They say everyone has a double, a doppelganger, someone who’s their mirror image. What if you just met your double? What if you were a thirteen-year-old kid who’s gay and you just met your double?
I sat across from Coach Kavanaugh. I couldn’t believe what I heard him say. “What did you ask me to do?”
“I’d like you to try out for the freshman football team. Are you surprised?”
“More than surprised. I watch football games, college and the pros. But I’ve never played football. Except to toss around the ball once in a while. I don’t know anything about plays or formations or tackling or anything like that. Why would you want me to go out for the football team? Why me?”
“That’s the freshman football team, Tony. And it’s no problem if you’ve never played tackle football before. The freshman team is used to teach kids how to play tackle football. That includes learning plays, formations, different positions on the offense and defense, just about everything relating to football.
“You asked, ‘Why me?’ and I want to answer that. I saw how you anticipated the bully and moved out of the way. That’s what we’re looking for in a potential team member. Someone who can anticipate what the opposition players are doing and quickly move out of a defender’s way when playing offense or into the path of the ball carrier when playing defense.”
“I’m not big and strong like the football jocks I’ve seen around campus.”
“That’s part of what you’d gain from joining the freshman football team. Conditioning is an important element of becoming ready to play. You’d have to use the weight training room on a daily basis.”
That caught my attention. “Oh! The weight training room? Really? Even though I’m only a freshman?”
“The freshman football team has scheduled daily workouts in the weight training room and on the field. It’s not easy, in fact it’s a lot of work. We work with each member of the team to come up with an exercise plan that meets their individual needs. The good thing is you’ll be able to build up your body, your muscles, your stamina, and your conditioning.”
“That part of it is interesting. I wanted to use the weight training room, but found out I couldn’t do it until I’m a sophomore. So, what if I don’t make the team?”
“You stay on the practice squad, or go back to your regular PE class. Your choice.”
“Wouldn’t I have to change from seventh period PE to eighth period?”
“No, the Freshman Football PE class meets seventh period. The reason is that the JV and Varsity PE classes meet eighth period and need the practice and stadium football fields. The freshman team and JV team share the practice field during after school practice sessions.”
“I assume I’d have to have a physical exam first, right?”
“Yes, that’s a state requirement. If you don’t pass that physical you can’t come out for the team. Is there any reason you might not pass the physical?”
“Not that I know of. I passed the physical I had to take for attending high school. Is the one for going out for freshman football different?”
“Yes, it’s a more thorough exam. We want to make sure that you don’t have anything like a heart condition, lung problems like asthma, vision problems that can’t be corrected with contact lenses, certain allergies, things like that. You’re also tested for drug use. Have you ever used drugs?”
“Never. I have no interest in messing with drugs. I always want to be in control of myself, and I wouldn’t be in control if I took drugs.”
“Do you drink alcohol, including beer?”
“No. Never have and I’m not interested for the same reason as why I don’t use drugs.”
“Do you now or have you ever smoked cigarettes?”
“No. I never have, and that includes both cigarettes and marijuana.”
“That’s good. Your ability to play well depends on a clear mind and clear lungs.”
“Okay, what’s the downside of going out for freshman football?” I asked.
“First, you’ll have to work out on a regular basis. Second, you’ll have to learn the basics of playing football. Third, you’ll have to learn the playbook, all of the plays we’ll use during games. Fourth, you’ll have to learn the quarterback’s hand and voice signals. Fifth, you’ll have to stay after school on practice and game days.”
“How about grades? How are guys on the freshman football team graded?”
“Just like in any other PE class. We measure you against yourself and against what you’re supposed to learn. Being measured against yourself is based on the physical part of the game, weight training, movement, all the physical parts of playing football. Being measured against what you’re supposed to learn includes the playbook and signals, how to read the opposing team’s defense and, if you play defense, the opposing team’s offense.”
“Which would I play, offense or defense?”
“We’d have you do some of both. Looking at your body, which I’ve only seen you with your school clothes on, and the move you made to avoid being slammed into your locker by Kiernan Mach, I’d expect you to play more on the offense, and in the backfield. Is that okay with you?”
In my opinion, that was a no-brainer. “Yes, I think I’d want to be on the offense, but not as a guard or tackle, not any position like that.”
