Try It Out
During the final Math period of 8th grade Amber, one of the most popular girls in school, bounced toward me, her long two-toned curls flying. She planted herself in the empty seat in front of mine and spun around gracefully, folding her perfectly French manicured and superficially tanned hands on my desk. Her huge sea green eyes stared into mine with suppressed excitement, and I wondered vaguely if her face ever hurt from smiling so much. Apparently she needed an invitation to speak. “Hi.” I said a little uncertainly. I’ll be honest, Amber was a sweet girl I spoke with on occasion, but we weren’t exactly on the same rung of the school social ladder.
“Are you trying out for the cheerleading squad or the drill team? I can totally see you on the drill team!” she gushed happily. I smiled at her exuberance, contemplating her comment. The high school drill team wore matching white cowgirl hats and tiny white fringed, maroon leotards. I considered the white fringe embellished boots they wore as they marched onto the football field in perky syncopation for the half-time dance number. I suppressed a giggle and maybe a small amount of vomit.
“I haven’t decided on what I’m trying out for yet.” I replied truthfully.
She nodded still smiling and gazing at me intently. I returned her happy expression and sincerely gave her the words she was fishing for, “I bet you’re trying out for cheerleading. You are going to do awesome Amber! You’ll skip the freshmen squad and go straight to JV.” I assured her. Her smile widened even more and she chirped, “Thanks!” as the bell rang, and we headed towards the door.
I decided to think more seriously about my plans for high school. Everyone needed a certain number of gym credits to graduate but prancing around in fringe was not how I wanted to get them. What could I do? Then it hit me. Volleyball! I speculated about the validity of that idea. I had barely made the middle school volleyball team and going into high school meant adding several other middle schools to the mix. My chances of actually making the team shrank considerably. Should I even try?
Then, Coach Smith, my volleyball coach, popped into my head. Most students gossiped and giggled about her tomboyish appearance, but I thought Coach Smith was great. When I saw her head of short cropped brown curls bobbing towards me in the hallways it brightened my day. She would always see me, smile, and give a quiet nod of encouragement as if to say, “Keep trying!”, and I would keep floundering through. At the last game of the season, Coach Smith gathered our team together and commended us on our efforts. To my surprise she paused at the end of her pep talk, looked at me with a twinkle in her eye, and said, “Missy, you are one of the most improved players this year. Thanks for trying hard.” I decided volleyball would be my only chance. I would do my best and work hard. If I didn’t make the team, at least I tried.
Try Outs (!)
Volleyball tryouts were at the end of the summer in a subtle form of torture known as three-a-days, three practices a day for three days in a row. We first learned all the different ways there are to run. We ran laps around the gym, relays across the gym, and yoyos up and down the gym. After a few laps I started to feel a little queasy. I burst out of the double doors of the gymnasium and into the almost empty hallway with an echoing boom. There were two janitors in matching faded blue jump suits balancing on a ladder, fixing a flickering florescent light in the ceiling.
“Please, can you tell me where the bathroom is?” I begged.
They just looked at me and chuckled. My stomach made a sickening lurch. Then, my breakfast made a colorful and pungent reemergence on the white linoleum floor with a glorious splash right at the foot of the ladder. “Have fun cleaning that up.” I thought as I stalked back into the gym. I was a little miffed. My heart slid to the floor and trailed behind me as I weaved through the other players to where the coaches stood observing. Surely I would be sent home sick, and tryouts had just started. I admit there was a part of me that was okay with that.
“I just threw up all over the hall.” I stated lamely when I finally reached them. The freshman coach didn’t even raise an eyebrow, she didn’t even blink.
“Well,” she said, “Keep running.” So I took a deep breath, turned around and kept running.
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Later that day, the coach dropped a verbal bomb, “If you can’t serve the volleyball over hand you will not be making the team,” she said. I stood behind the service line, tossed my ball up perfectly and then “Smack!” it landed hard a foot away from the net. I tried again. This time, it flew off and hit the wall. We were told to come to practice early if we wanted to improve. I did from that point on, and I spent any free time I had behind that line tossing and smacking until my shoulder throbbed. By the end of the second day I made six out of ten serves overhand.
Remarkably, I lived through tryouts. At the end of day three the coaches packed us into the locker room. Instead of posting a list they would call out the names of the girls that didn’t make it, and they would immediately take their belongings and leave. It was like being voted off the island on Survivor. I gathered my things and began a staring contest with the door. When the coach called my name I would bolt for the exit. The first few names were called, girls cried, hugged, and left dejected. I studied my shoes and tried not to puke again. After several heart-palpitating moments, the coach suddenly stopped calling names and started clapping. My head shot up and I glanced at the girls around me in open disbelief.
I made it!
The rest of the summer flashed by like a perfect spike, and the first volleyball game of the season came just as swiftly. As I clambered up the steps of the big yellow school bus with my teammates, I noticed a head of bushy curls in my peripheral vision. I glanced over at the bus driver, and my mouth fell open. It was Coach Smith. She beamed at me and gave her knowing nod. I nodded back with a grin.