Ultimate Sports, page 1
“A terrific mix of the serious and the light-hearted, female and male characters, and traditional and nontraditional games. A winning collection.”
—School Library Journal, Starred
“Filled with intriguing characters in demanding situations who cope in surprising ways.”
“An excellent means of introducing readers to the novels of these popular and critically acclaimed YA authors.”
“Each entry is preceded by a brief paragraph that lures readers inside the story and ends with a biographical sketch of the author… a solid addition to the growing collection of accessible short stories for young adults.”
—Voice of Youth Advocates
Recipient of the 1992 ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to the field of adolescent literature, Donald R. Gallo is the editor of a number of award-winning books for young people as well as for their teachers. He has compiled and edited seven other collections of short stories for Bantam Doubleday Dell, including Short Circuits, Join In, and No Easy Answers. His first collection, Sixteen: Short Stories by Outstanding Writers for Young Adults, was named by the American Library Association as one of the 100 Best of the Best Books for Young Adults published between 1967 and 1992. His most recent book for teachers, coauthored with Sarah K. Herz, is From Hinton to Hamlet: Building Bridges Between Young Adult Literature and the Classics.
ALSO AVAILABLE IN LAUREL-LEAF BOOKS:
SKTEEN: SHORT STORIES BY OUTSTANDING WRITERS FOR
YOUNG ADULTS, edited by Donald R. Gallo
VISIONS: NINETEEN SHORT STORIES BY OUTSTANDING WRITERS FOR
YOUNG ADULTS, edited by Donald R. Gallo
CONNECTIONS: SHORT STORIES BY OUTSTANDING WRITERS FOR
YOUNG ADULTS, edited by Donald R. Gallo
SHORT CIRCUITS: THIRTEEN SHOCKING STORIES BY OUTSTANDING
WRITERS FOR YOUNG ADULTS, edited by Donald R. Gallo
JOIN IN: MULTIETHNIC SHORT STORIES BY OUTSTANDING WRITERS
FOR YOUNG ADULTS, edited by Donald R. Gallo
IRONMAN, Chris Crutcher
STAYING FAT FOR SARAH BYRNES, Chris Crutcher
BLUE SKIN OF THE SEA, Graham Salisbury
SNOW BOUND, Harry Mazer
THE ACCIDENT, Todd Strasser
For Cheryl Karp Ward,
who provided the motivation
for this collection
in memory of my former coaches
at Eastside High School,
and Joseph Frank
Thanks to all of the following for their roles in the formation and production of this book:
teacher Sarah K. Herz and her students in Westport, Connecticut; teacher Bill Mollineaux and his students in West Hartford, Connecticut; library/media specialist Cheryl Karp Ward and her students in Windsor Locks, Connecticut; and my students at Central Connecticut State University for their help in choosing the title for this book…
sports fan Dan Ward for his assessments of several of the stories submitted for this collection…
and Michelle Poploff for her publishing direction, judgments, and support.
T. Ernesto Bethancourt
If You Can’t Be Lucky…
Stealing for Girls
Norma Fox Mazer
The Assault on the Record
DEALING WITH THE UNEXPECTED
Thomas J. Dygard
Virginia Euwer Wolff
The Gospel According to Krenzwinkle
Falling off the Empire State Building
Millions of teenagers, as well as adults, participate daily in some kind of athletic activity, whether through being a student in a phys ed class, playing on an interscholastic sports team, taking an aerobics class, weight-lifting at a neighborhood gym, or zipping around the local park on Rollerblades. And if we’re not actively participating in some organized sporting activity, we’re watching one in a stadium or on television. We also read about sports: in the daily newspaper, in magazines, and in books—fiction as well as nonfiction.
Although mysteries and horror stories, along with stories about the supernatural, top the lists of teenagers’ reading preferences, ask any group of boys in grades six through twelve what else they prefer to read—when they do read—and they’ll say “Sports!” Girls, of course, will read sports books and articles too.
During the first half of the 1990s a significant number of first-rate sports novels were published, each featuring teenagers in a variety of athletic pursuits: baseball, basketball, running, ice hockey, boxing.…But there hasn’t been a good collection of interesting and insightful short stories about teenagers in sports in a long time. I decided it was time for a new collection of sports stories for young people—not just a slapped-together handful of stories taken from previously published books and magazines, but new, exciting, never-before-published stories written especially for this book.
So I contacted a variety of well-known authors who have written award-winning novels about sports—such as Robert Lipsyte and Chris Crutcher—along with a few other writers who are not known for their sports books but whose novels have gained special attention and who have inside information about sports, as well as an understanding of teenagers.
