1 | Soccer Starr
“Do it Starr!” My coach’s voice rang in my ears as I ran down the field. “Make the shot!”
I glanced at the scoreboard. Ten seconds left. The crowd was on their feet cheering me on, but I blocked them out. They didn’t matter right now. I had to focus. I dodged around the last defender and swung my leg, connecting it solidly with the ball.
The ball sailed through the air, past the goalie’s outstretched arms, and into the back of the net. I looked to the scoreboard, a huge smile on my face. Time was out and we’d won 4-3. Only then did I let the noisy crowd get to me.
“Hayden!” I turned and found the rest of my team rushing me with outstretched arms. “We won!” My best friend, Demi, tackled me to the ground and the rest of the team joined in.
“Guys!” I tried to shield my face from the arms and legs that seemed to be everywhere. Demi had been my best friend since kindergarten, but sometimes she went a little overboard.
“Okay girls!” Coach’s voice carried over the screams of the crowd and my teammates. “Get up!”
The girls slowly un-piled, still jumping and laughing with excitement and Coach gave me a hand up.
“Well done, Hayden.” He lightly slapped my butt. “That’s my Starr.”
I grinned and gave him a hug. “Thanks, Coach.”
“Hayden!” Demi wrapped me in a bear hug. “You were amazing!”
“You were too!” I laughed. “I can’t believe we’re state champs!” I accepted hugs from all my other teammates. It was a crazy few moments.
The idea that we were state champions and I had scored the winning goal in the championship game hadn’t fully sunk in yet.
“Hayden! Hayden Starr!” I turned and saw a reporter waving me over.
I grinned at Demi. “I’ll be back.” I jogged over to the reporter. “You can only have a minute.” I told her politely. I didn’t mean to be rude, but the last few run-ins with reporters I’d had they’d tried to ask me about all kinds of things irrelevant to soccer.
“Got it.” The reporter nodded to the cameraman and then turned to the camera. “The Knights’ soccer team has gone undefeated this year, now adding the state championship to their record. And it is all thanks to this young woman here.” She turned to me. “Hayden, you’re only a sophomore. You led your team through an undefeated season, all the way to the state championship where you and your teammates crushed it. How does it feel to be state champions, knowing that you were able to be the one to lead your team here, being just a sophomore?”
“Actually,” I smiled. “I have to give all the credit to my coach and my teammates. We work together as a team. Every person on this team is valued. Like coach says, the strength of each person is in the team and the strength of the team is in each person and as a team we can do great things. That’s exactly what we’ve done today. I don’t think the feeling has entirely settled in yet, but I’m thrilled that we won and I can’t wait for next year to start.”
“I’m sure you’re ecstatic.” The reporter gestured to the field behind us. “You were great tonight and all throughout the season. Your stats are off the charts and I have no doubt you’ll start being recruited by top colleges any day now. While all your teammates are great players, you have by far the best performance record, especially tonight, scoring half of your team’s points with an amazing goal earlier and then the winning goal just now. What was it like scoring that goal and would you say you’re the best player on the team?”
Why would she even ask a question like that? “Scoring that goal was amazing. I can’t put into words what that was like. And in regard to the players, every player has their strengths and weaknesses. Like I said earlier, we work as a team. What one player lacks the rest of the team makes up for. It makes us all look great out there.” I hesitated. She wouldn’t let me get away without answering the question better than that. “You said it yourself, all my teammates are great players. You all see it in the games here, but I see it every day at practice. I think that’s what makes a player truly great. The hard work they put in behind the scenes when no one is looking. It shows in the games like today with Reegan and Mia’s amazing goals tonight and Kelly’s awesome saves.”
The reporter smiled. “And your two goals. That’s why they made you team captain.”
I nodded. “Reegan Banks and I are co-captains.”
“Could you tell me about your aspirations for this year, both on and off the soccer field?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, as far as soccer goes, I hope we can go back-to-back championships. My teammates have worked so hard for this and they deserve it, but we intend to keep working and next year to come back and defend out title.”
“And off the field?” The reporter asked.
She was pushy. “Oh, yeah. Ah, I guess just finishing out the school year strong and having fun this summer.”