“Something else that’s required is your parents’ approval. Do you live with both of your parents?”
“Then it should be easy for you to get both of their approvals.”
“What about my uniforms and shoes and stuff like that?”
“The cost is covered by the school, with funding provided by the Knights Club. That’s the school’s sports booster’s organization. In California the schools cannot charge a fee for participating in a sport, or for any other school activity including art, music, science, and advanced placement classes.
“You also have to keep your grades up, at least a C average with no D’s or F’s.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t think my grades will be a problem. I guess I want to think about it, and talk it over with my folks. I also want to get the opinions of some of my friends.”
“Okay, let me give you some material for you and your folks to read.” Coach Kavanaugh handed me a brochure on high school sports in California and some other papers including eligibility requirements and the forms my folks would have to sign. “The other thing I’d like you to do is come to our next freshman football practice and see what we do, and meet some of the kids who are trying out for the team and find out from them what it’s like.”
“When are your practices?”
“On Tuesdays and Thursdays during your seventh period PE class. In addition, starting next week we’ll suit up and use the practice field on Mondays and Wednesdays for an hour immediately after school. How about coming to our Football 1A class during seventh period PE tomorrow? Then during seventh period on Thursday you can participate in our first conditioning sessions, whether you decide to go out for the team or not. How’s that sound?”
“Okay, that will work for me. Where should I go tomorrow?”
“The class meets in room G-106. On Thursday the freshman team will be using the south end of the practice field. That’s next to the baseball diamond. Do you know where that is?”
“Yes, I saw it when we had our tour of the PE facilities yesterday. Uh, I’ll need passes for Coach Bowman for today, tomorrow, and Thursday.”
“Tell you what I‘d also like you to do. We’re measuring for uniforms during seventh period on Friday, and I’d like you to get measured. No pressure, we wouldn’t order your equipment until you tell us that you’re committing to the team. I’ll give you one pass for today and the rest of the week. Show it to Coach Bowman when you return to your regular PE class.” He pulled a pass out of his desk drawer, wrote on it, and handed it to me. “I think you’ll enjoy playing football, Tony. If you have any questions, come talk to me any time. You’ll meet the other guys who’ve come out for the freshman team tomorrow. Talk to them and find out why they decided to come out for the team, and what kind of experience they had before joining the team. Then on Thursday you’ll run through our first conditioning session with the guys.”
“Okay, I’ll do that. Thanks, Coach Kavanaugh. You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’ll talk to my friends and my folks, and I’ll see what it’s like tomorrow, Thursday, and Friday. Then I’ll make my decision over the weekend. Is that okay?”
“Yes, that’ll be great, Tony. I’ll see you tomorrow in classroom G-106.”
I left Coach Kavanaugh’s office and stopped. I wasn’t sure where to go. I pulled out my cell and checked the time. It was ten minutes after two. I looked at my schedule; I’d entered all of my classes in the calendar on my phone. Yesterday in PE they’d told us to go to classroom G-104 for the rest of this week, just down the hall from Coach Kavanaugh’s office. I walked down and opened the door. Coach Bowman stood at the front of the class giving some sort of lecture. He turned and looked at me.
I walked in and handed him my pass.
“I’m in this class, but I had to go to a meeting with Coach Kavanaugh first,” I said.
“Okay, take a seat wherever. Oh, here, take this. It’s the material we’re covering today and the rest of this week. Since you won’t be in my class the rest of the week, study it and fill in the questionnaire and hand it in on Monday.”
He handed me several sheets of paper stapled together, and I thanked him. I saw an empty seat at the back of the room so I walked back and sat down. I did a quick look at the pages while Coach Bowman went on with his lecture. Today he gave a lecture on hygiene, and it looked like the rest of the week would be other boring stuff like nutrition, exercise, staying away from drugs and booze, stuff like that. Todd would be disappointed. No sex education this week.
I half-way listened to Coach Bowman talking about the importance of washing our hands and when we should wash them and to be sure to use soap and… and I sort of zoned out. The class would be over in about ten minutes, and I already knew about washing my hands.
After class Todd walked up and we bumped fists.
“How was your meeting with Coach Kavanaugh?”
“Interesting. Let’s meet after school and I’ll tell you all about it. Right now I’ve got to get to my locker and then go to my Creative Writing class.”
