Revenge. That was all he had left, the coach thought. It was half time of a meaningless game against his arch rivals the Screaming Eagles and his team was up by six points. It was the same screaming Eagles that had spanked his team 42 to 6 just three weeks ago, and started the slide into obscurity that would insure that the Coach’s own team, the Black-knights, would not even get in to the playoffs this year. It was in Fact the same Eagles the Black-knights had never, ever, beaten
He sighed out loud and his thoughts drifted back five years ago when he started coaching the eleven and twelve year old’s in this little town in Mississippi. Everything had so much promise then. The Black-knights hadn’t won a game in three years after all, so there was no place to go but up.
Year one had seen his star rise with the locals as he turned this formally sad sack team into an actual contender. Year two his star rose further when he actually took them to a championship game and even though the team had lost, it had been an epic battle and the Eagles had only won by 1 point, the town went crazy. All during the off season cars would honk at him, people would slap him on the back and tell him that, “he would get them next year”.
But he didn’t “get’em next year”. He got the team to the championship, yes sir he did that. But after getting embarrassed 7 to 42 by these same Screaming Eagles he wished he hadn’t. That year the encouragement from the locals dried up. No one was openly hostile yet but you could see the doubt in their eyes when they looked at him. Things got worse from there. Year four the star Running-back got hurt mid-season and the Black-knights didn’t make the playoffs. That is when the jeers and catcalls started. “Way to go Coach”, “Throw that one out of the Playbook”, and the ever popular, “My grandmother could coach better then you.”
All of this had been going on behind him during the games and he had by now learned not to turn around and look at his own fans. It wasn’t all his fault he thought. This year was supposed to be about redemption, it even started off that way with the Black-knights winning three straight. Then his star middle linebacker started doing bad in school and got pulled from the team by his parents. His ace quarterback that was the leader of the team and could throw a football better then any other kid in the league had been put on ADD medication mid season and now showed up at practice like a zombie.
He looked up startled
“Coach you want the usual?” It was Lisa, mother of his former star running-back who sat next to her in the snack stand on crutches.
“Yes M’aam” he said “Hot-dog burnt, and a soda”
The Cheer-leading coach Sarah walked up to him,
“Good job today coach at least we can end this season on a positive note if you beat these guys”
He smiled, she was the last one that still believed in the team. He had gotten rid of the old cheer-leading coach as soon as he had taken over the team as she had a habit of taking money at fund raisers to compensate herself. Coach Sarah had proven to be his best decision of the last five years.
Sarah had even won cheer championship and taken her squad to state last year, a moment he would remember fondly had not one of the parents walked up congratulated her and then with a rueful look at him say, “Maybe you should coach the football team since you seem to know how to be a winner.”
He took it all in stride though, he had boys of his own and knew first hand how little time these kids had before high school sports would weed most of them out.
“Look who’s coming”
Coach looked in the direction Sarah was pointing and saw Pat the Coach of the Screaming Eagles hurrying towards them.
“Whats up coach?”
Pat shook his extended hand and said rapidly, “I need a favor”
At this Lisa stopped what she was doing and moved closer to the food stand window so she could hear better. Coach Sarah had an alarmed look on her face but she to leaned in to hear better.
“I hope its a ride home and not anything that will get me in trouble with the league” Coach replied
“No, No nothing like that, look I have a kid on my squad I have to play today, league rules”
“I want you to tell your kids not to hurt him”
Coach gave him a dubious look, was this some kind of trick?
As if reading his mind Coach Pat pointed to his team in the visiting end zone about 30 meters away.
“That one, he is disabled”
Coach looked over at the boys and immediately recognized who Pat was talking about. Easily 30 pounds lighter then any of the other kids with a strange hop like walk he was definitely different then the rest of the kids.
“I don’t mean any offense Pat but who was the genius that decided to let him play?”
“Look his father is a lawyer and threatened to sue if we didn’t put him on the squad, something about Americans with disabilities Acts or something. I figured no big deal he could practice with the other kids but no contact.”
“OK so why are you putting him in?”
