Authors: Belle Payton
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The bass drum player was pounding rhythmically to excite the crowd. The cheerleaders shouted and clapped and performed hair-raising acrobatics. Ava Sackett watched, holding her breath, as her friend Kylie McClaire's older sister, Yvette, stood on another girl's shoulders high above the ground and then pointed one leg up into the air.
But then the opposing team scored another field goal, and the Ashland Tigers' fans lapsed into a despondent silence. The Tigers were losing by seventeen points, and there were only seven minutes left in the game.
From her seat high in the stands, Ava looked
down at her older brother, Tommy. He stood on the sidelines with the rest of his teammates, dejectedly watching what was happening on the field. His helmet was off, and when he turned his head, she could see his thick brown hair drooping down over his eyes. Ava knew what he was thinkingânot only was the team going to lose, but also there was no way he'd be going into the game.
Farther along the sideline was their father, Mike Sackett, who was the coach of the Ashland Tigers. His job was the reason their family had moved to Ashland, Texas, from the East Coast this summer. Ava watched as Coach stalked up and down the sideline in his Tigers jacket, communicating with his assistant coaches through the big headphones he wore. The assistant coaches were stationed in the tower high above the field, where they could watch the game.
The crowd groaned.
“What happened?” demanded Ava's friend Kylie. Kylie hadn't really paid attention to football before she and Ava became friendsâshe was more interested in things like jewelry making and fantasy novelsâbut Ava was teaching her how the game worked. To Ava's delight, Kylie seemed
to enjoy football almost as much as Ava did.
“PJ misjudged the throw,” said Ava. “Did you see how Tyler Whitley stopped and cut over toward the sideline? PJ's lucky it didn't get intercepted. It doesn't look good.”
“Is there any way we can pull out a win?” asked Kylie.
“Highly doubtful.” Ava watched Kylie's sister leap off two people's shoulders, land in a pike on their waiting arms, bounce up onto her feet, do a backbend, and finally land in a split. “Wow. Your sister is awesome.”
“Wow. Kylie McClaire's sister is awesome,” said Alex Sackett, who was sitting between Lindsey Davis and Emily Campbell, a few feet farther along the bleacher from her twin sister.
“She's amazing,” agreed Emily.
Alex watched in fascination as Yvette stood on the shoulders of two teammates standing side by side, her arms up in a V. Then she pulled her right leg up from the side so it was touching her earâall while standing on one foot on someone's shoulder.
“She's so flexible,” said Alex.
“Well, at our level we don't do stuff like that,” said Lindsey. “But we do a lot of choreographed routines. It just takes practice.”
“I'm sure you could do it if you worked at it, Alex,” said Emily. “You should try out for cheerleading with us.”
“Yeah,” agreed Lindsey. “You're from such an athletic family.”
“Ha,” said Alex. “Ava and Tommy inherited all the athletic genes.” Not only was Tommy on the high school football team, but Ava had just made the middle school football team a few weeks ago. Alex noticed that Rosa Navarro, sitting on the other side of Lindsey, was listening intently to the conversation but not adding to it. Alex had heard Rosa was one of the best seventh grade cheerleaders.
Does she not think I have what it takes?
“It's a combination of dance, gymnastics, and tumbling,” Emily said. “But not all of us do the big acrobatic tumbling stuff. That you really do need to have practiced from a young age.”
“Rosa's our best tumbler,” said Lindsey.
“Don't you think Alex should try out, Rosa?” asked Emily.
Rosa hesitated. “Well, not everyone is cut out for cheerleading,” she said. “It takes a lot of coordination and flexibility.”
Alex's eyes narrowed. What was that supposed to mean? Did Rosa think she was uncoordinated?
The roar of the opposing team's fans interrupted the conversation. The clock ran down. The Tigers had lost.
Alex was still busy thinking as everyone stood up to leave and her sister poked her arm.
“That was pretty grim,” said Ava.
“Huh? What was grim?” asked Alex, puzzled.
Ava stared at her. “Uh, the game? The fact that we just lost?”
“Oh!” said Alex with a little laugh. “Right. Yeah, too bad. So are you going to Sal's?” The middle school kids usually gathered at the local pizza place after home games.
Ava frowned at her. “Yeah, I promised Kylie I'd head over with her,” she said. “But I'm only staying for a little whileâI want to rest up for my game tomorrow. I'll see you there?”
“Yep, sure,” said Alex. She was still thinking about Rosa's remarks. Not that she had time to participate in sports, now that she was class
president. And it was true that Alex herself commented all the time that she was uncoordinated athletically. But it was one thing for Alex to say it. It was quite another thing for someone else to agree with her, out loud, in front of everyone.