“That’s okay, we’re going to the same building. Your Creative Writing class is down the hall from my Journalism class in the Language Arts building. Now I have some information for you. Guess what they’re going to start talking about in our Health class on Monday?”
I grinned. “How to take a shower?”
“No, dufus, sex! It’s finally about sex! The next two Mondays we’ll have the first two sessions on reproduction and sex and sexual diseases and all that sort of thing.”
“Who’s the teacher for this? I can’t quite see Coach Bowman talking about the difference between girls and boys.”
Todd laughed. “I agree. They’re bringing in a doctor who specializes in reproduction. I wonder if he’s going to have pictures.”
“Probably. Be kind of hard to tell what he’s talking about otherwise.”
“If not, you can look at pictures on the internet at home on your PC.”
“Not possible,” I said. “My folks installed one of those Blocker-Tracker programs on my PC.”
Todd sneered. “Meh. I can get around those programs. I’ll show you how to do it when I come over Friday.”
“That’s right, you’re taking Computer Technology. Can you do that so my folks won’t know it’s been disabled?”
“I won’t disable the Blocker-Tracker program, Tony. I’ll install a sandbox and hook you up to a proxy service. You can run a browser in the sandbox and hook up to the internet through the proxy service. Easy to do and unless you have a server in your house it’s undetectable. No traces are left behind, either.”
“What the heck is a sandbox? I picture little kids playing in a sandbox like they have in the park. And a proxy service? What’s that?”
“We’re at building L now and I have to go upstairs. I’ll explain everything when we meet after school.”
“Okay. It sounds complicated, but you’re the man and I know you’ll explain it so I can understand it.”
“That I will. I’ll meet you outside after school, near the building L exit that’s closest to your classroom. See ya later!”
“See you!” I shouted as Todd ran up the stairs to his Journalism class. I walked to the other end of the building to my Creative Writing class.
Ms. Porzio told us for homework we were to write a short story, not over one page, about our first day at Wilson High this year.
“Pick something memorable, something that you wouldn’t have expected, to write about. Remember, only one page. That means one side of one page.”
Damn, she was talking about me and my three page short-short story. That’s means she remembers me. That’s good, I think.
“Plan what you’re going to write so it will fit on the page. Don’t turn in a story with five or six sentences. I want a one hundred to two hundred word story. It’s due to be turned in tomorrow.
“I’ve just handed back the stories you wrote yesterday. You’ll start reading your stories today. I’ll call on you in alphabetical order. Those of you that don’t read your stories today will read them tomorrow. So, let’s start with Donna Ayers.”
I looked at the story she returned, my story about Frek. I got an A, but she wrote a note at the end: ‘This is a very long short-short story, ;-) but it’s very well written. When you read it to the class, I would like you to read the sections I highlighted in the margin with a yellow marker.’ I laughed at the winking smiley face. She was right, I got carried away.
I quickly looked at what she left out, and then what she marked for me to read, and it made a lot of sense. Donna started reading, and I turned my story over and paid attention to the readings, and wrote a few sentences about each story.
Some of the stories were very good, some average, some not so good. About what I’d expect from high school freshmen. There wasn’t enough time for me to read my story. Since she went alphabetically I figured I’d be second or third on Wednesday. That would give me a chance to look over her comments on my story, and maybe copy the parts she wanted me to read so it would be easier to follow.
After class I waited for Todd outside the west exit from the Language Arts building. I saw him walking toward me down the sidewalk on the outside of the building. He waved, and I waved back.
“Hey!” He said as he walked up to me. We bumped fists, then started walking to the bus boarding area at the front of the campus.
“Hey,” I said. “So how was your Journalism class?”
“Really good. Our assignment is to write about a school sports team. Each of us were assigned a team.”
“Which team were you assigned to write about?”
“Open.” He grinned.
“Huh? What sport is that? Golf?”
“It means that by the time they pulled my name out of the jar each of this semester’s school sports had been assigned to someone. So seven of us, including me, got ‘Open’ and it’s the best, Tony, it’s the best! It means that I can select whatever sport I want and it doesn’t make any difference how many others pick it too.”
“What did you pick?”
