Only a Game

By Jerome W. McFadden

Being the high school football coach of East Jesus, Texas (Team motto: Don’t Cross Us) was not a great job. We had exactly 12 kids on the team, and one of those was a girl.

Because of the great distances involved, and the lack of a school bus, we had only three games scheduled. Two of those were on the same day. But that was just a scheduling screw up that no one noticed or thought much about until I was hired.

I brought up the fact that the locker rooms’ hot water tank wasn’t going to produce enough hot water on the same day for two sets of boy showers, plus two extra ones for Margaret, our female player. And nobody wanted to drive home sixty miles or more with a really smelly, tired, cranky kid–who probably had chores to do the moment he (or she) got back to the farm.

The coach at the other high school, General George Custer (Team motto: Bring it on!), understood and agreed to reschedule.

The next crisis was the field. We didn’t have one. Neither did our opponents. Our first choice was the school parking lot, but that was going to be confusing with all of the permanent white lines for the parking slots already painted on it. But an argument was made that the blue lines for the handicapped slots made a natural end zone. However, if we played in the parking lot, where would we park all of the cars?

So we moved to the adjacent field, old Mr. Detweiler’s cow pasture. Old Mr.Detweiler said he didn’t mind, but he had nowhere else to put the cows, so we were just gonna have to shoo them off to the side of the field whenever we wanted to practice or play. Of course, that also meant that we were gonna have to shovel and clean the cow patties from the area we wanted to play on. Old Mr. Detweiler said that wasn’t his problem.

The kids were more enthusiastic about clearing that field than I thought they might be. But I shoulda known they were gonna turn it into a manure throw. A few got to seeing how far they could hurl a cow patty. The older, dried up patties, worked best–if you used the discus technique. But, of course, a couple of other kids went for accuracy (wet patties work better here) and that degenerated into an all out brawl. I didn’t stop it, though, as I thought it brought the team closer together, which is important in any sport.

Equipment also turned out to be a bit of a problem, too. We didn’t have any. The helmet part was easy: All of the kids scrounged their bicycle helmets or their older brothers’ motorcycle helmets and we painted them all them all purple (our school mascot–the Purple Sage Brushes) and added big white numbers on the side. Any number they wanted from one to ninety-nine. Our Art/Social/History/English teacher used that as an art project, encouraging the kids to paint on skulls & crossbones, lightning bolts, or some other menacing symbols. Margaret painted pink hearts and kisses on hers, which scared the hell out of everyone else on the team.

Team jerseys (we didn’t have any of those either) were easily resolved. The mothers, aunts, and grandmothers knitted them. However, I forgot to tell them to coordinate the number on the jersey with the numbers on their kid’s helmet, so that caused a bit of confusion when we finally got on the field. But the worse problem was that if an opponent missed his (or her) tackle but got his (or her) fingers caught in a knitting loop, which was easy to do, the jersey would unravel all of the way to the end zone. We compensated for this by having the women knit several backups for each game.

Shoulder pads turned out to be the real challenge. The only sporting store we had in a hundred fifty mile radius was Cabella’s, and they mostly stocked fishing and hunting clothes, outdoor gear, camouflage tents, and hiking boots.

Robbie Shelmbacher’s father hobbled a set of pads together from some short wood slats leftover from some fencing he had done around the farmhouse but it came out kind of mean, like putting brass knuckles inside your boxing gloves. But at least he had taken the nails out.

Little Tommie Sooner came up with the best solution. His Aunt Beaula’s brassieres were big enough to stretch across the back of his small neck, one generous cup covering each shoulder. Fill them full of old rags and cast off t-shirts, and you were ready to go.

That, too, became a team project. However, not all of the mothers or other women had Aunt Beula’s proportions, so the boys started going into the East Jesus Dollar Store (used to be a 5 & 10) to pick up the bigger sizes. But they were too shy to buy them, so they started to shoplift the super sizes.

