Win or Lose
“Stay on your toes! You gotta be ready for the ball!” Coach Flores shouted encouragingly.
I stood across from my friend Jessi at soccer practice at Kentville Middle School, a soccer ball in my hands. I tossed the ball to her. Jessi stopped it with her upper thigh, bounced it down to her foot, and kicked it back at me. We were doing a volley exercise, passing the ball back and forth using different parts of our body.
“Keep it coming, Devin!” Jessi called out as she danced around on her feet, waiting for the ball.
I threw the ball again, and this time Jessi ducked into it, her braids flapping in the wind as she hit the ball back to me with her head.
“Now, that’s using your head!” my other friend Emma called to us, laughing at her own silly joke.
“Boo!” I heard Grace, the eighth-grade captain of the
Kentville Kangaroos (otherwise known as the Kicks), call out. “That’s the oldest soccer joke in the book!”
“Not the oldest,” Emma said with a gleam in her eyes. “Why did Cinderella get kicked off the soccer team?”
Groans broke out over the entire soccer field before all the Kicks replied together:
“Because she ran away from the ball!”
“Now, that,” Emma said, smiling triumphantly, “is the oldest soccer joke around!”
Everyone started cracking up, even Coach, who chuckled as she glanced at her wristwatch. “We might as well call it quits. I haven’t had a chance to check out today’s paper, and I’d like to do that while you are all still here. The article about the Kicks was supposed to run today!”
Everyone began buzzing excitedly as Coach went to her office to get the newspaper.
“Do you think my photo is in it? I hope they got my good side!” said my friend Frida. (She wanted to be an actress someday, so she was always worried about her good side.)
“I have to text my mom and make sure she picks up a paper,” Zoe added.
I grinned at my friends. When I’d first joined the Kicks at the start of the school year, the team hadn’t been doing so well. But now we were headed to the play-offs, and a reporter and a photographer from the Kentville Chronicle had showed up at a practice the week before. The reporter
had asked us a bunch of questions, and then the photographer had clicked away as we’d played a scrimmage.
“We’re in luck! Coach Valentine left a bunch of copies on my desk,” said Coach Flores. She gave one to Frida before she moved down the field, handing out newspapers randomly to the other Kicks as she went. Jessi, Emma, and Zoe huddled around Frida, and I joined them.
“It’s in the sports section, section C,” Coach called.
Frida eagerly leafed through the newspaper, dropping pages onto the field until she found the article.
“Ta-da!” she cried, pointing to the team photo of the Kicks plastered across the page. “Maybe a big casting director will see me in this photo and just have to have me in her next project!” She got a faraway look in her eyes.
“Um, hello?” Jessi said impatiently as she picked up the newspaper pages Frida had scattered all over the field. She straightened up and waved the pages in front of Frida’s face. “We want to read the article!”
“Yeah!” Emma cried. “This is so exciting!”
I looked over Frida’s shoulder and saw my teammates’ smiling faces looking back at me from the newspaper. We all wore the blue-and-white Kentville uniforms, which we had worn especially for the photographer that day. I saw myself grinning, wearing—of course—my pink headband.
“Kentville Kangaroos ‘Kick’ Their Way to the Play-Offs . . .” Frida began to read the article as Emma clapped her hands excitedly.
“It’s been more than twenty years since the Kentville
Kangaroos earned their nickname, ‘the Kicks.’ Coach Maria Luisa Flores should know,” Frida continued reading aloud. “She was a member of the middle school soccer team when the Kangaroos were two-time state champs in 1991 and 1992. It was during this time that the team got their nickname for the arsenal of kicks they used against their opponents. The name ‘the Kicks’ might have stuck, but the team’s winning streak didn’t. The Kicks haven’t seen a play-off season since 1996. Even when Flores came back to her hometown to coach for Kentville a couple of years ago, the team continued to struggle, finishing 10–1 last season. ‘I was focused on fun and making it a positive experience for the girls,’ Flores said about her early years as the Kangaroos’ girls’ coach. ‘But the girls made it very clear to me that they wanted to have fun while being serious competitors at the same time.’?”
“Losing all the time was so not fun!” Emma interrupted, and everyone nodded their agreement. Even though it had been only a few months ago, it seemed more like a lifetime ago when our practices had been basically chaotic messes.
I shuddered. “Do you remember how disorganized everything was?”
“What about the Panthers game when I scored in our own goal?” Emma asked. “You can’t get any more disorganized than that!”
Coach’s emphasis on fun and fair above all else hadn’t worked out too well. When she’d combined it with solid
coaching skills, the Kicks had finally started improving.
Frida continued reading: “Flores’s new coaching attitude, and some fresh blood, turned the team around. A talented group of seventh graders, including Connecticut transplant Devin Burke, the seventh-grade co-captain, are widely regarded as having jump-started the team this season.”
“Devin Burke! I know her!” Jessi yelled, jumping up and down. “Will you sign an autograph for me?”
