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Authors: Eric Walters

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BOOK: Home Team
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“No matter how bad it gets,” he added.

“How bad could it get?” I asked.

He didn't answer except to shrug his shoulders— which was, I guess, an answer. I knew we were going to find out, starting with tonight's game.

I stood and sang along with the national anthem. I turned ever so slightly so I could see Lailah but nobody could see that I was looking at her.

She was wearing another new outfit. She seemed to be in something different every day. Wow…that was scary. Not that she had that many clothes but that
noticed them. I actually
her clothing. Worse still, I knew which of her clothes I liked. Either I was starting to like girls or I was becoming one.

Lailah looked my way and smiled. I quickly looked away. The anthem ended and I slumped into my seat, glad to be out of her sight.

The announcements followed. There were the usual ones—including a reminder to stay off the field and to be careful of the equipment the men were using to fix it. The final announcement got my attention.

“And we wish our Clark Boulevard Cougars good luck tonight in their first game of the season,” our principal, Mr. Waldman, said.

A little cheer came from our class and an echo from other classes down the hall.

“We hope for another undefeated season. Go Clark Cougars!”

The cheering was even louder. Oh great, just what we needed was to raise the expectations. The way we were playing, the only time we'd be undefeated was before tonight's game started. I'd have to enjoy that until then because we weren't going to enjoy much about this season.

“Okay, let's get to work,” Mrs. Orr said.

She wasn't wasting any time at all this morning.

“I'm happy to say that we received our first reply from our business letters,” she said.

For a split second I got excited, thinking it was the Raptors, but then I remembered that Ashley had written to her father. I had to figure that even if he did find her as annoying as the rest of us, he'd still write her back, and fast.

“Or more accurately,” Mrs. Orr said, “we received a reply to twenty-two of your letters.”

“The Raptors wrote back!” I exclaimed, practically jumping out of my seat.

Everybody started to cheer, and Mrs. Orr silenced everybody by raising her hand slightly.

“What does it say?” Kia asked.

“Nick, since you started all of this, why don't you read the letter to the class,” Mrs. Orr said.

I jumped to my feet. Normally reading out loud in front of the class would rank pretty low on my priority list, but not reading this letter.

You could have heard a pin drop as I took the letter from Mrs. Orr. Right up on the top of the page was a big Raptors emblem—official Raptors paper. Pretty darn classy. I cleared my throat and then took a deep breath.

“‘Dear Clark Boulevard Students,' ” I read.

“‘ Thank you so much for your letters to our organization. It sounds like Clark has some big Raptors fans and wonderful students.' ”

There was another cheer from the class. I cleared my throat to silence everybody.

“‘Because you are such big Raptors fans, we wanted to respond to you as soon as possible. Thank you very much for your kind invitation for Wayne Dawkins and the rest of the Raptors to come to your school. It was particularly kind of you to offer them a pizza lunch—pizza is Wayne's favorite food.' ”

I looked at Kia and we exchanged smiles. We both knew that already—which was why we'd both mentioned that in our letters to the Raptors. I went back to the letter.

“‘And since you are all such big fans I know you'll understand when I tell you that unfortunately Wayne has to decline your offer—' ”

I stopped reading and looked at Mrs. Orr. “Declined…as in he's not coming?”

“It doesn't look like it.”

of the Raptors coming?” I asked.

“Please continue reading,” she said.

I didn't want to read anything anymore, but what choice did I have?

“‘Every year we receive literally hundreds of visit requests from individuals, schools and community organizations. Unfortunately the players can't make all those visits and still have time to practice and play basketball, so we are not able to send a player to your school this year.' ”

We were getting nobody. Not even the twelfth guy who just sat on the bench. Nobody.

“Finish the letter, please, Nick.”

I didn't want to finish the letter. I just wanted to slip away away where nobody would be looking at me, but I knew finishing the letter was my only way out. There were just a couple more lines.

“‘We know you're all great Raptors fans and will continue to support the team. Sincerely, Christina Allison, Director of Community and Public Relations.' ”

I slinked back to my desk, eyes down, not wanting to look at anybody. I felt awful. It was the sort of feeling you get when you miss a free throw—an important free throw—and every eye in the gym is on you.

I was still holding the letter. I wanted to ball it up and throw it in the garbage can—but I'd probably miss. Besides, I couldn't do that. I slipped it into my binder, where I wouldn't have to see it.

“Thank you for reading the letter, Nick,” Mrs. Orr said. “And that certainly was a successful letter.”

“Did I miss something?” Kia asked. “Just how was that successful?”

I wanted to know the answer to that question myself. Probably everybody in the class wanted to hear what she was going to say.

“While no Raptor is going to come to the school, that doesn't mean that your letters were unsuccessful,” Mrs. Orr said.

“But how
it successful?” Kia asked again.

“The business received your letter, understood your request and replied to your request.”

“But they said no,” I said.

“They did say no, but they did reply, and that's the thing that made your letters successful.”

I guess anything could be a success if you aimed low enough, and this was pretty well as low as you could aim.

Chapter Four

Practice was light and fun, and everybody seemed happy. A win could have that effect. We'd won our game by one point. It was a last-minute shot by me. A lucky, desperate shot that had no right to go in but did. Everybody on the team had celebrated like we'd won the championship instead of beating a team that was almost as bad as us. It wasn't like either team was really good enough to win, but we couldn't
lose. Still, it was better to beat a bad team than lose to one.

I put up a shot and it missed everything, even the netting. Major air ball. I just hoped nobody had—

“Glad you didn't do that in the game yesterday,” Kia suggested.

Obviously one pair of eyes saw me miss.