“Open.” Todd grinned again. “Actually, I don’t have to turn in my pick for a team until tomorrow at the start of the class and Mr. Flynn will read our picks to the class. If any of the seven of us decides to not pick a team then Mr. Flynn will pick one.”
I smiled, then grabbed Todd in a hug.
After I pulled back he was laughing. “What’s that for?”
“It’s for your success. Think about it. Everyone else got a sport shoved down their throat. You get to pick the sport you want to cover.”
We resumed walking to where we’d board our busses home.
“Yeah, but remember that our picks are secret and all seven of us might pick the varsity football team. That means each of us, eight of us including the kid who pulled the slip for varsity football in the draw, could write stories that are in competition with others for that sport. I gotta think of something else.”
“Well, how about that! I have a suggestion for you to think about. You might not even have much competition for this sport.”
“And what’s that?”
Todd stopped walking so I stopped too, then turned around. “What?” I asked.
“That is a fantastic suggestion. I didn’t even know that we had a freshman football team.”
“Yes, we have a freshman football team. That’s what Coach Kavanaugh wanted to talk to me about. He wants me to go out for the freshman football team. I was… stunned. That’s exactly the right word to describe my reaction. That’s what I want to talk to you about. I need help deciding if I should or shouldn’t go out for the freshman football team.”
“You’re actually considering going out for the freshman football team? After all the stuff about kids being injured and getting concussions, and you’d have to stay after school to practice?”
“You’re sounding like what I expect my mom to tell me when I talk to them about it tonight.”
Todd stood looking at me, then he sort of leaned back and got a puzzled expression.
“I thought you were going out for the Chorus. How’s having to use your after school time for freshman football going to interfere with Chorus practice?”
“I hadn’t thought about that. Thanks for making my decision even harder.”
Todd laughed, and we started to hurry so neither of us would miss our buses.
“You’re welcome. But your idea about me listing the freshman football team to write about is great. That’s exactly what I’m going to do. And maybe my article can be about what’s it like for a freshman who’s trying to decide whether to go out for the team or not.”
“My name would be in the story?”
“We can talk about that. I’m curious about something. Did you play football at Carver?”
“Absolutely not. The only football I’ve ever played is tossing a football around with friends.”
“So why does Coach Kavanaugh want you to go out for the team?”
“He said he watched me jig to the side when I felt Kiernan coming to slam me into my locker. He said I could be a running back on the offense.”
We got to where the busses were parked.
“I’ll call you when I get home,” I said. “That okay?”
“Yeah. Talk to you later.” He got on his bus, and I walked over to my bus and got on. I looked down the aisle and saw Frank. He grinned and waved. I plopped into the seat next to him.
“So which one are you, Tony or Todd?” he asked.
“Sheesh! A guy can’t have an identical look-alike without everyone getting suspicious.”
“That’s the way the world works. But hey, I’m a trusting kind of guy, ya’ know? Accusing me of being suspicious cuts me to the core. You have to be trusting too. Now, why don’t you tell me which one you are?” He poked me in the ribs with his elbow. “Just kidding, Tony.”
“That’s better. For a second there you were starting to get me confused.”
“That would be a real mess, wouldn’t it.”
“That it would. Then Todd and I could both show up in one class that we don’t have together, and claim we were the same person.”
“Like Chorus?” he asked.
“Yeah. Or his World Geography class. That’s probably better. They’re both third period, and I think I can talk Mr. Emmonds into letting me skip part of Chorus easier than Todd could get out of his class.”
“You know, Prank Day’s coming up in January, on the Monday after finals week. You two could pull that prank in Todd’s World Geography class that day. Unless you have the same teacher, then it wouldn’t work.”
“I have Ryan and Todd’s got someone else. I can’t remember who it is.”
“It must be Mr. Johnson. He’s the only other teacher for that class. He’s the one I have.”
“Does he have a sense of humor?”
“I think so. He smiles a lot, so I guess he would find that prank funny.”
“I’m going to talk to Todd when I get home. We’ll probably need time to figure out exactly how to do this. Do we have to get permission from someone to pull a prank?”
“Get approval? No! Otherwise it wouldn’t be a prank, would it.”
I grinned. I knew that when Todd hears about Prank Day and the idea that Frank and I came up with it’ll blow his mind. Our prank will make us famous! Or infamous. Or both!
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
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