I blushed. “Cut it out,” I said, swatting her hands away as she tried to hug me, acting like a crazed fan. I felt totally weird that the newspaper was singling me out. We were a team! Before I could say anything else, Frida kept on reading:
“?‘I don’t know where my team would be without me,’ Burke said at practice. The team is gearing up for their first play-off match against the Newton Tigers this Saturday.”
Frida’s voice trailed off as the quote sank in. She stopped reading and looked at me, her mouth open. Jessi, Emma, and Zoe all stared at me too, with surprised—and hurt—looks in their eyes.
“Wow, Devin,” Jessi said slowly. The joking smile from a moment ago left her face.
I don’t know where my team would be without me. The sentence echoed in my head, over and over. It sounded so stuck-up.
“I never said that!” I cried, feeling like I was on trial, with their angry eyes staring at me. I thought back to the day when the reporter, Cassidy Vale, had visited our team.
She had seemed really interested in talking to me, especially after finding out I was not only new to the team but new to Kentville Middle School.
“And you were made co-captain?” she had asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Yes,” I’d said, nodding, but I hadn’t told her that part of the reason was that nobody else in the seventh grade had wanted to be a co-captain at the time. The team’s disorganization, plus the fact that mean Mirabelle had been the eighth-grade captain, had made the job less than desirable.
But I knew I’d made sure to tell her how much being on the Kicks meant to me. She must have gotten my words mixed up.
“I swear! I told the reporter, ‘I don’t know where I would be without my team’ not ‘I don’t know where my team would be without me.’ You’ve got to believe me!” I felt like I had swallowed a rock and that it was slowly turning around and around in my stomach.
Emma gave me a sympathetic smile. “What was in the newspaper, it really doesn’t sound like something you would say, Devin.”
“Never!” I said. “I remember telling the reporter that ‘I don’t know where I would be without my team,’ because I really don’t! I was so scared on the first day of school. Meeting you guys and joining the Kicks was the best thing that could have happened. If I hadn’t, I’d probably still be hiding out in the bathroom during lunch!” I gave a little hiccup as I choked back tears.
“Hey, Devin, relax,”
Jessi said slowly as she put her arm around me. “It just took us by surprise, that’s all. And the reason it was so shocking is because we would never expect you to say something like that, never!”
“They misquoted you!” Frida said. “It happens to actors all the time. It’s part of being in the public eye.”
“All I want to do is play soccer, not be in the public eye and get all misquoted and stuff!” I felt miserable.
Zoe gave me a hug. “I believe you, Devin. Don’t worry about it. Anyone who knows you would know you’d never say anything like that.”
I was taller than Zoe, so as I hugged her back, I looked over her short strawberry-blond hair at Jessi, Emma, and Frida. They were all smiling at me.
“Group hug!” Jessi called. Zoe and I each opened an arm, and everyone came pouring in.
“Thanks, guys,” I said, hugging them tight. “I don’t know where I would be without my friends, and you can quote me on that!”
After we all untangled from our group hug, Jessi smiled up at me. “Let’s focus on the positive, which is that the Kicks have made it to play-offs!”
“Yes!” I pumped a fist in the air. “And we all worked together as a team to make that happen.”
Zoe looked up. “My dad’s here. Time to go!”
I followed her gaze to the parking lot next to the field. It was filling up with cars, as practice was supposed to be done by now. I spotted my family’s white minivan.
Maisie, my little sister, called it the Marshmallow.
We walked over to the benches to grab our stuff, and as we did, I noticed the other Kicks still huddled around newspapers in groups. For a second I’d forgotten that the entire team was reading the article. What were they thinking about me?
We walked by Grace, the eighth-grade co-captain. She was talking with Anjali, Maya, and Giselle, all eighth graders. They looked up at us as we passed, giving me a dirty look. I stopped in my tracks.
“Look, guys, about the article,” I began.
“Yeah, about the article,” Anjali said. “Thanks for being on our team, Devin. I don’t know what we’d do without you.” Her voice dripped with sarcasm. Maya and Giselle giggled, but Grace just looked at me intently.
“That was a pretty rude thing to say,” she said quietly.
“I didn’t say it! I swear!” I felt like I was back at square one. I explained what I had really said and how I’d been misquoted.
“Okay, Devin,” Grace said. But I could tell she didn’t believe me.
“Are we cool?” I asked.
She nodded curtly but didn’t say anything. Uh-oh. I didn’t think we were cool at all. More like ice cold, actually.
As I went to catch up with my friends, I saw Alandra, Taylor, and Zarine join Grace and her friends. They were all eighth graders too. Anjali started whispering loudly,
nodding in my direction from time to time. I heard the other girls whispering back to her as they shot looks at me.
I felt my shoulders slump as I walked to the parking lot. My best friends believed me, but it was pretty obvious my other teammates didn’t.