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 felt a bit on edge during the two classes I had after lunch. We had to read paragraphs from our textbook in Spanish 3. Instead of stories, most of what we read were articles from newspapers or magazines, and a few were from billboards and signs. While we had fun with the translations, I had a hard time thinking about anything other than my seventh period football class. Luckily, I got a sign from a national park in Spain to read and I nailed it with a compliment from Mr. Markham when I translated the word ‘humedal’ which means ‘wetland’ in English. I have to admit that I just guessed, a good guess for sure! Now I’ll never forget that word. In Biology Mrs. Weil gave a lecture that I actually found interesting. She talked about the history of biological science, how mankind began to learn how the body worked, the major breakthroughs, when they happened, and how one breakthrough seemed to lead to another.
After Biology I rushed to the gym for the Football 1A class. When I got to room G-106 there were about twenty-five guys standing or sitting already. I found an empty seat near the front of the room.
After the second bell everyone sat down and Coach Kavanaugh came into the classroom.
“Okay, guys, I want to find out your experience level so those of you who have played football in middle school can start studying our textbooks before we have you move on to our playbook and advanced topics. We’ll also work with those of you with experience from other than middle school to find out where you’ll fit in. Those of you who haven’t played football before we’ll get you learning the basics.
“Okay, I’m going to start with the guys who’ve never played football, on a team, before. Please stand up.”
I stood and looked around and counted. Another eight guys stood up. We all looked… I guess I’d say ‘scared’ because that’s how I felt.
“How many of you who are standing have played the Madden Football video game, either the NFL or the NCAA version or both?”
All nine of us held up our hands.
“Excellent! The more you played Madden Football the more you learned about football, including offense, defense, and strategy. Don’t worry if you think that because you’ve never played on a football team before that you’re not going to make the freshman team. Some of the best players we’ve had at Wilson High started just like you, with no team experience before they tried out.
“Tony, please come up here.”
He handed me a clipboard with a sign-up sheet that listed five books. “These first two are the introductory books you’ll need for the Football 1A basics class. First, The Art of Football. Second, Football for Dummies.”
Everyone laughed at that book title.
“You can laugh,” Coach Kavanaugh said, “but that paperback book has more information about the basics of the game we play than any other book you can buy. If you don’t own a copy, buy a copy. If you can’t afford it, see me and we’ll find a way to get you a used copy online.
“The third book is The 2013 NFHS Football Rules Book. NFHS is the National Federation of High School Sports. That’s the national body that establishes the rules for every high school sport, including football. Everyone here is going to get a copy of that book, and it’s going to be yours to keep as long as you’re playing any level of football at Wilson High. You have to know the rules of the game you’re playing, and this is the book that has all of those rules.
“Those of you who have team experience will be going to another classroom where that book and the next two books I’m going to name will be handed out to you. I’m having you guys who’ve played football before sit here to listen to what we’re handing out to the guys who don’t have team experience. That way you’ll know that we are going to teach them the basics. That’s important because they’re going to be your teammates.
“Football is a TEAM sport!” He shouted the word ‘team’ so loud it startled all of us.
“Team and teamwork are two terms that are going to be emphasized over and over, starting today. Remember that everyone on the freshman football team needs to have everyone else’s back. To do that you have to know that everyone on the team is important. Each of you have to demonstrate teamwork, working together with your teammates at all times.
“Now, Tony,” Coach Kavanaugh said to me, “the last two books are Offensive Football Systems and Defensive Football Systems. Please go to the bookcase in the back of the room and pull out nine each of these five books, and hand them to the guys who are standing and keep one of each for yourself.”
I collected the first book that I was to hand out. Four other guys who’d been standing joined me and each picked one of the other books and in about thirty seconds we’d distributed all five of them to the nine of us. I stood next to my desk, wrote my name on the sheet confirming that I’d received those five books, and passed the clipboard to the nearest guy who was standing. The clipboard was passed around, and the ninth guy signed it then handed it to Coach Kavanaugh. We continued to stand.