“We both had a pretty good game.”

“We both had a
game,” she said quietly. She leaned in even closer. “Which is the
reason we won.”

“Yeah, I guess we'll just have to play that way every game and we'll—”

“Still lose most of our games.”


She pulled me into the corner away from everybody.

“Do you really think that was a good team we beat?” she asked.

“No, of course not. They were bad.”

“And we still almost lost to them. Unless we hope that every team is terrible, we're in trouble.”

“We're getting better with each practice,” I suggested.

“We're getting better because we were so bad we had no place to go but up.”

“You two decided to take a mid-practice break?” Mr. Roberts asked as he came up behind us.

“We were just talking…talking strategy,” Kia lied.

“And what did you come up with?”

Oh good, let's tell him that our strategy is that we hope all the other teams play worse than we do.

“We were thinking it would be good to spread the points around more,” Kia said.

Thank goodness she could always come up with something to say.

“You two scored forty-seven of our fifty-four points,” Mr. Roberts said.

“Yeah,” Kia agreed. “So we need to feed the other players more.”

“I was thinking the opposite,” Mr. Roberts said.

“What?” I asked.

“The rest of the team got seven points on twenty-four shots. They hit around eighteen percent of their shots. We can't afford to have them shoot very much. We won because you two played hard, shot well and didn't let the others give up.”

“They did
hard,” Kia agreed.

. Think about that last basket,” Mr.Roberts said. “The game was basically over, and we could've lost, but Devon goes after that ball, strips it from their player. Then Bilaal practically
himself by grabbing the ball as it goes out of bounds and taps it back in to you, Kia, before he crashes into those seats. And, of course, Kia gets it to you, Nick, and you shoot. But really, if any of those plays weren't made, we would have lost.”

Strange. I hadn't thought of any of that, but Mr. Roberts was right.

“We'll just have to keep trying as hard as we can every play of every game,” Mr. Roberts said.

“We'll keep hustling,” I confirmed.

“I hope so. It's going to be harder once we start losing,” he said.

Kia and I looked at each other and then at him. Neither of us was expecting him to say that.

“Come on, you two aren't the only ones who know basketball. For us to have any chance in any game, we'll have to out-hustle everybody. If we don't bring more energy than the other team, we have no chance. It's easier to hustle when you're winning or the game is close. Much harder if you're losing, especially by a lot…and that could happen.”

“You better tell them,” Kia said, gesturing to the rest of the team. “After yesterday they think we're going to go undefeated.”

“It's better if they don't know. Let's not talk to them about any of this. Let them believe, because that may be the best weapon we have.”

He paused. “Besides, it isn't just about winning.”

“It isn't?” Kia questioned.

He shrugged. “Well, winning is nice, but maybe this year winning isn't about the score at the end but how we play the game.”

I was pretty sure that winning was based solely on the score at the end of the game, but I didn't think that was what he meant or wanted to hear.

“If we keep on trying, keep on improving, then that will be like a victory,” he continued.

a victory, but certainly
a victory.

“And that's why I need the two of you to promise me you will not give up on them and will keep the team from giving up,” he said.

“That's a promise,” Kia said. “You won't see any quit in either of us.”

“No way we'll quit,” I agreed.

“No matter how bad it gets, we'll keep a positive attitude. But it sure would have been a real morale booster if the Raptors had agreed to send a player to our school. But there's no chance of that, right?” he asked.

“Their letter was pretty clear that they can't come this year,” I said. “The letter said they get hundreds and hundreds of requests and can't say yes to them all.”

“Well, I guess they have a point,” Mr. Roberts said. “Although sometimes taking no for an answer is too easy.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You truly fail when you stop trying to succeed,” he said.

“Do you have an idea?” I asked—hoping he did.

“I just
you an idea. Maybe you shouldn't give up so easily,” he said.

I dribbled a few steps and then skidded to a stop as a little grade-one kid scampered in front of me, chasing a ball. He didn't even notice me. It was lucky I saw him or there could have been another playground collision.

“He's right, you know,” Kia said.

“That little kid with the ball?”

“No. Mr. Roberts. He's right. We shouldn't just give up on the idea of having the Raptors come to our school.”

“Okay, do you have any bright ideas?”

“Not yet, but—”

“Hi, Nick.” It was Lailah. “You played a good game yesterday.”

“How would you know?” Kia questioned. “You weren't there.”

“Some people listen to the morning announcements. Anyway, I heard he scored twenty-four points.”

“There's more to a good game than points,” Kia said.

“You mean he didn't play a good game?” Lailah asked.

“Of course he played a good game, but there is more than just how many points somebody gets.”

“You mean like his number of rebounds and assists, or maybe he had a lot of steals and played some good D?” Lailah asked.

Kia looked surprised.

“You shouldn't look so shocked,” Lailah said to Kia. “You don't have to wear a jersey every day or smell like sweat to know basketball.”

Kia was wearing a school jersey but it wasn't sweaty.

“I guess I'm just proud to be part of the team,” Kia said, “but you wouldn't know about that.”

“I've been on winning teams before.”

nails?” Kia asked.

Lailah didn't answer but she looked annoyed— very annoyed. Kia was being rude, but she did have a point. It would be hard to play any sport with nails that long.

“Kia got twenty-three points,” I said. “She was the second-highest scorer.”

“Well, good for her,” Lailah said. The tone of her voice certainly didn't match the words.

More silence. Overhead a plane came in, breaking the silence with the noise of its engines. Our school was under one of the flight paths to the airport and on some days, depending on the direction the wind was blowing, we could have planes overhead every few minutes.

BOOK: Home Team
9.93Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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