Chapter 1 – And So it Begins

NOTE: The beginning of the chapter is in first person but after the second line break it (as in the entire story) will be told third person until the very end.

I chose football.

It was extremely hard for me to tell my cheer coach, Diane, that I wasn't going to be doing cheer next year. It was even harder to tell the squad, because I've been cheering with most of those girls for three years. I know them so well and it's kind of heartbreaking to not be able to spend as much time with them. We're like sisters; cheer camp has bonded us all in more ways than one.

But I made my choice. And I'm going to have to live with it. That's why I'm determined to make our football team the best anyone's ever seen. We're going to end that losing streak. Those other schools aren't going to know what hit them.

I don't think I'm God's gift to football. But as someone who has watched from the sidelines, I've noticed a lot of things. I know their strengths and weaknesses. I know what works and what isn't working. And most importantly, I know how they can improve. Even better - I'm going to help them improve.

Yeah, I'm a cheerleader. I'm perky and bouncy and all that girlyness. But I can be tough too. Cheer does that to you. I've got 'guns' bigger than any normal girl's from stunting.

I, Shelley Sinclair, am about to do what so many people think is impossible. I'm going to take on my school's football team. I'm not expecting any miracles, but I have a good feeling about this year.

I just have to tell Mr. Wise that I'm doing it. I know I can do it. When I told my parents about it, my dad was all for it. He thinks it's great that his little girl wants to 'play with the big boys' as he puts it. My mom was another story. She thinks the only place for me on the football field is cheering with the girls. I was trying to explain to her that I'm tired of cheering on the sidelines; I want in on the action. She wants me to be the girliest girl you'll ever meet. But it's my life, and I'm going after what I want.

So today's the first day of practice for varsity football. And Coach Wise, or Mike, as he's told me to call him, insisted that I come to observe.

It's going to be tough - I can already tell. But there is nothing I wouldn't do for the love of the game.

Shelley Sinclair stepped out of her car and adjusted her sunglasses. She dusted her jeans off, adjusted the cap on her head, and stuffed her cell phone in her back pocket. As she approached the field, she could see 30 or so guys messing around with each other before practice started. Coach Wise spotted her and waved her over.

"How are you today Shelley?" he asked as they shook hands.

"I'm good, how are you Coach?" she said politely.

"Just dandy. Ready to find out what these sissies are made of?"

"I'm sure they're all perfectly capable," Shelly said brightly, "They just need some more, ah, encouragement."

"Now, before we begin, I want to give you a few ground rules," Coach Wise said, trying to sound important and business-like as possible, "You can do anything you want with the boys; they're just as much your team as they are mine. If any of them give you attitude or disrespect you, feel free to punish them with laps and the like. You come to practice every day on time and you stay until it's over. No fraternizing with any of the players though; everything is strictly professional. Any questions?"

"Understood. Sir, no questions sir!" Shelley saluted him with a wide smile on her face.

The old man chuckled. "You're a funny one. I like you."

Shelly did her best to look modest, "What can I say? I try."

"I do have to warn you of one thing. But I'm sure you won't let it stop you from coaching."

"And what's that?" she asked quizzically.

"Well we both know this team may need you, but some of the members of the team don't think so. They may give you a hard time for that," he warned.

Shelley dismissed it saying, "I'm sure it's nothing I can't handle."

"Don't underestimate them, Shelley," Coach Wise said as he shook his head, "These boys may not know what winning feels like, but they sure know how to play football and they are highly skilled in the art of driving people crazy. Do you want to know how many times I've almost cracked? It was awhile before they realized I wasn't going anywhere."

"Don't worry about me. I can take care of myself. But if anything happens you'll hear about it," she assured.

"Good. Let's go meet the team, shall we?" he asked as he guided her in the direction of the team.

The moment the boys noticed her they all stopped whatever it was they were doing. Shelley suddenly felt apprehensive. What have I gotten myself into? she thought. She knew most of them because they were in her grade and had seen them last year while cheering, but it wasn't like she hung out with the guys all the time.

"Settle down, ladies," Wise said sternly. "Let's all group over by the bleachers. We're going to have a short meeting before we officially begin conditioning."

