March 21st, 2015 | By Clint Foster No Comments


“I don’t want to see a single head lowered in this locker room.” The Shell’s voice had more body than it usually did. It felt heavier and more powerful. “Losing a game is not something to be ashamed of. Losing every game can be a better experience than being the world champions. I understand this is hard, especially for some of the upper classman. I’ve been there. It hurts. Don’t let this ruin your mood for long. Take a shower, rinse the sweat and sadness away from yourselves, and go out to your parents and friends with smiles on your lovely faces. I know I will, because I’m fortunate enough to have coached you all this year.”

“Hey, yo, Mick, slow down.” Ricky hobbled behind his lithe friend, attempting to imitate his swift advance through the crowd. He was held back by his crutches and distinct girth disadvantage. It only took a couple shoves and excuse me’s to make his way to the front of the crowd gathered by the locker room doors. The girls had lost their playoff game on a half-court shot with no time left on the clock. They’d played their hardest, and just couldn’t catch that lucky break they needed.

“She’s gonna be mad,” Mick sighed, “so mad.”

The doors crept open and a couple of sullen faces meandered out of the steamy warmth of the locker room. The assembled crowd exploded with cheers, congratulating their girls on having such a good season and playing so hard all game. Frowns turned to grins as everyone began discussing their plans for the evening, or the weekend. Proud parents gave tight hugs and siblings exchanged high fives.

There was an assortment of pictures taken. The seniors all got one, the freshman, the starters, the JV squad. Everyone was included.

As the crowd began to thin, with people realizing the local pizza joint was only open for another half-hour, Ricky and Mick sought Cassie out of the crowd. The collective bear hug they gave her squeezed a smile out of her. She giggled as they set her down, “Thanks, guys. Sorry we didn’t win.”

“Bah,” Mick started, “I’m pretty sure some of those girls were from the WNBA, just with really good makeup.”

“Or the regular NBA.” Ricky added, sagely.

“Now you say that, number 14 did have a bit of a beard going on…”

Cassie slugged them both on the arm, “Oh, stop it. I’m fine. I’m not mad.”

“Not even a little?” Ricky’s single raised eyebrow betrayed his disbelief.

“Ugh, okay, maybe a little. Just shut up about it and let’s eat.”

“Is pizza medicine?” Mick pondered, face still stuffed so full of crust that bits of it dribbled down his chin.

“In the same way that running is fun.” Ricky slapped him on the belly, causing a fight between laughing, spitting out food, and swallowing that brought tears to everyone’s eyes.

Another draft of cool air was the only hint that someone new had walked in before Cassie felt a little body hugging her. “Good job tonight, sis.”

She turned around and gave her little brother a big squeeze. “Thanks, munchkin. How was your game, today?”

Since football hadn’t worked out, Ben had given basketball a try. His sister had pushed it on him pretty hard, and he just wanted to find something he was good at and had fun doing. Basketball wasn’t going to be his thing either, he didn’t think. Dribbling was hard, and he didn’t like all the running he had to do. After his fourth game, he’d sat down to eat with his mom and explained that he wished he could do a sport that required little physical activity.

“Honey, that’s what sports are, generally.”

“Can I do bowling?” He’d asked, hopefully.

“Well, I’m not sure the school has a bowling program, but maybe we can sign you up for a league sometime!”

His parents had never been pushy about what activities he and his sister did; they just wanted them to be doing things. The common excuse for kicking them out of the house to go play outside was that their brains would turn to mush as fast as their muscles.

Ben pinched his arms a lot to make sure he wasn’t too mushy.

“Game was good. We lost again, though.” He shrugged, making a face that said he wasn’t terribly disappointed, but not happy about it either.

“Well,” Cassie said, shoving a piece of pizza in his face, “misery loves company. Grab a few slices, I don’t want cold pizza for lunch tomorrow.”

The group of friends sat in relative silence, occasionally visiting their friends at other tables, or making a crack at someone walking in the door. The companionable silence spoke more about their comfort than words would have, and Cassie was glad they’d all been there to support her after a tough loss.

The door waved open again, but this time it was a significantly larger body that hugged her. “I wish you’d have won so we could keep playing pep band, but you did your best.” Carlos thudded onto the bench beside Ben. “Hey, little man.”

“Hey, big man.” Ben smiled and they performed their overly elaborate secret handshake.

The staff was starting to look tired, and everyone knew it was far past closing time, so people were starting to file out the doors. Cassie looked at all her friends and smiled. “Thanks for being here, guys.  It means a lot.”

“You mean a lot,” Carlos answered, giving her shoulder a pat.

“So whose season is next?” Ricky asked, knowing full well that track was the next sport on the agenda.

“Mom says I can play bowling!” Ben shouted.

“What’s a bowling? Is that a thing anymore?” Ricky teased.

“Are we just gonna ignore that track season is next?” Mick asked.

“Yes. Yes, we are.”

“You guys are the worst-best
friends ever.”

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“I don’t want to see a single head lowered in this locker room.” The Shell’s voice had more body than it usually did. It felt heavier and more powerful. “Losing a game is…