“Do you all see what happened here?” Coach Kavanaugh asked everyone in the classroom. “You might not realize it, but you just saw teamwork in action, guys. I asked Tony to distribute the books to the guys who will continue with the Football 1A basics class. Four of his teammates went up, on their own, and each guy handed out one of the books. It got done in a fraction of the time it would have taken if Tony had been left to do it alone. Guys, that is an example of teamwork. A bunch of guys who are here to try out for freshman football worked together as a team to accomplish a goal. I’m impressed. I hope the rest of you are impressed too.”
I gotta say, I was impressed. Those other four guys decided to help without me having to ask for help. Cool. This whole thing made me feel good, it made me feel like part of a team. All nine of us who were standing were smiling.
“The following three titles are the standard textbooks for Wilson High School freshman football, and the Football 1A class.” Coach Kavanaugh told us. “The 2013 NFHS Football Rules Book, Offensive Football Systems, and Defensive Football Systems. Those of you who don’t have football team experience also have the two other two titles, The Art of Football and Football for Dummies. Those two extra textbooks will help you get up to speed.
“The nine guys who are standing can sit down now. I want you guys to read chapters one, two, and three of The Art of Football. Let me explain something. This is a book for football coaches. Yeah, I know that’s weird, giving first-timers a book written for coaches. But when you’re finished reading those three relatively short chapters I want to have a discussion here in class today about what principles are presented, and what take-aways you learned by reading those chapters. There’s going to be a lot of material for the nine of you to absorb. You’re on an accelerated track to learn the basics of the game of football. Okay, any questions?” There were no questions. I didn’t know enough to ask any questions. I wondered if the other eight guys felt the same.
I opened my copy to the foreword, even though it hadn’t been assigned, and started reading. It was very short, and said the book is written for high school football coaches. I turned to chapter one and started reading.
“Okay,” Coach Kavanaugh said, “everyone who played football before stand up.” The rest of the guys in the class stood up, leaving the nine of us sitting.
“I want you to go with Coach Lenning to room G-108.”
I hadn’t noticed that Coach Lenning had entered the classroom. He pointed and walked out the door and the rest of the guys followed him. I watched them leave, then continued reading chapter one.
Coach Kavanaugh watched us until he decided we’d had enough time to read the first three chapters in The Art of Football.
“Okay, based on what you’ve read, who has a take-away they want to tell us about?”
I raised my hand. I didn’t know how many others raised their hands because I was in front and didn’t want to turn around.
“Tony?” Coach said.
“In chapter one it talks about the importance of year-around weight training, especially in the spring and summer. Also, it says that weight training will be lifting, and I assume that means lifting weights. So I came away with two questions. The first is: how are we going to get to the point where we can start lifting weights so we have the strength we need to be successful? The second is related: I assume the nine of us didn’t do any spring or summer weight training. I know I sure didn’t. How do we compensate for that and get up to speed individually? Can I really build up my arms the way the book says in chapter two?”
Coach Kavanaugh grinned. “You mean where it says a kid with stick arms can come out of weight training with bulging biceps? Excellent questions. Weight training can be very effective. It takes a lot of work and personal commitment. When you apply yourself, then yes, you can build up your arms, shoulders, abs, and legs. But it has to be done correctly. Has anyone here done any weight lifting? Darryl?”
“My dad is a fitness trainer. He said I can use the equipment at the gym where he works and he’d be my personal trainer. I’m the same as Tony, I didn’t do any weight training before. That’s because I lived with my Mom and she thought it might be dangerous. Now I’m living with my dad and he thinks that it’s necessary, especially since I’m going out for freshman football. I asked him if I could bring a couple friends with me. He said okay. I think eight friends fits in the ‘a couple friends’ category, don’t you, Coach?” Darryl grinned.