I told these writers that I wasn’t looking for stories about how to play specific sports, or stories that contain blow-by-blow accounts of sporting events that bore everyone except the most avid practitioners. Instead I asked them to write stories that were more about the teenagers involved in sports activities than about the conduct of the sports themselves. I wanted stories about believable teenagers involved in challenging activities that reveal their motivations and show their emotional as well as their physical conflicts as they prepare for and participate in a variety of athletic activities.
Here, then, are the results of my requests: an unprecedented collection of sixteen stories about teenage athletes written by the best authors in the field.
It is important to note that almost every one of these writers participated in one or more sports as a teenager—usually the traditional team sports of baseball, basketball, football, and track. And almost every one of them today participates in some kind of athletic activity—from basketball and racquetball to swimming and triathlon to walking for exercise. Because the writers, for the most part, have themselves been participants in the sports they are writing about, the feelings and actions in these tales are realistic.
The stories in this book deal with a variety of team and individual sports, though not every major sport is covered. It is, perhaps, fitting that there is no baseball story in this collection, since these stories were written during the summer of 1994, when professional baseball disappeared from television screens and ballparks across the country and there was no
But the inclusion or omission of any particular sport is not what matters in a collection of stories like this. It’s not the details and statistics about a specific sport that give a story life and relevance, that make it important or memorable. It’s the way the characters—the young men and women—deal with the challenges those athletic events pose for them: how they prepare for the activities; how they react to the physical pain; how they deal with winning and losing; how they interact with teammates, adversaries, friends, and family. In short, it’s not the sport that makes the story, but the people, and their actions and reactions. And it’s the quality of the writing that brings us as readers into the heart of the action and the emotions.
So, sports fans, get comfortable in your seats—you’ve got an unobstructed view, as close to the action as you can be. Enjoy this ultimate sporting activity.
In piano competitions, Peter is always a runner-up. Perhaps he can learn to be more successful by studying the techniques of the cross-country runner who glides effortlessly past his house every day.
Peter glanced at the clock on the bookshelf. It was quarter after four. “Fifteen minutes to freedom,” he said to himself. Fifteen minutes until he could turn off the metronome—two, three, four—and stop moving his fingers across the keys.
For Peter the best part of the day began at the moment he stopped practicing the piano. Beginning at four-thirty each day he had an entire hour to himself. He could read science fiction. He could play video games in the den. He just couldn’t leave the house.
This had never really bothered him until the afternoon three weeks earlier when he’d seen the runner gliding up Putnam Street hill. Something about the way the older boy looked, something about the way he moved, drew Peter away from his music and out onto the porch to watch the runner race by in his maroon and gold Darden High School sweat suit.
That night at dinner his mother had said, “Mrs. Kennedy says she saw you on the porch this afternoon. I hope you weren’t neglecting your music.”
“I was just saying hello to a friend,” Peter lied. He didn’t even know the other boy’s name.
Intimidated by his mother’s intelligence network, Peter had not ventured back onto the porch for three weeks, content to watch from his bench as the older boy churned up the hill and off to the oval behind Peter’s junior high school. But the previous afternoon, as he’d watched the second hand on the parlor clock ticking away the final seconds of his captivity, two, three, four, Peter had decided to go back out on the porch. He thought he might wave as the runner strode by, but instead he studied the older boy in silence.
The runner was tall, lean, and broad-shouldered. I am none of that stuff, Peter thought.
The runner had sharp features. Peter’s nose looked like he had flattened it against a window and it had stayed that way. The runner had a clear, steady gaze. Peter was nearsighted and tended to squint. The runner had a shock of copper-colored hair. Peter had a frizz so fine it was hard to say what color it was.
In spite of these differences, Peter could have imagined himself in the other boy’s place were it not for the runner’s grace. The way the boy moved reminded him of music. His legs had the spring of a sprightly melody. His arms pumped a relentless rhythm. He ascended the hill almost effortlessly, as though gravity were no greater hindrance on this steep incline than it had been on the prairie-flat main street below.
He must never lose, Peter thought.
That was another way in which they were different. Peter had just come in third in the piano competition sponsored by the university, after coming in second in the contest sponsored by the orchestra and third in the contest sponsored by the bank.
“Peter,” his mother said, “you are a perpetual runner-up.” Then she decided that rather than practice for one hour every day, he should practice for two. Two hours!
But two hours were now up. And as Peter stopped the metronome, he spotted a familiar figure in a maroon sweat suit at the bottom of the hill.
• • •
Who is this kid? Kevin asked himself.
Kevin McGrail had not yet reached the crest of Putnam Street when he noticed the pudgy boy in the orange T-shirt on the porch of the white stucco house.