The manager, Mr. Clarendon, caught on pretty quick, but he was a team supporter, so he just sent me the bill. I tried to turn the bill in as an expense but got a nasty note back from the school business administrator in which she said: You are an ugly pervert, and if you don’t stop this, I will inform the school board.

But what worried me even more was to hear the boys talking about Nylon versus Elastane versus Rayon versus cotton and padded cups versus lift-up cups and underwires. A couple of them even suggested we drive all the way into Amarillo to visit Victoria’s Secrets, but I told them if we were gonna drive all the way to Amarillo, we might just as well buy regular shoulder pads. All they said to that was “Oh,” kinda disappointed.

We didn’t practice much, considering we only had 12 kids. We could practice either offense, or defense, but not both at the same time. So we brought over a few of Old Mr. Detweiler’s cows. They just stood there staring at us blankly, not quite understanding what they were supposed to do, but they gave us something to run around, like blocking dummies. Occasionally one of them skittered, knocking down a kid or two, which is as close as we got to full contact.

The first game came against Moses, Texas, (Team motto: Watch our people go) came a little sooner that I would have liked. But I was relieved to see they weren’t any better equipped that we were. We managed to line out the field and chase the cows away that thought they were gonna get to play and set up a portable blackboard as the scoreboard and whistled for the game to begin.

The Moses halfback almost ran the opening kickoff all the way back on us, but Margaret stopped him cold on the 40 yard line. He jumped up and ran off the field and wouldn’t come back, yelling that the kid who just tackled him was wearing lipstick.

I called a quick time out and told Margaret that, to paraphrase the old Tom Hank’s movie, “There’s no lipstick in football.” She wiped it off but glared across the field and yelled at their halfback, “I’ll still kick your ass!” He refused to play.

On the next play,  their other half back almost ran around our end but slipped on fresh cow patty that we had overlooked and slid out through the sidelines, taking out a row of folding chairs the Moses supporters were sitting in. The referee wanted to run the play again, but our principal argued that that was our well-known “Defecation Defense” and the play should stand. Their coach was so angry that he couldn’t even respond, so the play stood.

They were so discouraged by now that they wasted the next two plays, and we took over the ball. Margaret knocked their guard on his butt, and little Tommie Sooner scooted through the opening and ran ten yards before anyone could catch him.

He was the only one who noticed that one of the cows had come back on the field and darted around it, just like at practice. All three of their defensive backs didn’t see it and ran smack into the cow’s side, knocking it over and sprawling across it. Old Mr. Detweiler happened to be watching the game and came out bellowing about him not agreeing to any “cow tipping” and that everyone “should just get the hell off my field.”

The game was over. But the referee ruled that little Tommie Sooner had scored before the game was called, so it was East Jesus 6 Moses 0. Our first win.

The other coach was still angry but rational. He suggested we go inside and play basketball, even though it was a bit early in the season. They had driven all this way, and it was a shame to waste the day. As I was also going to be our basketball coach, I thought it was a reasonable suggestion. But I took Margaret aside before the game, as she was going to be our starting center, to tell her there was no lipstick in boy’s basketball either. She made a face and asked, “When we gonna get to a sport that has lipstick in it?”

I patted her gently on the shoulder and said, “I think you’re gonna get there real soon, but I ain’t gonna be coaching it.”

We canceled the rest of the football season as we no longer had a field to play on–neither did they. But the basketball season went well. We kept the cows out of the gym and won more than half our games. Margaret even got a basketball scholarship, but she was sorely disappointed that it was just for the girl’s team.

I gave her a tube of lipstick as a going away present.

Jerome McFadden
Jerome McFadden

Jerome W. McFadden‘s short stories have appeared in 50 magazines, anthologies, and e-zines. He has received a Bullet Award for the best crime fiction to appear on the web. Two of his short stories have been read on stage by the Liar’s League London and Liar’s League Hong Kong. His collection of 26 short stories, titled Off The Rails. A Collection of Weird, Wacky & Wicked Stories, was a 2020 Finalist in both the Next Generation Indie Book Awards and the National Indie Book Awards and has received 5 star ratings on Amazon Books.

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