Authors: Matt Christopher,The #1 Sports Writer For Kids
Tags: #JUV028000, #General Fiction
Copyright © 1984 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: January 1998
The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
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ate afternoon sunlight streamed through the trees at the far end of the field. The game between the Cornwall Cougars and the Bristol Knights was winding down. Tired from a hard-fought game, the teams were playing a little sloppily. One penalty after another was called as the Knights tried to get a goal on the Scoreboard. At the moment, however, it read, Cougars 3, Knights 0.
Watching the action from his position at the Cougars’ goal, Mac Williams danced back and forth. The rapid motion helped to keep him warm. It also kept his reflexes active. He never knew when the play would turn around. In an instant, there could be a thundering horde of players stampeding their way toward one spot—the twenty-four-by-eight-foot gap that marked the opening to the goal.
As he bounced back and forth, Mac kept up a stream of commentary.
“Come on, you Cougars! Let’s go, Mickey! Nice trap, Dougie! Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, Mel, there’s a hole! Fill it in, fill it in! Way to go! Yes! Where’s the ball, where is it? Right on, Jackie. Okay, you guys, here they come. I’m ready for you! Way to go, Cougars—took it away from them!”
Mac was a top-notch goalie, but that wasn’t his only claim to fame. He was just as well known for his way with words—and he used them a lot!
Even at his distance, Mac could see the action taking place at the opposite end of the field. He watched as his teammates set up a play that could bring them yet another goal. But left wing Stevie Fisk’s pass to Mac’s best friend, Dougie Cooper, just missed its mark. It glanced against his heel and went sailing across the field.
“All right, Dougie, eye on the ball—foot on it, too! Oh, not so fast, Mr. Knight Wing. Missed your chance, didn’t you?”
There was a burst of laughter in the stands. Some of the Cougar fans could hear Mac loud and clear. His chatter never really stopped, but it did slow down when the play was near the goal.
It looked as though that was about to happen.
With less than a minute to go, the Knights had managed to wrest the ball from the Cougars and race it downfield into Cougar territory. Only a few defenders were positioned to hold them off.
As the Knights set up a play for a goal shot, their sole obstacle was Mac. Luckily for the Cougars, the Knights had no idea how serious an obstacle he was.
The Knights had tried this same play in their first attempt for a goal. That’s all Mac needed. The play was fixed in his memory, and he was ready for them.
As the Knight wing swept by the front of the goal, he kicked a short pass upfield and a little behind him. A Knight coming from the opposite side of the field broke away from his blocker. He positioned himself and booted the ball cross-corner toward the net.
Mac had been covering the middle, but as soon as he saw the setup, he leaped into position, arms outspread—and made the block! The ball dropped at his feet. He gathered it in his hands, surveyed the field, then booted it toward the opposite goal.
The crowd roared its approval.
“Mac! Mac! Mac!” and “Defense!” could be heard amid applause and the shouts for the Cougars. On an impulse, Mac glanced over in that direction and gave the fans a little wave.
The cheering simply got louder. Before Mac turned his attention back to the action, he noticed that Jimmy Palumbo, the sports editor of the
, the school newspaper, was on his feet, leading the cheers in the stands.
Jimmy was new in town, though Mac and the other Cougars had already known him by reputation. He had been the lead scorer for one of the Cougars’ rivals, the Henryville Hornets, the year before. And he would have made the Cougars squad this year, but at the beginning of the summer, Jimmy was in a bad car accident. The driver had been thrown free, but one of Jimmy’s legs had been broken.
Jimmy wasn’t on crutches anymore, but there was no way that he was going to play soccer this season. Mac had heard that he had asked Coach Robertson if he could help out on the coaching side of things. But apparently Coach Robertson had turned him down, saying he had more than enough help on the sidelines. In the end, Jimmy opted to report on the weekly games for the school paper.
Poor Jimmy, Mac thought. I think I’d go nuts if I couldn’t play soccer!
On the field, the action had reversed itself in an instant. A breakaway ball skittered down to Cougar territory. The captain of the Knights raced for it with incredible speed for someone who had played the whole game.
Billy Levine, the team’s sweeper, tried to take the ball from him. But he slipped in the mud and went down.
Now the Knight was all alone in front of the net. Only Mac would stand in his way when it came time for his shot.
Adrenaline shot through Mac’s system. He had no way of knowing where the Knight was going to aim. Then, suddenly, the ball was sailing through the air. It looked as though it was going to go in and spoil the shutout.
But even though he had only a few seconds to react, Mac’s energy gave him the extra inches he needed. With outstretched hands, he just managed to deflect the ball and prevent the goal.
At that very second, the final whistle blew, signaling the end of the game.
s usual after a victory, the Cougars’ locker room was noisy with the sounds of celebration. As the players cleaned up and packed their gear, they congratulated each other on a game well played. Mac was his usual vocal self, commenting on just about every major play of the game. He had good words to say for everyone who had done well, including a generous measure of self-praise for his own efforts.
“Thought they had me on that last one, didn’t they?” he asked Mickey Davies, a tall, thin regular on the forward line. Before Mickey could open his mouth, Mac supplied the answer: “Gotta get up pretty early in the day to put one by Big Mac!”
Mickey just shook his head and moved on.