“Is there a special someone in your life?” The reporter asked.
Great, as always, I was being pressed for things that didn’t have anything to do with soccer.
“Hayden!” I glanced down the field to see my mom waving me over. I turned back to the reporter.
“My parents and I are very close and they have been wonderful throughout the years supporting all my decisions and being there to help me when I need it. I also have some of the best teammates and friends. They are absolutely fantastic and I love them. This school is totally awesome and everyone is so kind, I am so blessed to be here.”
“Are you dating?” The reporter asked more specifically.
Inwardly I rolled my eyes but outwardly I smiled. “I am not dating anyone, no.” I left it at that, not seeing any reason to expound. I already didn’t see why they needed to know if I was single or not.
The reporter apparently knew her luck was running out because she closed out the interview. “Well I hope you have a wonderful summer, Hayden. You deserve it after this season.”
“Thank you.” I smiled and gave her a side hug before jogging over to my mom.
“AHHH!” We both squealed. My mom wrapped me in a hug.
“You were AMAZING!” She squeezed me again.
“Ahh! Oh my gosh!” I bent over, my hands on my knees. “We are actually state champions!” I spotted the other team’s goalie walking across the field. “Hold on a minute, Mom, I wanna catch the other team.”
I jogged over to the goalie. “You’re Francesca Norton, right?” I asked her.
She looked up, surprised. “Yeah, You’re Hayden Starr.”
I smiled. “I just wanted to tell you good game. You all gave us a really tough time and I wanted to say that you are one of the best goalies I’ve seen.”
Francesca smiled at me. “Thanks. I’m being recruited by a few big colleges, but I’m not sure if I want to keep playing soccer after high school.”
I cocked my head to the side. “Well you are a great goalie, but whatever you decide to do I’m sure will work out. I’ve heard great things about you.”
“Thanks,” Francesca smiled. “Same with you. Everyone who knows you absolutely loves you and now I can see why.”
“That’s so sweet of you to say!” I gave her a quick hug. “Well I’ve got to get back to my mom, but it was so nice to meet you. I wish you all the best.”
“You too.” Francesca smiled and we parted ways.
My mom had followed me across the field and now she gave me another hug. “Oh, I wish your dad could’ve been here.” She sighed and rubbed the back of her head, something she did when she was stressed.
I bit my lip. I knew money was a little tough right now, but Dad had been working a bit more than I thought was necessary. He was gone all the time and Mom was getting stressed out.
“It’s fine, Mom.” I draped my arm around her shoulder.
“Yeah,” She rubbed the back of her head again. “Uh, yeah.”
She was acting weird. I turned to face her. “What?”
She shook her head. “Nothing. God enjoy your celebration.”
I glanced at the rest of my team who was assembling for the award ceremony and back at her. “C’mon Mom.” I could tell something was wrong.
“It’s just… Your Dad called during the game.” She paused. “He has to leave again on Monday.”
“What?” I clenched my jaw. “He can’t.”
“I’m sorry Hay, I was gonna wait to tell you until tomorrow.” She put her arm around me. “We can still go, just you and me, or we can wait till Thursday and go with your Dad.”
I shook my head. She was referring to our trip to Arlington National Cemetery that we’d planned to take on Tuesday. My only brother, Ashton, who was five years older than me, had been a Marine but was killed in action two years before. When he’d died, we’d agreed that every year, on the anniversary of his death that we’d go to Arlington to visit him. We’d said that nothing was more important – not school, not soccer, not work.
“We agreed.” I said, almost in tears. Ashton had been my best friend and losing him had almost destroyed me. This tribute, setting aside everything to visit him, showing that nothing was more important than him, meant everything to me. But here we were, only the second year, and Dad was already breaking our agreement.
“I’m sorry, Hayden, he said he’d lose his job if he didn’t go.”
Let him lose it! I wanted to yell. “I have to go.” I said instead. I walked towards the rest of my team, ignoring my mom’s call.
Demi joined me at the back of our teammates. “You good?” She asked.
I nodded. “Yeah, it’s nothing.”
Demi looked at me for a moment. “We’ll talk later. You’re spending the night at my house.”
I gave a small half-hearted laugh. “Okay.”
