. That means shoes, shorts, shirts and protection.”

Jeez, Murphy cringes, does she have to mention protection right out loud on the announcements like that? Isn't it kind of private? Then he thinks about Albert and the other boys. Murphy has his gear in his backpack, but what about them? At the tribal school, they had only needed a full set of gear when they played a game. How were they supposed to know about Riverside's rules?

After homeroom, Murphy meets Jeff in the hall. “Got your stuff?” he asks. “Did you know about the full set of gear?”

“Yeah, I got it,” Jeff says. “And no, I didn't know we needed it. I brought my stuff for pe—didn't even think about needing the whole works for tryouts.”

“What about Albert and Danny?” Murphy asks. “What if they don't have their stuff?”

Just then the two other boys race around the corner into the hall.

“What are we gonna do?”

Albert is out of breath. He doubles over, holding his sides.

“We can't even get on the field without a full set of gear!”

Danny is starting to panic.

“Wow, they sure take themselves seriously up here,” Murphy says. “They shouldn't tell us we can't try out just because we don't have gear. That's not fair.”

“Yeah, it is, Murph. They can do whatever they want. That's why Riverside is so good. They take soccer seriously,” Jeff says. He might be right, but he's not being helpful.

“Well, what are we supposed to do now?” Albert says. He's got his wind, and he paces back and forth.

“Go to class, that's what,” Jeff says. “We aren't allowed to stand around in the hall.”

“But what about tryouts?” Danny says. “What are we going to do?”

“We'll figure it out at recess,” Murphy says.

The boys disband and head to class.

Murphy and Danny sit across from each other at the back of the math class. The room is full, but none of the other students look familiar.

Murphy finds it hard to concentrate on the teacher's explanation of fractions when the most important day of the year has just been totally ruined because of one stupid rule. He can't try out if Danny doesn't. They made a deal. They are a pack of four as far as soccer goes—the Formidable Four.

Maybe it's because he's in math class and he's thinking about fractions, but Murphy suddenly wonders,
What if half or a quarter of us don't make it?
He shoves his thoughts into the back of his mind and starts thinking of ways to get Danny and Albert some gear.

“Do you have your shoes?” he whispers to Danny.

“No, but Albert does,” Danny replies. “I have shorts and a shirt, but neither of us has protection.”

“We have to phone home and get someone to bring some stuff up here,” Murphy says.

“Boys. Boys at the back.” Mr. Henthorn looks directly at Murphy. “Do you have something to share with the class?”

“No, sir,” Murphy says. “Sorry, sir.”

The teacher continues talking to the class, and Murphy tries to think of a way to make a call. He's got no money. As far as he knows, none of the other boys bring money to school. The principal already said that students aren't allowed to use the school phone except for emergencies, and probably no one else will think this is an emergency. And anyway, Murphy isn't about to go to the office. That's a place he wants to stay away from.

“We need a phone,” he whispers again to Danny.

“Great, who's got one of those?” Danny says. He looks totally discouraged, which is just the way Danny is. If something doesn't work the first time— he quits. It's not a very good characteristic for a great soccer player. Murphy knows that, but there's nothing much he can do about it. Sometimes it's impossible to get Danny to think positive, no matter how hard Murphy tries.

“They don't let us bring cell phones to school. Now what are we supposed to do?” Danny hisses through his teeth. “This is messed up.”

Mr. Henthorn stops writing on the chalkboard and faces the class.

“Did someone say something?” he asks.

A few kids snicker.

“I might as well forget the team,” Danny says without paying any attention to the teacher. “This place is too stupid.”

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