Coach Kavanaugh grinned, then answered the question Darryl asked. “The number of friends you bring with you is between you and your dad. However, I think working out in a gym, with all of the specialized equipment they have, is an excellent idea. That’s something you can do on the weekends when the Wilson High campus is closed, or evenings when you’re not overloaded with homework. But don’t do anything without Darryl’s dad or another personal trainer guiding you.
“I see Pete has a question.”
“Chapter two says football is war, and the whole book seems to be written that way. Isn’t that sort of extreme?”
“What chapter two discusses is philosophy, commitment, vision, knowledge of the game, and consistency. Let’s talk about each of those.”
That’s what we did. Then we talked about chapter three, which covers the philosophy that needs to be applied so the offense, defense, and special teams are effective. All three chapters were short, and in my opinion more rah-rah than meat. But after we discussed what we’d read and I had a chance to think about it, those concepts started to make sense.
“Okay, guys, period seven is just about over. For your homework assignment I want you to read parts one and two in Football for Dummies. If you want to read more, or other chapters in The Art of Football, that’s fine. Just make sure you thoroughly understand the material in parts one and two. We’re going to meet here tomorrow and you’ll get a detailed tour of the weight training room and learn how the equipment works. You’ll also get the rules for the use of the weight training room, and there’ll be an agreement you’ll have to read and sign. Then we’ll return to our classroom and talk about parts one and two of Football for Dummies. Any questions?”
None of us had questions.
“Okay, between now and the bell I want you to introduce yourselves to each other. At Wilson High we don’t refer to you each by last name. We’ll use your first name or nickname, your preference, and we want you to do the same. Now I’d like you to get to know your teammates.”
We gathered at the back of the classroom. I introduced myself to get things started. “I’m Tony McKinley. I went to Carver Middle School. Since I don’t recognize any of you, I assume you all went to Edison.” I saw a couple guys shake their heads. I live on Oakmead Court near Trimble. That’s at the edge of the Wilson High attendance area, and it’s too far to walk unless I get up really early so I take the bus. I’m thirteen and I’ll be fourteen on November eleventh. I think that’s after our season will be over. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. My mom is a Staff Physician at Redwood Hospital, and my dad is a math instructor at Sand Hill Community College.” I grinned. “Next?”
The rest of the guys introduced themselves the same way I did it. I made sure to write down their names: Ron Feirman, John Garchik, Cameron Phillips, Jiago Garcia, Darryl Chiu, Jacob Rummel, Luigi Asuncion, and Pete Ross. Cool, no first names the same in our little group.
“I got a suggestion,” Luigi said. “Let’s call ourselves the Gang of Nine. What d’ya think?”
Ron laughed. “I like it. We’re set apart because we’re new to playing football, so having a title like Gang of Nine brings us together. That’s one of the things talked about in The Art of Football. Making sure the members of the team are brought together.”
Everyone agreed. We exchanged email and IM addresses, then chatted a bit about the other classes we were taking. Though I hadn’t recognized them, five of the guys were in one or more of my classes.
“Damn, that’s embarrassing,” Jiago said. “I gotta start saying hello to peeps I don’t know in each of my classes.”
“Yeah, me too,” Darryl said.
“It’s tough for me,” Cameron said. “I went to Valley Christian Academy through eighth grade and I don’t know anyone here at Wilson. I feel embarrassed if I’m supposed to walk up to someone and introduce myself. How do you guys do it?”
“Well, you know us now,” I told him. “Let’s make sure we say hi or wave or bump fists or something when we see each other in the halls. For kids you don’t know do it before the class starts. Get there early and stand, then as someone you haven’t met yet walks in say hi to them. And smile. Smiling is real important. Tell them you’re new, that you didn’t go to either Edison or Carver. Ask them how they like that class so far, what they think of the teacher. When you’re at your locker and there are there’s another kid at one of the lockers next to yours, do the same thing. Kids like to talk about themselves, so if you ask them something that’s not too personal they’ll respond.”
We all agreed to meet other kids that way.
“I eat lunch in the cafeteria with a great group of kids. I didn’t know any of them before my first day here at Wilson. If you want to join us, look for me at a table in the back corner next to the windows.”
