There I stood, 12 yards from the goal line, the soccer ball three yards in front of me. Not only could this shot decide the game, it could finally prove what we had so long believed. My body flowed with adrenaline and my nerves raged. This was my chance to be the hero. This was my chance for sweet revenge.
“B” team, second string, bench-warmer, players who aren’t quite up to par with the others, when I was 11 years old I was one of them. I was the kid who got cut and placed on the team that “needed a little extra work.” My ability simply wasn’t where it needed to be to play for this particular soccer team and I was devastated to hear I wouldn’t be joining my five or six other friends – including my cousin – who did make the squad. The thought of quitting often crossed my mind as I practiced on the field next to them with my band of fellow rejects. As it turned out, quitting would have been the worst possible decision.
From the very first practice, our coach instilled in us a mind set that we were just as good as our counterparts one field over. He had a confidence in us, and he wanted us to share his confidence. For months we conditioned and drilled three times a week at Malabar Middle School to better ourselves so that we may eventually be equal to the “A” team. Time and again I would gaze over to the plot of ground opposite our field and observe my friends playing together, laughing and joking around as I ran miles and worked harder than I had ever worked before. Steadily, our team improved as their team stagnated. Every practice, every game, every tournament, we fought with the confidence, passion, and desire to win. But not only that, we played hoping that eventually we would meet our adversaries and be able to defeat them.
Finally, our opportunity arose. The 1999 North Olmsted Soccer Organization Cup was underway and both teams were entered. My team finished first in our group with a record of three wins and zero losses while our opposites finished second in their group with two wins and one loss. The way the tournament was set up meant that we would face each other in the semi-finals. Our time had come – the chance to finally prove we weren’t the supposed “B” team we’d been called for months and that we were, in fact, equals.
Game time quickly approached and nerves became more alive than ever. Right off the bat it was obvious to everyone, playing and watching, that this game was different than any other game. More than just a trip to the championship was on the line. Pride was at stake. Immediately we knew it would be a hard fought match and anything less than our full effort would not suffice.
The game remained scoreless going into halftime with both sides having equal opportunities at goal. The second half was similar with a scoreless tie as both teams battled, attempting to gain an advantage on the other. Eventually, as time wore on, our opponents began to tire and our side gained the extra momentum we needed. With about five minutes remaining in the game, we caught a break. Our left wing dribbled down the left flank with speed and played a beautiful ball into the penalty area with pace and precision. The intended player received the ball and turned to strike it at the goal. But in that split second as he pivoted, the opposing defender clipped his leg, sending him crashing to earth. We got a penalty kick. As every player and fan looked to our coach to see who would have the responsibility of taking the free shot, I can still remember the feeling of horror I experienced as I heard him yell, “Kam, take it.”
And so I stood, 15 yards from the goal line, waiting for the referee to blow the whistle. Victory and payback were within reach, all I had to do was put the ball in the back of the net. The desires of myself, my teammates, and my coach could be decided with one strike of the ball. With the game and the tournament depending on this shot, I knew I had to settle down and calm my nerves. After a long, relaxing breath I heard the high-pitched shrill noise and slowly approached the ball. Every move was textbook perfect: pick a target, plant on left foot, make contact with the instep of the right foot, follow through and land on kicking foot. As if in slow motion, I picked up my head to see the ball sail across the goal line and into the low left corner of the net.
The remaining five minutes went quickly as our team’s intensity held up and our opponents weren’t able to score. When the final whistle blew, we and our fans began rejoicing in victory as our “B” team celebrated a glorious win. Our hard work and determination had earned us the win we most desired, and we were reaping the rewards of our labor. Revenge was ours.
Looking back, though, it wasn’t revenge we were seeking. At the time, in our 11 and 12 year old immaturity, it certainly seemed like it. A few months earlier, some of us had our hopes dashed. I realize now that it was personal value we were after. Being told you’re not good enough inspires thoughts or feelings of revenge, but only temporarily. In the long run, personal value and self worth are the motivating factors. And when that last whistle blew, it wasn’t revenge that entered my mind, it was reward, reward for hard work and determination. Six months earlier I had thought being cut was the end. I had no idea it was only the beginning.
Kameren Jewett is a senior from Ashland, Ohio, majoring in Political Science and Business Administration.