Team Player

The following is a story I’ve written for children about the importance of doing your part on a team. It’s loosely based on a true event with one of my own students several years ago. Enjoy!

Angel didn’t like singing and performing. He never had. At school he and his classmates had to sing in the school Christmas program every year, and Angel always dreaded it. “You can do it Angel,” his teachers would coax. “If you don’t participate, I’m going to make you stand in the back,” said one. Angel didn’t care. He wished he didn’t have to stand up there at all, but every year his teachers insisted. He stood in the back, but never sang a word. When all the other boys and girls waved their hands in unison, Angel’s hands stood still. When the other boys and girls smiled, Angel scowled. “They might make me stand up here,” thought Angel. “But they can’t make me sing.”

When Angel entered fourth grade, he and his classmates all went to Lincoln Elementary School. All the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade classes went there, and he was very glad when he found out that they didn’t have a Christmas program. “No singing and performing!” he thought. And he was mostly right. He did have a music teacher. Music class was okay because it wasn’t all about singing. He also got to listen to different music and he liked that. And when they did sing, it was always funny songs that made Angel laugh.

What Angel loved most was soccer. He played soccer at recess. He played soccer at lunchtime. He played soccer after school until his mom called him in for dinner. Angel watched soccer on TV. and knew all the famous soccer players. He even played for The Rockets and dreamed of someday playing profession soccer and winning the World Cup. Angel worked hard at practice. He always ran the fastest, kicked the hardest, and made the most goals. His team was doing well and he really wanted to win the city championships. He had already cleared a space for his team trophy on the shelf above his bed, anticipating a great win.

One spring day Angel’s teacher announced, “Boys and girls, we’ve learned a lot about our country this year. We’ve also read a lot of great books, learned some new math skills, and we’ve written some great stories. Open House is coming up and we want to show our moms and dads the things that we’ve learned. I have been saving some of your projects to put up on the walls. You will be able to bring you parents in to see all the things you’ve done, but we’re also going to do something extra special this year. We’re going to perform a musical about how our nation was founded. We’ll be learning seven songs and there will be special speaking parts as well. We’re going to make matching t-shirts with red and blue stars on them. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Most of the students got real excited and everyone started raising their hands to ask questions. “What speaking parts are there?” asked one. “Will we get to paint some sets?” asked another, but Angel had just one question. “Does everyone have to be in it?” he asked.

“Why of course Angel. The musical is for everyone in the class,” said his teacher. Angel groaned. He hated having to perform just two songs in the Christmas program and now he had to stand on stage for an entire musical! He didn’t know how he was going to get through this one.

The class started practicing the songs right away. His teacher gave each student a packet with all the lyrics and the lines for each speaking part. He stuffed his inside his desk and hoped that his teacher wouldn’t notice. After several days of practicing, it was time to get their places set on the risers. Angel was one of the shortest kids in the class so his teacher put him right up front. He just wanted to have someone to hide behind. He asked his teacher if he could be in the back row, but she said no.

The class started singing, but Angel didn’t sing. They smiled, but Angel scowled. They raised their hands in unison, but Angel’s hands stood still. “Come on Angel. You can do it,” said his teacher. “You’re in the front row so you really have to shine.” Angel only scowled more and crossed his arms in front of his chest. His teacher looked at him and sighed. “We’ll talk later Angel,” she said. Angel knew he was in trouble, but he didn’t care. He just wanted off the stage.

It was Friday, and Angel’s team was playing in the city championship tournament. He rushed out the door as soon as the bell rang and before his teacher could talk to him about the musical. He ran all the way home, full of excitement over the tournament. The team won their first game that night and had two games to play on Saturday. If they won those, then they would play for the trophy on Sunday afternoon.

The Rockets defeated the Wolves 8 to 4 on Saturday morning and went on to win against the Trojans on Saturday afternoon. They were excited about playing in the finals, but their coach warned, “Tomorrow’s going to be a tough game guys. We’re up against the Green Devils. They’ve had a great season and haven’t lost a game. They even defeated the Flames over in Sanderville just last week. It was a close game and they won by one goal. You boys need to go home and get a good night’s rest. Eat a nutritious breakfast too. No Lucky Charms tomorrow boys!” The boys left the field in a serious mood. They remembered that the Flames were the only team that beat them this year. They had lost to the Flames ten to nothing and now they were playing a team that had actually defeated them.

On Sunday afternoon, Angel arrived at the tournament. He was nervous, but ready to play his heart out for this win. The coach gathered the boys around and gave them a pep talk. At the end the coach yelled, “What team!”

“Rockets!” yelled the boys.

The Green Devils were tough, but the Rockets were hanging in there. The score went from Devils 3 Rockets 2 to a tied game and then back to a one-point lead for the Devils. The Rockets couldn’t seem to get ahead, but they weren’t giving up without a fight. There was one minute left in the game. Angel ran down the field, dribbling the ball expertly between his feet when a player from the Devils slid into his leg. He fell to the ground. The coach called time out while Angel sat there clutching his ankle. “It hurts Coach,” he said as Coach examined Angel’s already swelling ankle.

“I think you’ve sprained it son,” said the coach. “We’re going to have to get you to the bench.” He helped Angel hobble over to the bench. “Max, you’re in, “ said the coach pointing to the player on the bench. Angel groaned. He didn’t have a good feeling about this.

Max entered the field and there were now thirty seconds left in the game. Angel held his breath as the ref blew the whistle for the play to resume. Max dribbled the ball down the field, but the Devils were putting the heat on. “Max!” shouted Johnny. Max looked up and saw that Johnny was open. He kicked the ball and Angel watched in agony as it the ball rolled directly to the Devils’ star player. He wasted no time in dribbling down the field, scoring the winning goal. Angel’s heart sank. He had worked so hard and watched his dream slip away because Max was not prepared.

Monday morning his teacher greeted him. “Good morning Angel. I’m glad you’re here early today. How did your soccer tournament go? Did you get that shiny new trophy?”

“No, Mrs. Turner. We lost,” said Angel.

“Oh Angel, I’m sorry to hear that. Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.

“Well, it was Max’s fault,” he said angrily.

“Why do you say that Angel?” she asked.

“Well, Max, he just doesn’t work at it,” said Angel.

“What do you mean?” said Mrs. Turner.

“Well, he doesn’t come to practice a lot and when he does come he’s late. Then he goofs off. He doesn’t listen to the coach and he thinks it’s all a joke. He doesn’t do his part Mrs. Turner. We were close to winning the game and Max blew it. He kicked a pass right to the Devils’ star player and they won in the final 30 seconds.”

“I’m sorry to hear that Angel. How did that make you feel?”

“I’m angry at Max, and I’m disappointed because we could have won that game Mrs. Turner. I just know we could,” said Angel.

“I think you’ve learned a very valuable lesson Angel. When we are on a team, we all have to do our part or things don’t work out as well. You know Angel, some of the students in our class really want our musical to turn out well. You’re part of our musical team. How do you think the other kids are going to feel if you don’t sing or do the motions?” she asked.

“I think they might feel disappointed,” said Angel.

“You’re right Angel. When you don’t do your part, the rest of the class is going to feel just like you did when Max kicked the ball to the wrong player.” She smiled at Angel and gave him a pat on the shoulder. “Why don’t you go on out and play now,” she said. “I see a soccer game starting out on the playground.”

Open House finally came and Angel stood in the front row with his classmates. When the other boys and girls sang, Angel sang with them. When the other boys and girls smiled, Angel smiled with them, and when the other boys and girls waved their arms, Angel’s arms waved too. And after the final bow, the crowd gave them a standing ovation.

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