“I told you his Dad is a lawyer and apparently in the by-laws it says any kid that pays gets to play at least 3 downs each game. His Dad just figured that one out and here we are.”
Coach thought about that for a minute.
“Look” Pat said, “The last time I get the ball I will wave the red flag at you which will be the signal that I am putting him in. I will have my quarterback give the ball to him, just ask your kids not to crush him please. Its a free play for you”
“I can do that”
“Thanks buddy I really appreciate it.” and he was jogging off to join his team.
“Think its some kind of crazy trick?”, Sarah said
“Nope” This came from the snack bar window and both Coach and Sarah turned while Lisa said,
“That’s Brandon, he got the Palsy, had it forever now” Then simply, “ No cure you know”
“Hmmm” was all coach could think to say.
The five minute whistle rang out and coach gathered together his hot dog and soda and hurried across the field to be with his team. They should be finishing up the half time oranges team mom always had someone bring.
He gave the usual half time speech, minus the part about winning this game and going on to the playoffs. Gathering the kids together he pulled his team captain to the side and said, “At the two minute warning, remind me we have to talk”
Chucky his twelve year old leader of the team, covered in mud and sweat, just grunted at him as he put his helmet on and led the team on to the field to the cheers of their 70 or so fans who where shaking empty soda bottles with coins in them. Across the Field to a slightly larger crowd ( The Screaming Eagles would be going to the playoffs) the other team was coming out led by their team mascot a goat. Why a goat? Coach wondered not for the first time. Those fans all rang huge cowbells that echoed across the field.
What the hell does a goat and cow bells have to do with Eagles? Coach wondered as he followed his boys on to the sidelines.
The second half was hard fought. Neither team gaining an advantage and that was OK by coach since he was winning by six points. Across the field he kept an eye on the kid with palsy and noticed that the other boys where protecting him. If a play headed toward their sideline and the kid with palsy was near invariably one of the other boys would pull him out of the way or jump in front of him.
One play after the two minute warning Pat waved the red Flag and called his final time out. It was third down for the Eagles and they had no choice but to give the ball to the kid with palsy. Coach grinned to himself thinking he would just knee it out and put this one in the W column. It may not have been a championship, but after this season he would take all the little victories he could get.
“Two minute Time out Coach”, The referee hollered over.
“All right guys everyone on me”
As they had been taught the boys surrounded coach in a circle. He took a knee and said,
“All right boys this is it. No glory this year but we go out on a high note. One thing first though. The other team has a disabled kid on their squad and he has to get in on a play. I don’t want you guys to hurt him OK?”
Silence, then one of the boys said, “Do you mean Brandon?”
“Yep that’s the kids name”
One of the other boys chimed in, “He got the Palsy”
“Why yes, That’s what I understand, yes he does”
Then another, “No cure you know”
Exasperated now Coach said, “OK, yes, whatever just don’t hurt him”
At that all the kids began to talk at once.
“OK be quite” Coach said trying to think how he would make the boys understand. “Listen up….”
Then amidst the chaos
“BLACK-KNIGHTS!” It was team Captain Chucky and immediate silence descended.
“I got this coach”
Coach looked at him blankly.
“Really, I got this”
Coach sighed and stepped out of the huddle of boys looking at the referee he signaled for a time out.
The Referee walked over to him, “what the hell coach?”
“Just time out ref. It will be my last one.”
The Referee rolled his eyes at coach, then jogged to the center of the field blew his whistle while signaling towards the Black-night bench.
“Time out Black-knights”
This brought groans from his side of the field until he heard one of his kids dads yell,
“Whats wrong coach scared your gonna win?”
This brought on peels of laughter, (Don’t look, he said to himself) but the boys stayed huddled up until the referee blew the whistle to signal play was to began.
Looking across the field he saw the kid with palsy hobbling out on to the field. He could see people he thought might be the parents of the boy in the opposite stands. A woman in her mid thirty’s with a look of shear terror on her face and a man in a suit ( Who would where a suit to a little league football game except a lawyer?) beaming with pride.