The principal’s voice came out over the loudspeaker. “Hayden Starr, would you please join me out here?”
I looked at Demi, who shrugged. “Go on.”
I pushed my way through my teammates and joined the principal, coach, and a few other official looking people up by the trophy. The principal smiled at me. “Before we hand over the trophy, we have another matter to go over.” He turned around. “Reegan?”
Reegan stepped forward and took the microphone. “Two weeks ago, I proposed to the rest of the team that we hand out an award every year. We talked to Coach and Principal Freeman, and they both agreed that it was a great idea.” She took a small object from Coach and turned to me. “Hayden Starr, as co-captain of Lincoln High’s soccer team, and with the unanimous backing of Principal Freeman, Coach, and the entire team, it’s my pleasure to present you with this school’s first Most Valued Player Award. We all agreed two weeks ago that you deserved it and tonight only confirmed that.” She handed me a small trophy and gave me a hug.
“You’re amazing, Ree.” I whispered to her. To say I was shocked was an understatement. I saw the reporter that had talked to me standing at the front of the crowd taking pictures. Had she known about this? Reegan handed me the microphone.
“Wow.” I laughed. “I have no idea what to say.” I glanced around at me teammates and coach. “This is so amazing and we all deserve it, not just me. Thank you so much for everything that you’ve taught me and all the times you’ve supported me. I hope I’ve been able to bring a little happiness into your lives as well. Just… Wow.” I hugged Reegan again and the rest of the team joined in.
I couldn’t really tell you a whole lot of what happened after that. The officials gave us the championship trophy and made us state champs, we got a team picture and everyone hugged again. But once the shock of being MVP wore off, all I could think about was how Dad was breaking our agreement.
“Hayden!” Demi danced up to me. “You ready to go?”
“Oh, yeah.” I grinned. “Let me tell my mom and then I’ll grab my stuff and meet you at your car.”
“Okay.” Demi gave me a thumbs up and ran off. I wandered around trying looking for my mom and finally found her sitting on the bleachers.
“I’m spending the night at Demi’s.” I told her.
She frowned. “Is this about your Dad?” She asked.
I shook my head. “No. We just won a championship, Mom. She asked me over. It has nothing to do with Dad.”
“Okay.” She hugged me. “Have fun.”
“Yeah, thanks for being here.” I gave her a smile and jogged off to get my things.
I tossed my soccer bag in Demi’s backseat and climbed in the front. I pulled out my phone and saw that it was blowing up with social media notifications. I opened Instagram and started scrolling before I realized we weren’t moving. I glanced over at Demi and found that she was staring at me, her eyebrows raised expectantly.
“What?” I grinned.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
I shook my head. “I told you earlier, nothing is wrong.” I went back to my phone.
“C’mon Hay.” Demi grabbed my phone out of my hand. “I know you better than that.”
“Give it back!” I reached for the phone but Demi held it out of reach.
“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.” She said.
“Ugh.” I rested my head on the headrest. “Fine. But it’s not that big a deal.”
“Right.” Demi pretended to nod in sincere agreement.
I laughed. “Really though, don’t worry about me. It’s just a small problem with my dad and work.”
“Noo.” Demi tilted her head to the side. “Your Dad isn’t going to be gone on Tuesday, is he?”
I faked a smile and nodded my head. “Yeah.” Demi was one of the few people who knew just how much our trip to Arlington meant to me.
“Oh Hayden, I’m so sorry.” We sat in silence for a few moments.
“It’s okay though.” I finally said. “Mom and I can still go. I mean, it’s just about showing him that we haven’t forgotten, right?” I was saying it to convince myself as much as Demi.
“Well,” Demi handed my phone back and started the car. “It’s not Tuesday yet, so you can forget all that tonight. We are state champs, you are MVP, and we are going to party!”
“What?” I laughed. “I didn’t know of any parties tonight.”
“That’s because we didn’t tell you about it.” Demi winked.
“Noo. Demi!” She wouldn’t dare arrange a party for me.
Demi laughed. “You’re the guest of honor.”
Demi turned up the music. “I can’t hear you!” She yelled.
I grinned and shook my head. It was going to be a long night.