The Ball's Gotta Move

The Ball’s Gotta Move: Chapter Five

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Note: Josh Trott’s multi-part fictional Philadelphia soccer story continues with Chapter Five. New chapters will run on Mondays and Fridays. All the characters, soccer clubs, and schools in the story are fictional.

When we got the letters back, they pulled us back to homeroom at the end of the day. Our homeroom teacher was a dork and we didn’t like him but he still pulled out this speech. A lot of kids at our school mess around and then get all distraught three weeks before applications and turn into model students for a week. Of course it’s too late then. That was his speech though. It’s not too late to become a hardworking kid. Don’t take your high school admissions as a thing that says your value. They say how hard you worked. They say something about the kind of student you are now, but there’s time to grow and change if you are not happy with what you see.

There’s Julia. Straight A’s. Her hand is like an osprey talon going or a fish, she snatches that letter, and opens it right away. Of course she does, because she knows that it will say yes. We watch her eyes scan it. She looks up smiling. Daring us to ask. Some girl next to her says it.

“You get in?”

“Yes, I got into Centre, S&E, and SAL.”

Just to be smart the other girl says, “Topperman?”

Julia says, “I didn’t apply there.” You can tell she’s lying because you get to apply to four schools and that is the only one she wouldn’t have gotten into, and no way she wouldn’t tell us all four schools she got into.

Most of us hold our envelopes. We put the away in our book bags, trying not to rustle too much, trying not to look at one another. Ellie asks if she can go to the bathroom, the letter still clutched in her hand. We don’t want to open them and see bad news and have to process in public. We might end up crying or scrunching up our face or something.

The bell rang and I pushed through to the door. The envelope felt so fat, like what it said was full of meaning. When I got out the door, I didn’t run. Didn’t want to seem too eager. I hadn’t even applied to Centre and Topperman. I went with SLA, S&E, Haver, and TIS, the International School, which is where I really wanted to go.

I figured my chances of getting into TIS were legitimately small. I mean, the discipline record traveled with the transcript. Also, neither Ms. Simms or Mrs. Greenberg wrote me a great rec I’m thinking. They were honest people and it was an honest issue so I’m sure they said stuff like, “Great learner, not a great citizen.” Sometimes other people don’t deserve great citizens. But I appreciated my teachers.

I meant to go up to my room to read the letter but GG knew. “I heard letters of admission came out today.”

I said, “Naw, there was a mistake, not until tomorrow.”


“Call me Jimmy, GG.”

“Show me the letter, Junior.”

I pulled it out from my bookbag.

“Open it.”

“Can you?”

GG shook her head.

I slipped my finger under it, searching for a place to thumb through the paper. In a couple moments the letter was out.

Dear Jimmy O’Wiley,

After careful review of your academic results, the school district of Philadelphia would like to congratulate you on the following admission results:



Haverton- NO



The School District of Philadelphia

Not sure why three NOs and one YES gets a congratulations, but I’ll take it.  Actually I started jumping up and down. “Yes,” I said. Yes!

GG said, “Well, at least one of them was dumb enough to want you.”

The only thing I was thinking was, “I’m going to get a uniform. I’m going to play for a team.”

First thing I did was contact the coach. I wrote him an email, “Coach Hopple, I’m excited to join your team. I’m a center mid, usually attacking and I’ve played many years for Eastport AC. I’m writing to find out about your program, when preseason starts, all that. Let’s go Tigers.”

He wrote me back that day. “James, I’ve attached a letter about our program.”

Well I read the whole thing. I’m not going to bore you with the details. He said winning isn’t the most important thing, but being a good man was, which to me is like, why are we talking about soccer at all if winning isn’t important? The whole point is to score more goals than the other team and win. Then he was like, come into camp fit, and it was all this number stuff about fitness but I skipped it mostly because any game I ever played in I’d never been tired so I was, like, no worries.

I had to get a PIAA physical filled out by a doctor so I told GG. She told me to go the public health clinic because insurance wasn’t going to help because I already had my physical that year. I was like fine, but really it wasn’t. If you’ve never been to a public health clinic in Philly — which I’m assuming you haven’t because you can read, right? — you’re lucky. It’s like a three-hour wait.

But after all that stuff, before I ever set foot inside the doors, I was at this field. It was ugly like a teenager’s face before anyone told them to wash it to keep the zits away, and I didn’t see any soccer goals. I had ridden my bike there. I looked around, and I saw these other kids, including Jefe, kicking balls around. A collection of bags are heaped on one side, next to the coach. The coach was as tall as a freaking tree and he was shuffling through paper and at first I was thinking he was nerdy, but he said, “Jimmy, yeah, you sent me the email. How’s Portside soccer?”

I said, “I don’t really play for them anymore?”

“Oh,” his voice was loud, “How do you not really play for them?”

I said, “It was a lot of money.” Figuring that would shut him up.

He looked me dead in the eye though. Held my eyes like he knew that I wasn’t telling him the truth about why I didn’t play, and I looked away.

The kids were in pairs and kicking balls. Most of them looked corny, but there were two kids I could tell were good. Jefe, who I already knew could ball, and the African kid who played with me that one time, he was there too. Other than that there was this tiny kid, looked like he was Asian or Mexican, pretending he could do an elastico, but it was so slow it would never work in a game time situation.

I didn’t know anyone like that. I didn’t even say hi to Jefe because it had been months and I didn’t know what he’d say. I took my time with my cleats, I even put on shin guards and taped them up (coach supplied some tape) so that I was done right when he said it was time to run.

Jefe shouted, “Line up in pairs.” I finished lacing up and jogged over to the back of the line. I was lined up with this kid who was even smaller than me, but a little round. We jogged one even lap. The kid next to was puffing by half way through.

Jefe shouted, “Circle up.”

The guys made a circle at the center of the field.

He said, “Got some new faces. Let’s introduce ourselves. I’ll start with me. I’m Jaime but most kids call me Jefe cause I’m a boss. On the field, I like to play shut down defense and jumpstart the offense with pinpoint passing. I’m a junior, and in case you haven’t figured it out, I’m a captain too.”

The kid next to him introduced himself, some gangly senior striker. Looking at him I was already annoyed because I knew the kind of player, they just wait and wait and then they get the ball and score and win the game and they’re like, “Aren’t I the man,” but all they did was play the scorer’s positions.

The team didn’t look that good. There was a kid who was thick as an ice cream truck, and another kid who was a legit light pole. I’m starting to wonder why Jefe told me this team was good, and then I realize he probably needs me, if this is his squad. I thought I was going to get to play some legit soccer.

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