Shelley tried not to notice the stares and whispers. But her eyes lit up when a tall, brown haired, and undeniably handsome boy separated himself from the group and enveloped her into a bear hug.

"Kyle you can put me down now," Shelley said, her voice muffled.

"Good to see you too," Kyle said after finally releasing her, "I didn't know you were going to be here today! I thought cheer practice didn't start until next week."

He wiggled his eyebrows hopefully. "You can all practice on the field with us if you want."

She slapped his shoulder playfully. "I'm glad you're actually happy to see me. I know most of your teammates won't..."

"What are you talking about?" asked Kyle.

"I'm not going to cheer practice next week. In fact, I'm not going to cheer practice anymore because I was asked to be assistant coach."

Kyle was incredulous. "Assistant coach to the cheer squad? But then you'll still be at practice."

"Assistant coach to the varsity football team," she clarified.

Kyle's mouth nearly dropped open. "For real?"

Shelley nodded. "For real," she echoed.

He shook his head again. "Seriously?"

"Seriously. I know it seems weird - a girl being the coach and all, but - "

"That's great!" Kyle cut in. "Oh, we're gonna have so much fun!"

"Really? You don't mind that I'm a girl?"

"Why would I mind? You're hot," he told her.

"Shut up, we're friends. You have to love me. But I don't know about everyone else..." Shelley trailed off.

"Oh don't worry about them; they're harmless. Most of them are friendly. Show them what you got and you'll win them over in no time!"

"I wouldn't be too sure about that," Shelley said uncertainly as she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, "I think they figured out what I'm doing here. They don't look very happy to see me."

"Well were you expecting a welcome wagon?" he asked.

"No," she admitted, "But I didn't think it would be like this. Brandon Miller is shooting me dirty looks already."

Kyle grinned. "That's because Brandon's an ass. He probably doesn't like the idea of being bossed around by a girl - not that you're bossing us around, but..."

"I get it. And I'll try not to make you look bad," Shelley said smugly as she dodged a playful punch from Kyle.

"Stanford, up in the bleachers! Shelley, you're down here with me," said Coach Wise.

Kyle made a funny face as he went to sit with the team. Shelley took her place next to the head coach in front of the boys. Most of them still had that sour look on their face, especially Brandon Miller, sitting in the very front row, who seemed to be king of them all. She knew who he was, of course - three years of cheerleading and she could name everyone on the football team. But they'd never crossed paths, never sat by each other in a class. The most she knew about him was that he was a notorious heartbreaker, and that was a fact. And if she looked hard enough, she could discern why so many girls fell all over his feet. Though Kyle was cute, Brandon was something else. Sandy blond hair and piercing blue eyes. Definitely a well-toned chest, but that was a given. There was something defining about the structure of his face, but Shelley couldn't quite figure it out. She realized she was staring when he sneered at her. Shelley ignored him and turned her attention back to Mr. Wise.

"I suppose most of you are wondering why she," he said as he pointed to Shelley, "is here. I'll tell you why if you still haven't figured it out. Shelley Sinclair is here to make you worthless bunch of losers a pack of winners!" Wise bellowed.

"We don't need some cheerleader telling us to do," Brandon said loudly, turning around to face the rest of his team. "She'll probably just teach us some cheer and expect us to use that to win the game."

"Actually I know how to play football," Shelley said angrily. "And just because I'm a cheerleader doesn't mean I don't know anything except how to be bubbly."

"Could have fooled me," he muttered under his breath.

"I heard that!" Mr. Wise said sharply, "You are to respect her. Shelley has as much power over you as I do, even if she's a classmate. She is one of your coaches now and she's going to help me turn you disgraceful lot into champions."

Someone in the sea of males spoke up. "You couldn't do it alone before; what makes you think she's going to make a difference?"

"Because it's clear you boys need some other coaching; I haven't been enough. Shelley has a brilliant mind; she's already explained to me a couple strategies she's worked out. I'm impressed with her talent and I think she'd be a great addition to the team. In fact, you should be grateful. She's taking time out of her busy schedule to do this. She even sacrificed something that she loved doing. So if I hear any of you giving her trouble, I'll give you some trouble of my own," threatened Coach Wise.

"Thank you, Coach," Shelley said cheerfully.

