The Ball's Gotta Move

The Ball’s Gotta Move: Chapter Nine

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

The next day practice was good. We were feeling good. Coach said next game is Wednesday, so we had only two practices. He said, “Go run two miles.”

Some kids groaned. I was one of them. Like, we’ve been running for a month. Can we just play soccer?

Jefe says, “Stop whining, man up.”

Guys kind of stopped making noise, but you could tell by the way we walked nobody except Jefe and Tous wanted to run.

We got up there on the track and Coach edged a line across the ground. We gathered behind it. He says, “First ten are my starting field players for Monday.”

Everybody looked around at each other. You could see some of the guys doing mental math. If they were starters they had to figure out who they had to beat. If they were like me and playing left pine, they were dreaming about winning the race to get a spot.

Personally, I just got a lot more motivated to turn up for this shit. Skip somehow figuring out what this weirdo coach wanted and just running faster. I ran my little heart out. Really I thought it was going to jump out of my chest. I’d learned a little about running.

One thing is to pace yourself. Another, you keep your back straight as a freaking skateboard — stay up on your toes, save your back, develop your calves — save something for the end. I kept doing that.

The two center mids were just in front of me, and I’m thinking, if I beat them, that is my spot. And there are two laps left and I’m feeling tired. Just want to go slower. Take it easy. But naw, son.

Another thing about running is you got to say some crazy shit to yourself, some stuff that makes you believe. Some people might say, “I’m the man,” or something. For me that was these Meek Mill bars I kept running through my head:

My heart getting cold
Then the streets getting colder
They said I wouldn’t make it no way
I think my heart getting colder, my heart getting cold
Told them I would make it one day
Only Lord knows

I always think about how Meek Mill came out of the heart of North Philly and his mindset was that he’d make it someday. I just repeat those bars over and over, in my head, like a drum of belief. Like no one out there thought I could do it. They all thought I was little, soft, and not at this level. Well, watch this.

I hit the jets. Popped up on my toes and really ran, and next thing Bundle knew, I was zooming by him, and Trout was seeing my dust too.

When I passed Bundle he said, “What the?” He started moving, but I kept the inside of the track and kept moving hard, my heart getting cold, don’t matter how much I hurt, I put that work in.

And even though I heard them buzzing behind me, I pushed hard and won. Against them. I was breathing so hard, I felt the puke rising, but my body was a lot more chill about it. I didn’t lose nothing, just walked it off, and then I sat down.

I was starting. I came in number nine. Well, ten actually, the goalie beat me. Why a goalie is that good at running, I don’t know.

The day of the game was also the first day of school. We had to leave class, the first day of school, to get on the bus. Coach said he’d email the teachers but we should wear our home jerseys and remind our sixth period teacher about the game.

With the first day of school coming up I went to Mom and asked for money. I said, “Mom, I’m trying to buy some new kicks for the first day of school.”

She said, “I’ll ask Drew.”

I needed the money, so I said, “Okay.”

Next thing I know she’s telling me I got to apologize to him first. So this is ridiculous because really how am I supposed to apologize for getting beat up by my mom’s boyfriend?

I went to GG. “Money for kicks?”

She says, “Is thirty enough?”

I said, “GG, minimum I need is seventy.”

She said, “No, Walmart has a whole shoe section, highest price is forty.”

I said, “Please?”

Now maybe you didn’t do school in the city. This is how it is. You can be in a raggedy ass t-shirt. You can wear old but clean jeans. But the kicks have to be fresh, especially the first day. And no, you can’t buy something in Walmart, some Reeboks nobody wanted. They have to be new, they have to be nice.

But, now you might be saying, how bad could it be? And that just shows, you don’t know how it is. And GG was like that. But Mom knew and she wanted me to go through this stuff. Well, I figured I could say it. I could say, “Drew? Sorry. I really could have listened to you, you know?”

And he’d say, “Yeah, yeah, it’s cool, not even a thing.”

Maybe he’d give me fifty and between that and GG’s money I could buy something nice.

The first day I was honestly just happy to be wearing fresh gear, but also to me this school was going to be different. The first thing I saw when I came in was not that many kids were rocking fresh kicks. (I still wanted them on my feet. Like, Spiderman don’t need that suit, but he feels like he’s up for the job with it on.) They were more like, I don’t know, art kids, skater kids.

Like I saw this one girl, I think she was dressed up like Little Red Riding Hood, with the red cape and ponytail. She was cute but it was weird to me. Like I never thought about Little Red Riding Hood that way, though you could argue the wolf did.

A lot of kids were standing in pods around the green marble entrance. Old friends, from elementary school. I kept moving through the doors, through the metal detectors, and then I started wandering the halls toward my advisory. Toward is not really what it was because I went to just about every floor and every hall before I found it. See, I couldn’t ask anyone. Then I’d look like an idiot.

Advisory and all six periods were lame. Teacher saying everything that was going to happen, kids looking like I felt: scared.

Six period I saw Tous was in class with me. I gave him a handshake and started to sit next to him, but the teacher, this old black lady, said we had assigned seats. She made us all get up and was herding us around from behind a wooden desk that looked like it’d be used as a bunker in WWI. She just said a name and pointed a bony finger. When we all got sorted where she wanted us, she got out from her desk, and it was something like when Yoda started fighting in the Star Wars movie, because she was up, talking about books like they were money.

Her name was Mrs. Johnson. Her braids wrapped around her head and wound up, like a tower. She looked like she was about two hundred years old, white hair, milky eyes, and angry face. Like she was mad she wasn’t dead yet. She said, “You came from a lot of places. This is TIS and here you read. You read on your own.”

I raised my hand. “What is it?” she said.

“Me and Tous have to leave soon,” I said, “we got a game.”

“Tous and I have to leave soon: we have a game,” she said.


“You correct the sentence.”

“Tous and I have to leave soon, we have a game.”

She nodded, like she finally understood, when we had said the same thing like forty times between us. She said, “Here.” She handed me and Tous a book called The Lord of the Flies. “Read pages 3-29 for tomorrow. And make sure you do your work. Nothing disappoints me more than laziness.”

It was weird because she was maybe twice as old as GG but she was ten times scarier. I honestly thought at that point that I would read while I was on the bench during the game because I was that committed to making sure I did not disappoint Mrs. Johnson.

That wasn’t how it happened. After the warm up I was hype, like my finger tips were buzzing, for my first start. When Coach called the lineup, though, he pushed Jefe up to box-to-box center mid and put me out on the left wing.

As guys were grabbing water I said, “Coach, I play center mid.”

He said, “You play where I put you.”

I said, “But I did the run.”

He said, “Center-mid is for players that run up and back. All I see from you is offense. At this level, we run both ways. You show me that, maybe you get some minutes at center mid.”

I liked how whenever I did what he wanted he added some new stuff.

Still it was fun. There was a crowd of kids from TIS out for the game shouting stuff like “Go Hawks.”

I got the ball on the left about four minutes in, faked a cross with me left, pulled it back. Kids cheered, cause the kid lost his footing on the fake, and then I curled a cross into the box. Jefe arrived and headed it. Their keeper got down and stopped it, but String Bean was on hand to tap home. He took off with his arms out like he just scored a bicycle kick in a championship, but Jefe took after him, and wrapped him up in a hug, so I followed and gave him five. I mean, the thing is, I was excited to get an assist to Jefe. A goal is a goal, though.

The other team wasn’t ready for us, and even though coach didn’t play me more than 28 mins out of the eighty (I timed it) we won four to two. Two games in and we were two and o in league play.

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