Several of the guys, including Cameron, said they’d like to do that.
“Uh, Tony, I got a question,” David said. “You look exactly like Todd Anderson. He was in some of my classes at Edison. What’s the story with that?”
I told them a much shortened version of our doppelganger story. I hadn’t quite finish before we heard the bell for the end of seventh period. We said goodbye and took off to go to our eighth period classes.
I went to my gym locker to get my backpack which had my too-long short story for Creative Writing. Then I walked across campus to the Language Arts building. It was my turn to read, and in my case I had to read the parts that Ms. Porzio had highlighted. I think it was a good idea that I entered the highlighted parts into a Word document last night. There were places where I had to add a transition from one of her highlighted parts to another, and a couple places where it made more sense to move a highlighted part somewhere else in the story. After I’d done that and checked it I’d printed two copies, one to turn in and one for me.
Even though I was nervous, I thought my reading was okay. Ms. Porzio smiled and said she thought I’d written an interesting story.
After class I walked to the bus loading zone. I looked for Todd, but didn’t see him. I saw Frank and waved. When I got to where he stood, leaning against the bus sign, I asked,
“Have you seen Todd?”
“Yeah. He’s over there,” he pointed to the bench at the end of administration building. “He and Scott are talking about the article Todd wants to write for the Roundtable.”
Just then Todd looked up, saw me, and waved. I waved, then put my hand next to my face like I was holding my cell talking to him, and held up four fingers on my other hand. Meaning that I’d call him at four o’clock. He grinned and waved, and Scott looked up and waved, then they went back to their discussion.
“How was your day,” I asked Frank.
“Good. I’m starting to get lots more homework. My toughest classes are Algebra 2 and Spanish 2. I’ve got this mental block when it comes to foreign languages, and in My Algebra 2 class the teacher seems to assume that we know a lot more than we learned in Algebra 1 at Edison or that I leaned at Southern Hills Middle School in Boulder.”
“Oh, yeah. I remember you said you moved here from Boulder and went to Edison for about a week or something like that, right?”
“It was more like four weeks, but the bad part was arranging to take all of my final exams here at Edison and have them compared to where I was at Southern Hills versus where I would have been if I’d gone to eighth grade at Edison. I think the teachers and counselors at Edison really worked to make sure I got the best possible credit for my finals for each class.”
“I guess you were lucky.”
“Yeah, I was. So, how were your classes today?”
I had to stop and think for a few seconds. I shrugged my shoulders. “Mostly same-as. We decided on a long list of carols to sing in our Christmas concert. Now Mr. Emmonds has to decide which ones and how they can be fit together in the time we have for each part of the concert. The most exciting thing I had today was the Football 1A class.”
Scott and Todd walked up.
“Football 1A? What’s that,” Scott asked.
“I’m going out for the freshman football team. Assuming my folks and my twin agree, of course. The class I’m in is Football 1A. It’s divided into two sections, one for newbies like me and eight others who’ve never played team football. The other section is for the guys who have some experience playing team football, like in middle school. In my section we’re learning the basics, so it’s accelerated so we can join the more experienced guys in their section and learn more advanced things like offense and defense.”
Frank shook his head. “That sounds like a lot of work.”
“You’ve only heard part of it. Besides the Football 1A classroom work, with lots of reading and probably other homework to do, we will do weight training, which includes weight lifting, on Mondays and Fridays, then on Tuesdays and Thursdays we have team practices seventh period. During the season we’ll have after-school practices, and on Friday afternoons, right after school, we’ll have our games.
“Because there are nine of us who don’t have any experience, we’ll have our Football 1A classes to cover the basics on Wednesdays and Fridays for a couple weeks then we’ll switch to the regular Football 1A class on Wednesdays. At that same time we’ll start doing weight training and the team practices. We’ll be expected to use the weight training room more often, like before school. There’s an actual period for that, it’s called Period Zero. It’s mostly for make-up classes and advanced classes, but the PE department uses Period Zero for guys who are approved to use the weight training room. Like me, and you, Scott, since you’ll be on the basketball team.”