At least he’s on the porch today, Kevin thought. For three weeks the kid had watched him from his piano bench. Every day as he pounded up the hill Kevin would hear this weird tinkly music coming from the stucco house across the street. Then there would be a pause as he passed by, and he would see the little frizzy-headed kid looking at him through the window. Then the weird tinkly music would begin again.
At first Kevin felt kind of spooked when the music stopped, like maybe Freddy Krueger was going to jump out of the bushes or something. But after a while he just wondered why the kid was so interested in him.
It wasn’t like he was a big star or anything. Kevin was the number three man on the Darden cross-country team, a nice steady runner who could be counted on to come in ahead of the number three man on the opposing team. Coach Haggerty always told him he could be the number two man if he worked at it, but Kevin thought working at something was the surest way to turn it from a pleasure into a chore.
Just look at what happened with Mark Fairbanks. He and Kevin used to hang out together, but that was before Haggerty had convinced Mark that if he devoted his entire life to cross-country he could be a star. Well, Markie was a star all right. He was the fastest guy on the team and one of the top runners in the district. But he was also the biggest drone in the school. Every day at the beginning of practice he would shout, “Okay, men, it’s time to go to work!”
Kevin felt the strain on his legs lighten as he reached the top of the hill. He saw the road flatten before him and felt the crisp autumn air tingling pleasantly in his lungs. As soon as this becomes work, he said to himself, I quit.
• • •
“Mom,” Peter said at dinner, “I want to go out for the football team.”
His mother looked up from her Caesar salad with an expression of exaggerated horror. “Think of your hands!” she said.
Peter had known she would say that. “Well, maybe basketball then,” he replied.
“That is every bit as dangerous.”
Peter had kind of figured she would say that too. “Well, I want to do something,” he said. “Something where there’s people. Where there’s guys.”
His mother put down her fork, pressed her palms together in front of her face, hooked her thumbs under her chin, and regarded him from over her fingertips. Now we are getting serious, Peter thought.
“What about choir?” his mother proposed. “I haven’t wanted you exposed to a lot of influences. Musically, I mean. But I am not insensitive to your need for companionship.”
Peter shook his head. “How about cross-country?” he asked. “It’s only running. How about that?”
“Sports are nothing but trouble,” his mother said. “Trouble and disappointment. I think you will agree it is much more satisfying to devote yourself to something at which you can really excel.”
“There is a boy on the high-school team who runs up at the oval every day,” Peter said. “He told me I could practice with him.”
His mother pursed her lips. If Peter could only have explained his plan to her, he was certain she would have said yes. But he wasn’t ready to try that. He could barely make sense of it himself.
One thing he was sure of: That boy who ran past the house every day was a champion. He would know what separates winners from perpetual runners-up. And if Peter could learn that, well then, his mother would be happy, and if his mother was happy, well then, everything would be okay again. All she had to do was s
“You still owe me two hours at that piano every day,” she said.
• • •
Kevin was surprised to see the little piano player up at the oval the next day. The kid was dressed in one of those shapeless sweat suits they wore in junior-high-school gym class.
Looks like he’s already winded, Kevin thought as he watched the kid struggle through about a dozen jumping jacks. I hope he doesn’t hurt himself.
Kevin was beginning his second lap when the kid fell in beside him.
“Hi,” the boy said.
“Hey,” said Kevin without slowing down.
“I’m getting in shape for next season,” said the boy, who was already breathing heavily and losing ground.
“It’s good to give yourself a lot of time,” Kevin said, not meaning to sound quite so smart-ass.
“See you around,” the boy called as Kevin opened up the space between them.
Every day for the next three weeks the routine was the same: The kid was always waiting when Kevin arrived. He would puff along beside Kevin for a few strides, try to start a gasping conversation, and then fall hopelessly behind. The kid was obviously never going to be a runner, Kevin thought, and he sure didn’t look like he was enjoying himself. Yet there he was, grinding away, just like Fairbanks only without the talent.
You’re a better man than I am, Kevin thought. Or a sicker one.
That Friday when Kevin got to the oval the chubby kid took one look at him and started to run. It was as though he were giving himself a head start in some kind of private race. The thought of some competition between the two of them made Kevin laugh, because he generally lapped the kid at least five or six times each session.
He put the little piano player out of his mind and tried to focus on the rhythm of his own footfalls. The following weekend he and the rest of the Darden team would be competing in the district championships, and Kevin had begun to think it might be a good time to answer a question that had been nagging at him for the last month. He wanted to know how good he was—not how good he could be if he devoted his entire life to cross-country, but how good he was at that moment. What would happen, he wondered, if he ran one race as hard as he could?