And honestly, cheerleading? How hard could it be?
“So you really think I should try out?” Alex asked Emily about an hour later. They were at Sal's, sitting at a long table full of kids eating pizza.
“You totally should!” said Emily. They watched Sal, the owner, waltz around the room, refilling water glasses as he sang opera arias at the top of his lungs.
“Sports are not really my thing,” said Alex. She glanced down the table. Toward the other end, Lindsey and Corey O'Sullivan sat side by side, talking in low voices to each other. They had been very close until a family fight pulled them apart, but recently they'd started being friendly toward each other again. Alex wasn't
quite sure how she felt about it, but she was pretty sure she was gladâeven if her heart did still speed up a little bit whenever she saw Corey.
“So, Alex, how psyched was Charlie when you told him you'd won the election?” asked their friend Annelise Mueller, who was sitting across from Alex.
“Charlie?” asked Alex blankly. Then she remembered. Charlie! Her phantom boyfriend! The one she'd told everyone she was going out with back home. Ugh! Alex knew she was a terrible liar. She was constantly forgetting what she'd told people and acting clueless when they repeated stuff she'd said to them. She had blurted out that she had a boyfriend named Charlie in a moment of panic, and now she regretted the lie every day. To further complicate things,
really did have a sort-of boyfriend back home named Charlie, although who knew what the status of that situation was. Alex needed to figure out how to spread the word that she had broken up with Charlie, and soon.
“Oh! Charlie!” she said with a laugh. “Yeah, um, he was really happy about it.” She searched
her brain for a way to quickly change the subject. “So, when are cheerleading tryouts again?”
“This Sunday,” said Annelise. “Are you going to try out?”
“It does sound really fun, but I don't think so,” said Alex. “Even if I wanted to be on the team, I wouldn't have time. Being class president is a big responsibility.”
Rosa stopped chatting with Xander Browning, who was sitting across the table from her. “How are you planning to fulfill the sports requirement, then?” she asked.
Alex froze, a slice of pizza midway to her mouth. She set it back down. “What sports requirement?”
“Oh, didn't you know?” asked Emily. “Everyone has to participate in some sort of athletic activity for at least two seasons. It's part of the district's âphysical fitness initiative,'â” she said, making air quotes with her fingers.
“That's totally ridiculous,” said Alex. “My responsibilities as class president should exempt me from such a dumb rule.”
Rosa snorted. “Being in student government does not begin to approach the time commitment that a real sport requires,” she said.
The table had suddenly quieted down. Everyone seemed to be tuning in to Alex and Rosa's conversation.
Alex was aware that people were interested in what she would say about this. She looked for Ava. Ava was usually the one she relied on for navigating these tricky social situations. But Ava was sitting across the restaurant at a booth with Kylie and their friend Jack Valdeavano. They were laughing their heads off about something. Fleetingly, she wondered if Ava and Jack were becoming more than friends, but then she snapped back to the conversation at hand.
“Well,” she said with a shrug, “believe that if you want, but I definitely don't have time to both be class president and do a sport. What if I volunteered to be the manager or something?”
Lindsey shook her head. “Even if you just want to be manager, you still have to try out for the team,” she said. “At least for cheerleading. Coach Jen only takes managers who show an interest in the sport.”
“Oh,” said Alex dejectedly.
“You should totally just try out, Alex!” said Emily excitedly. “You have the perfect personality for it, and you get good grades, and you must be a
natural athlete! Seriously, just look at your family.”
Alex was intrigued. Lindsey and Emily genuinely seemed to want her to join the squad. And they were right, being athletic was in her genes. Really, she'd always been able to do just about anything she set her mind to. Why should cheerleading be any different? “Hmm,” she mused. “I couldâ”
“She won't make it past the first cuts,” snapped Rosa.
Alex's temper flared. “What if I do make the cut?” she demanded.
“Well, then you'll be all set,” said Rosa with what Alex suspected was a tiny twinge of sarcasm. “Maybe Coach Jen will let you stick around as the manager. But cheerleading is not as easy as it looks. A lot of girls don't make it past the first round.”
“We'll just see about that, won't we?” said Alex. “Now I'm thinking I might just try out and see how it goes.”
“Awesome!” squealed Emily.
Everyone went back to talking and eating. But Alex's mind was in a whirl. What had she just done?
“You did what?” asked Ava, her eyes round with disbelief.
“I told them I was going to try out,” said Alex miserably. “I know. It was dumb. I just sort of blurted it out without really thinking about it.”