Scott shrugged. “First, I actually have to make the team, Tony. And before that I have to be approved to play at Wilson by the CIF, and I’ll need my sports physical.”
“I have to get my sports physical to make the freshman football team,” I said. “But I’m trying out with no experience playing football. You’re trying out for varsity basketball with a huge amount of experience.”
“You can say that again,” Todd added.
“We’ll see,” Scott said. “Hey, where do we get our bus? This is the first day I’ve used the bus.”
“Right here where we’re standing,” Frank said. “Did you get a bus pass?”
“Yeah. They actually sent me a note to be sure to pick it up at the office. Mrs. Kellerman gave it to me during my French class.”
“Hey, there’s my bus,” Todd said. “I’ll see you guys tomorrow. Tony, you’re gonna call me this afternoon?”
“Yeah, depends on my mom and if she has a list of chores for me to do. I’ll call either this afternoon or this evening. Are those times okay?”
“Yeah, any time is good. Except when we’re eating dinner, of course,” Todd replied, then he hurried to where his bus was loading.
“Scott, how come you’re taking French?” Frank asked. “Most kids here take Spanish because there are so many Hispanics living here and there are a lot of Spanish TV channels on cable. It’s real easy to pick up and practice Spanish.”
“We lived in Canada when I started Elementary school, in Mississauga, near Toronto. In Canada everyone has to take both English and French, and because I had five years of French I decided to take it when we moved to Boulder.” He grinned. “I never told them I was fluent in French, but my French 1 teacher figured it out and made me switch to the French 2 class. I’m taking French 4 here at Wilson. Because I don’t use it every day like I did in Canada, I need to practice and the French 4 class is all speaking, reading, and writing. It’s perfect, and I’m getting back all of the French I forgot and a lot more, too.
“But back to my question,” Scott continued, “where’s our bus? You’re going to be on the same bus, aren’t you, Tony?”
“Yeah, and so is Frank. It just hasn’t arrived yet. Maybe they had a mechanical problem.”
“Do the buses here have lots of problems?” Frank asked.
“Sometimes. The school district uses one of those bus service companies. The name on the side of the buses is Lindhoff Transport. You can see all of the buses lined up over there have that name.”
“We had to use the regular CTA buses in Chicago,” Scott said. “CTA is the Chicago Transit Authority. Anyway, sometimes it took forever for us to get to school in the morning because the buses were so crowded with commuters they wouldn’t let us on. Getting home at night usually wasn’t a problem because the rush hour didn’t start until a couple hours after we got out of school.”
“Hey, I have an idea,” I said. “How about the two of you come to my house. You can call your folks to get their okay. We can work on our homework together. We can’t help you with French, Scott, but all three of us are taking or have taken Algebra 2, World Geography, Biology, and English.”
“Sounds good,” Frank said. “I’ll call my mom right now.”
“Me too,” Scott said. “I’ll call my mom. I’m sure she’ll say it’s okay.”
Thanks to Cole Parker for editing A Time When It All Went Wrong
There are a lot of American football terms in this story. Not everyone, especially those of you who don’t live in North America, will understand them. Fortunately, the internet can come to your rescue.
There’s a quick introduction to American football with pictures at https://myfootballmentor.com/category/football-basics/.
Wikipedia has a glossary of American football terms at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glossary_of_American_football and I recommend it as a source to reduce confusion.
There’s an image of a American high school football field with dimensions at http://www.sportsknowhow.com/football/field-dimensions/high-school-football-field-dimensions.html.
If you're not interested in football, you can skim over those sections of the story. Tony would understand, and Todd might even agree with you.
If you enjoyed reading this story, please let me know! Authors thrive by the feedback they receive from readers. It's easy: just click on the email link at the bottom of this page to send me a message. Say “Hi” and tell me what you think about ‘A Time When It All Went Wrong’. Thanks.
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