As the boy came out on the field Coach could see the look of determination in his eyes. As he put on his helmet ( twice the size of his head from the looks of it) the crowd got silent.
Behind him on his own side he could hear excited voices.
“That’s that Brandon boy ain’t it?”
“He got the Palsy”
“No cure you know”
Please, dear god, don’t hurt that kid. Its bad enough now. That kid gets hurt and you will be the most hated man in Mississippi, was all coach could think.
The playing field was silent for the first time that day.
As the quarterback of the other team barked out calls to his team Coach could see his boys and the boys from the other team whispering frantically to each other across the line.
The ball was snapped and the boy with palsy was handed the ball. The two lines met and just as coach had taught his boys the linebacker Chucky burst through an opening bearing down on the the disabled boy like a freight train.
This usually would have brought on a smile from coach but now all he felt was terror. Brandon ( if that was his name) was moving painfully slow and once Chucky hit him it would be lights out.
Except he didn’t.
Chucky flew through the air and as Brandon moved in what looked like slow motion he side stepped the leap, leaving Chucky dramatically rolling as he hit the ground.
Brandon extended his arm like a 1950’s football player and slow chugged his way down the field doing twist and turns in his slow motion way while Black-knight players flew around and near him but never touching him. The acting was so poor the sideline referee walked up to coach and asked what was going on.
“This some kind of Joke?”
Coach was for once speechless, as the last half minute winded down Branden hobbled further down the field, Black-Knight players tumbling and rolling around him. It finally ended with Brandon making it in to the end zone. The kid tried to slam the football but lost it halfway through the arm motion.
To coaches astonishment both benches emptied, kids running on to the field and chanting,
“Brandon! Brandon! Brandon!”
Then the Parents and fans joined in as an Eagles Players lifted Brandon on his shoulders.
“Coach!” It was the head referee.
Coach still dumb struck looked up as the referee passed him writing in a little notebook.
“This one goes down as a tie”
Still speechless coach just mumbled an OK.
After roughly fifteen minutes the crowd on the field started to disperse. Team Captain Chucky came buy and asked coach where he wanted the team. Coach waived him off and said tell them to just go home, I will talk tomorrow at the banquet.
Coach sat in the bleachers and watched the crowd empty out. He saw a figure leave the little broadcast tower they had and approach him. It was the league commissioner.
“That was a good thing you did there coach.”
Sitting in the bleachers next to his bag of footballs and football equipment. Coach gave him a halfhearted smile.
“That’s why I hate to do this but I’m gonna have to fine you”
“Your the Home team coach, your job to control your fans, they all ran on the field before the game was officially over”
“Sorry coach them’s the rules, fifty dollars payable by the end of the month”
“But I don’t get paid to do this”
“Sucks right? Fifty dollars payable by the end of the month” and off he went.
Coach stared at his retreating figure and cursed under his breath.
Five minutes later a light touch on his shoulder. He looked up and Lisa extended a hand holding a burnt hot dog.
“Saved you one”
Thanks Coach said as he took the hot dog from her. She stood next two him for about two minutes then patted him on the head.
“There’s always next year coach” and then she was gone.
Five minutes later a voice he didn’t recognize called out to him
He looked over but didn’t know the man walking up to him.
“I want to thank you coach”, he extended a hand and it dawned on coach that this was Brandon’s father suit and all.
“Brandon will remember this for the rest of his life and I don’t think my wife has been this happy since the day he was born.”
Coach got up gathered his bag in turned to face the father.
“No” Coach said quietly.
“No?” Clearly confused.
“That’s right no” coach replied “No sir, no you don’t thank me. I thank you”
Confused the father didn’t understand.
“I Forgot, your boy reminded me” Coach said simply
“I forgot why I do this, thank you for reminding me”
Coach shook his extended hand and walked to his car already dreading telling his wife about the fine.
© 2011 Steven Burton All Rights Reserved
A new book by Author Steven Burton, “Mid Life man in crisis” is coming soon!
If you enjoyed reading this short story and would like to know when more true stories, essays, and poems will be posted more please sign up for the mailing list. We don’t sell emails and we don’t engage in spam.