The Champ

The Champ

From Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul

The Champ

He had a featherweight build, but what this 15-year-old lacked in strength and speed, he made up for in attitude. Jason never missed a practice, even though he rarely got playing time, and then only in the fourth quarter when our team outdistanced the opponent by at least three touchdowns. Even so, number 37 never so much as frowned, let alone complained, and always put forth his best effort—even if it amounted to very little.

One day he didn’t come to practice. When he didn’t show up on the second day, as his concerned coach, I telephoned his home to check on him. The out-of-town relative I spoke with informed me that Jason’s father had passed away and the family was making funeral arrangements.

Two weeks later, my faithful number 37 was again in the lineup, ready for practice. Only three days of practice remained before our next game. This was an important game because it was against our most fierce opponent and late in the season, and we only had a one-game lead over them. This was a critical game at a pivotal point in the season.

When the big day rolled around, my top players were ready to bolt onto the field. All the familiar faces were there but one—Jason. But suddenly, Jason appeared at my side and with a totally uncharacteristic look and manner said, “I’m going to be a starter today. I’m ready now.” He left no room for refusal or argument. When the game began, he was in position on the field. The regular starter whom he replaced sat awestruck on the bench.

Jason played like a first-stringer that day. He was in every respect equal if not better than the best player on the team. He ran fast, found every open hole in the line, and jumped up after every tackle as if he had never been hit. By the third quarter he had run for three touchdowns. As a grand finale, as if to remove even the slightest doubt in anyone’s mind, he scored another touchdown in the last seconds of the fourth quarter.

As he ran off the field with his teammates, Jason received a volley of body slaps and body slams against the backdrop of thunderous applause from the crowd. Despite all the adulation, Jason managed to maintain his characteristic humble, low-key manner. Puzzled by Jason’s sudden transformation, I approached him and said, “Jason, you played an extraordinary game today. By the second touchdown, I had to wipe my eyes and pinch myself. But by the time the clock ran out in the fourth quarter, my curiosity got the best of me. What happened to you?”

Jason, hesitating at first, said, “Well, Coach Williams, as you know, my father recently died. When my dad was alive he was blind, so he couldn’t see me play. But now that he has gone to heaven, this is the first time he has been able to see me play. I wanted to make him proud.”

As told by Nailah Malik, the “Vela Storyteller”

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