“Speaking of which, what do you say, Dougie? Want to celebrate with a burger and a milk shake? I’ll let you buy,” Mac said. “I figure you owe me because of that pass you missed just near the end of the game.”
“Considering the fact that my two goals helped win the game,
might think about buying
a milk shake and burger—and fries to go with it,” said Dougie Cooper.
“Oh, yeah? Don’t you think you’d better lay off the grub for a while? You’re starting to look kind of chunky and slow out there, buddy.”
Dougie and Mac had been friends since kindergarten. Both were good athletes, and both loved playing soccer. Dougie had incredible speed and was a natural for the front line. Mac, built taller and wider, had a solid presence as a goalie. Since they never competed with each other for a spot on the team, they could exchange good-natured banter without hurting each other.
The coach understood this and let them blow off steam at each other. After all, it was harmless. But not everyone else understood. Sometimes the other guys seemed turned off by the way Mac and Dougie went on. Billy Levine, the team’s burly defensive sweeper, even now was rolling his eyes.
“You guys really take the cake, you know?” he said! “Don’t you know it took the whole team to win the game?”
“No, really?” asked Mac, faking surprise. “You mean I’m not the Cougars’ only defense? You could have fooled me!” He looked at Billy slyly. “Say, think you could teach me that move you did at the end of the game? You know, the one where you end up gazing at the sky while the opposite team dribbles by you? Do you think the mud on the backside of your uniform will ever come clean?”
Billy reddened and opened his mouth for a retort when a new face appeared in the locker room.
“What’s this, fighting in the ranks?” shouted Jimmy Palumbo. He was edging his way among the benches and soggy-haired players. Pausing at the far wall, where Mac and Dougie were stuffing their gear into their duffels, he pushed aside a towel and sat down on a bench. “Better watch out or I’ll be forced to report that trouble was brewing in the locker room.”
“Ah, Jimmy ’scoop’ Palumbo enters the scene,” said Mac. “Maybe you’d like to spring for a couple of milk shakes while you pump us for quotes.”
“Sure, why not?” said Jimmy. “You can tell me what it was like in kindergarten around here.”
“When Mac defended the sandbox from all attackers,” Dougie joked. “And then told all the teachers what a swell job he’d done.”
“You mean he was playing to the crowd even back then?” asked Jimmy.
“Hey, I could tell you stories,” said Dougie. “Remember, I knew this guy when he was barely out of diapers.”
“Yeah, and you were still wearing them,” said Mac.
That brought laughter to the rest of the group in the locker room. Even Billy Levine cracked a smile.
“Come on, Jimmy. You, too, Dougie,” Mac went on. “And anyone else who wants to come along. I’ll buy. It’s the only way I’ll end up getting some myself.”
“And the only way you’ll get us to listen to your early war stories,” said Dougie.
“Hey, I got a million of ‘em!” said Mac, smiling.
As a small group lined up behind him, there was general agreement that he was right about that!
hen Mac got on the school bus Monday morning, he was still in great spirits. The Cougars were well on their way to a winning season, and he was playing at his best.
The return trip at the end of the day was the exact opposite. He was in a dark, angry mood and could barely think about the Cougars.
What had happened to cause such a shift?
All day long, Mac had shared his buoyant feelings with his classmates. It seemed as though he was the unofficial school cheerleader.
When Dougie solved a difficult problem in math class, Mac was heard to mumble, “Way to go, Einstein!”
When the results of the previous week’s special U.S. history contest were posted on the bulletin board, he noted the names of a few Cougars on the list with, “Well, at least some of us know what’s been going on in this country!”
And when he missed an easy word in the semifinals of the weekly spelling contest, he mocked himself by saying, “As you can see, words fail me!” Then he laughed with everyone else when someone yelled back, “Well, that’s a first!”
On top of all that, he was greeted cheerfully by just about everyone in the school building. It seemed as though they all knew that he had played well in the game against the Knights.
“Nice game you had yesterday,” said Mr. Sullivan, the head custodian. Mac was waiting for him to finish tightening a connection on the watercooler.
“Were you there? Did you watch the game?” Mac asked, bending over to sip the icy liquid.
“No, but I heard about it,” said Mr. Sullivan. “Whole school’s talking about how well the Cougars are playing this year. I even read all about it in the Palumbo boy’s column.”
“Best season ever, so far,” Mac said, wiping his lips with the back of his hand.
“Uh-huh,” Mr. Sullivan said, nodding. “Lots of talk about you, too. You’re playing real well, they say.”
“Well, I’m glad somebody notices,” said Mac with a big smile.
“Oh, they notice,” said Mr. Sullivan. “They notice a lot of things.”
“Like what else?” Mac asked, suddenly curious.
Mr. Sullivan just smiled, picked up his toolbox, and lumbered down the corridor.
Mac shrugged. He couldn’t imagine what sort of “things” Mr. Sullivan had in mind.
He found out when he was on his way to practice that afternoon. Outside the school building, copies of the
were being handed out. He took one and was about to stuff it into his duffel when Dougie grabbed his arm.
“You’re okay, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Of course I am,” Mac replied. “Why wouldn’t I be? What’s the matter?”
Dougie pointed at the newspaper. “You haven’t seen it, then, have you?”
“What are you talking about?” Mac asked. “Jimmy’s column? Didn’t he say I played a great game?”