Orange Crush hosted the Blue Angels for the final soccer game of the season. The deciding game…who would go home the last place team? Mud flung everywhere and the swampy field made their team colors almost unidentifiable.
“Are we crazy, or what?” One of the mothers expressed what everyone else thought. Icy cold November rain pelted their umbrellas.
“I’m keeping my mouth shut,” Alan joked. He raised his orange flag indicating the ball had rolled out of bounds. Alan smiled at the movement under his wife’s poncho.
“Orange ball,” the referee pointed to the spot on the sideline.
“Sub please!” Tracie hollered to the ref. She coaxed three warm bodies huddled inside her wool poncho-coat out to the muddy field. “Wendy, Krista, Dana,” Tracie waved the cold, drenched, girls in and welcomed them under the shelter of her poncho.
“Good job, girls,” Tracie encouraged. Huddled against Tracie, the trio shivered and giggled.
Last year Tracie cheered from the sidelines for her little neighbor, Stacy. She learned all the names on the team and encouraged them equally. When the father that coached had a change in his job, the girls begged her to be their coach.
The referee blew his whistle announcing the half-time break. Parents retreated to their cars to crank up the heat, even if for only ten minutes.
Alan ran and grabbed wool blankets from his trunk. He wrapped the girls in small huddles while they ate orange slices and sipped cups of hot cocoa for their half-time energy boost.
“Okay girls,” Tracie began her pep-talk. “We’re 2-7 for the season. This is our last game and we’re losing 1-0.”
“Wow, I feel encouraged already,” Stacy piped up sarcastically.
“Here’s what we’re going to do,” Tracie pressed on. “I want Bev in the goal and Mindy to take her place on the front line.”
“Yay, I’ve always wanted to try goalie,” Bev stuffed her orange peel over her teeth and smiled.
Stacy groaned but managed to keep her smart aleck quip to herself.
“The other three forwards will move back to the halfback position and halfbacks will move to the fullback’s place and fullbacks will become the forwards.” Tracie laughed at the bewildered faces. “Clear as mud?”
“Yeah, but why?” Stacy spoke for the whole team.
“Three reasons,” Tracie held her finger up. “First, I want my speed in the back and my power in the front. We’re struggling to get any distance on the ball in this muck. I need the heavy hitters up front to try for a longer shot at the goal.”
“I get to try to make a goal instead of block one?” Mindy sat up straight.
“Yes,” Tracie’s second finger went up. “Two, I want to cause confusion among the Blue Angels. You have to stay focused on your new positions, okay?”
“Sneaky. I like it. And three?” Stacy prompted.
“I want you to have fun,” Tracie choked back tears. “I know we haven’t won very many games but I want you to know what an honor it’s been to be your coach. I’m sorry I don’t have more experience, but I’ve had fun on and off the field.”
The referee blew his whistle and the girls huddled, their hands together. “Go-o-o-o Orange Crush!”
Tracie handed out bright orange certificates with humorous awards for every girl on the team. “And we’re not last place,” Tracie grinned. Laughter filled the banquet room at Piper’s Pizza. “Seriously though, you’re all awesome. I appreciate the opportunity to have been your coach.”
Stacy popped up out of her seat with an orange carnation, “Thank you for the slumber party.”
Mindy stood next with her own flower, “Thanks for letting me score a goal in the last game.”
“Thank you for coming to my piano recital,” Krista added her carnation.
Dana stood, “Thanks for carrying me off the field when I got hurt.”
Each girl had a personal thank you accompanied by an orange carnation. When the last girl presented her flower Stacy counted, “1,2,3…”
In unison, fifteen girls asked, “Please be our coach again?”
Stacy’s mom presented a team colored gift bag from the parents. “We assumed you’d say yes.”
Inside the bag Tracie pulled out a black jacket with Orange Crush printed on the left chest over the emblem of an orange soccer ball. Tracie smiled at the title under the ball: Coach Tracie.
“Hug attack!” A swarm of black and orange crushed Tracie. She knew she’d become more to them than just: Coach Tracie.
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