"Today Shelley will be overseeing practice and making notes. Normally I'd tell you to go about as you usually do, but not today. From now on, I want you to practice like you've got a game tomorrow - that's how you should always practice! None of the half-assed junk just because it's summer. Go that?"

A chorus of 'Yeah' and 'Sure' and 'I'm going to need more deodorant' answered his last question.

"Okay then. I want three laps around the field. No stopping. Run as fast as you can but pace yourselves! GO!"

The boys silently filed down the bleachers, but the moment they started running the chatter rose.

Brandon Miller was the last one to start running. "Take your pom poms and go back to spirit camp," he said nastily as he brushed past her.

Shelley scowled. No way was she going to let someone with a bad attitude like that get to her. She realized now the truth in what Coach Wise and Kyle had said. How long was this going to keep up?

Someone put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't mind Brandon," said Wise apologetically, "He wasn't too happy when I told him you'd be helping me coach. And you just found that out for yourself. He'll come 'round soon."

Somehow, Shelley highly doubted that. Nevertheless, she gave Mr. Wise a winning smile and replied, "I'm sure he will. At least he's not captain. I don't know how I'd deal with that attitude."


Shelley's mouth dropped open. "You made Brandon Miller captain?"

"Actually, the team and myself all agreed he was captain material. I know he doesn't seem too friendly, but he's one of the best players here."

Shelley's eyes followed Brandon's figure as he passed up many of his teammates. "I don't doubt that."

Mike Wise began to point out several players and their positions, as if Shelley didn't already know. "Your friend Kyle Stanford plays receiver; that's James Watkins, he's cornerback; Alex Taylor in the blue is the other cornerback. Behind him, that's Carl Parker. He, Michael Murphy, and Johnny Nickol are our linebackers. Chris Torres is fullback. And that guy he just shoved is Joshua Alvarez who plays halfback."

Shelley's mind wandered as he showed her the offensive and defensive linemen. Brandon Miller was one fast runner. By the time Coach Wise finished talking, Brandon was the first person done with his laps. He took a quick drink from his water bottle and promptly glared at Shelley, who once again found herself staring.

"Do you make it a habit to stare at good-looking people?" he asked haughtily.

"I don't know what you're talking about; the only person I've been staring at is you and you're far from good-looking," she answered sweetly.

Brandon made it seem like he was going to scowl but quickly recovered. "It's okay if you like what you see. Everybody does when they see me."

"What's there to like?" Shelley retorted.

"Hmm, let me think. I'm quarterback, I've got gorgeous hair, a six pack, and I'm basically ridiculously good looking. I don't see you complaining," he said with a smirk.

"Just because all the girls fawn over you doesn't mean you're that good-looking."

This remark only made Brandon press further. "So you agree that I'm at least a little good-looking."

Shelley couldn't help but roll her eyes. "Compared to a squirrel, yes, you are undoubtedly handsome."

This time Brandon did scowl. "Well you're not so hot yourself Miss Cheerleader."

"Are you kidding me? With this body, this hair, and this face, I'm the hottest thing going," she said mockingly.

"I don't know why Coach thinks we need you. Do you even know the first thing about football?"

"Well I must know how to play, otherwise I don't think Coach Wise would have asked me to help!" Shelley retorted.

"Maybe I haven't made this clear enough. We. Don't. Need. You. We were perfectly fine without you, and with me as captain we're going to dominate this year," he said confidently.

"Clearly your head is so inflated you can't see what's going on around you. This team hasn't won more than 2 games a season in seven years. What makes you think that they'll do better with YOU as captain?"

"Because I'm good."

"There is no 'I' in team," she argued.

"So what? All we need is me to carry us to victory."

Shelley shook her head. "If football was a one person sport, then it would be. So just because you're captain doesn't mean you're better."

While Shelley and Brandon had been having their war with words, the rest of the team had finished their laps and circled around them, listening with rapt attention. When Shelley said that last line half the team had cheered. Someone had even said "You tell him!"

Shelley grinned as Brandon threw her a look of disdain. "You'll regret you said that," he said quietly, "We're going to make you wish you had gone to cheer camp this summer."

"You and what army?" she said scornfully.

Brandon had narrowed his eyes that they were slits now. "Watch your back."

edited 7/22/07