The Contest

A children’s story I wrote for my niece for her birthday. A live reading of it is up at youtube. Feel free to read it with the name of the kid you’re reading it to in place of Shannon, the name of the girl Stephanie meets playing basketball.

Stephanie always read the paper with her Dad on Sundays. He ate pancakes, while she had cereal. He read the first page with the news, and she liked the funnies, but one Sunday she noticed a basketball contest for girls ten and under. She laid the paper flat and pushed it toward her Dad with the words so he could read them. She tapped her finger on the ad for the contest. Her Dad looked it over, seriously. “Hmmm,” he said, “I think I know a girl who might still be under ten. I wonder if she would have fun in that contest. Who am I thinking of?” He scrunched up his face like he was really thinking. Stephanie giggled. She knew her dad knew her birthday was coming up next month and that she would be nine.

She cut out that part of the paper and taped it beside her bed to her wall.

On Monday, before recess, she said goodbye to her friends and went to the athletic closet down the hall from the cafeteria. An older boy, sitting at a desk, got her a basketball when she asked for one. She liked that she had to write her name, first and last, Stephanie Kellerman, to get her ball.

Stephanie had noticed the basketball hoop on the playground many times, but she’d never seen anyone using it. When she got outside, though, a girl was there shooting baskets.

Good thing! Because just then Stephanie remembered that she had never shot a basketball before in her life. She watched the other girl crouch with the ball held just above her head, then spring into the air and push with her hands. The ball arced through the air and bonged against the rim and bounced back to the ground.

That didn’t look so hard.

The girl chased down her ball and caught it. She carried it back closer to the hoop, but she bounced it on the blacktop and caught it again, as she walked. Stephanie tried the same trick of letting the ball fall hard enough to the blacktop that it bounced right back up into her arms. That was dribbling, she knew.

When Stephanie got close the girl held her ball and looked over at her, waiting. The pressure was on. Stephanie crouched low, balanced her ball in her hands, and jumped. She pushed the ball as hard as she could.

Please let me hit the rim, at least, she thought.

Her ball hit the backboard first, then fell down and bonged against the rim. It bounced toward the girl. She dropped her ball to catch Stephanie’s. The girl threw the ball at the ground, and it bounced right up into Stephanie’s arms. That was a pass, Stephanie knew. She smiled at the girl. The girl smiled back, and then picked up her ball. She crouched down for another shot. Stephanie watched. She hoped the ball bounced toward her, so she could try making one of those passes.

The girl’s shot must have hit the rim five times, bouncing around up there, then CHANG! It dropped right through the metal net. Stephanie went under the basket and picked the ball up. She had trouble holding two balls at once, but managed to throw the girl’s ball to her in a bounce pass. The girl held her ball and waited while Stephanie dribbled back out and lined up for another shot. She crouched, jumped, and pushed her ball up to the rim. Her ball plunked against the backboard, then must have bounced around a hundred times, then CHANG! She made her first shot in the history of her shooting baskets!

She didn’t want to look too excited. She didn’t want that girl to know she’d never made a basket before, but she was grinning pretty wide, too, because she hadn’t ever made a basket before, but now she had!

The girl ran under the basket and got her ball and bounced it to Stephanie. The two of them took turns, shooting baskets and getting each other’s balls. They did it the rest of that recess.

When Stephanie got out a ball again the next day, Tuesday, there was that girl again. The girl seemed like she saw Stephanie coming, and waited. She took her shot as Stephanie got close, and Stephanie got her ball after her shot hit the rim and fell out in a miss. Stephanie took her shot and missed, too, but during that recess, a lot of shots went straight through that metal net.

They made that basket CHANG a lot!

If Stephanie had been keeping careful track, she bet she would have counted that, after shooting baskets all week, they were making a lot more baskets by the end of the week then they were at the beginning. Except Stephanie wasn’t keeping careful track, she was having too much fun!

She realized on the last day of that week, on Friday, just how much fun she was having shooting baskets. She was going to miss it. And she was going to miss playing with….wait a minute…she didn’t even know that girl’s name!

Recess that Friday was almost halfway over, and Stephanie held onto her ball while it was her turn. The girl waited for her to shoot, but Stephanie didn’t. Finally that girl looked over at her, wondering why she wasn’t shooting.

“Can I ask you something?” Stephanie said.

“Sure,” the girl said.

“How come we’ve been playing together all week, but you haven’t said anything to me?”

The girl shrugged with her ball in her hands. “I don’t know. How come we’ve been playing together all week, but you haven’t said anything to me?”

Stephanie thought about that. Why hadn’t she said anything? She could have just as easily as that girl, but for some reason she didn’t. Stephanie started to grin. “I don’t know. How come we’ve been playing together all week, but you haven’t said anything to me?”

A huge smile grew on that girl’s face. “Hmmmmmmm, I don’t know. How come we’ve been playing together all week, but you haven’t said anything to me?”

Stephanie giggled. Then she made a thinking face, her mouth scrunched up and her eyes pointed up at the sky. “Hmmmmmmmmm, I really don’t know. Because I asked you first. How come we’ve been playing together all week, but you haven’t said anything to me?”

“Hmmmmm.” The girl balanced her ball on her knee. She put her elbow on her ball and her chin on her hand. She made her own thinking face. “I don’t know. Because I’m asking you second. How come we’ve been playing together all week, but you haven’t said anything to me?”

Stephanie started giggling hard. She tried to say, “Hmmmmmmmmmm,” but she started giggling too hard. She couldn’t say anything else.

The girl was giggling just as hard.

They were having a laugh riot, right there on the playground.

Every time they started to calm down with all that silly laughing, they would look at each other and start laughing again. Stephanie’s stomach ached from all that laughing, but still she couldn’t stop. The other girl had a red face and kept bending over from laughing so hard.

Finally they calmed down for good, and Stephanie asked that girl her name. She said her name was Shannon (replace name with name of kid you’re reading to). Turned out, she had read about the same contest in the paper and decided to give basketball a try.

*               *             *

The day of the contest, Stephanie’s dad drove her to a real gym. Every kid got a number on a piece of paper pinned to his or her shirt. A lot of kids were there, boys and girls, a lot of older kids, too. Suddenly, Stephanie felt too nervous. She decided signing up for this contest maybe wasn’t a good idea.

Someone called her name, and Stephanie looked up to see Shannon running toward her. Shannon had a number on, too, 5. Stephanie’s number was 8.

Shannon stood beside her. “Do you feel ready?”

“I think so,” Stephanie said, but she didn’t feel very sure.

“Don’t forget we did a lot of practicing.”

“That’s true. Do you feel ready?”

“I think so,” Shannon said, but she didn’t sound very sure, either.

“Don’t forget we did a lot of practicing,” Stephanie said.

They both laughed because they were saying the same things to each other, like Friday at recess. They didn’t laugh as hard, but it made Stephanie feel less nervous.

She and Shannon got put in a group with other girls under ten. They had their own basket. Still, a huge gym with so many people watching was scary.

There was a tape mark under the basket, and the contest was to see how many you could make from behind the tape in two minutes. The minutes were up on a huge scoreboard on one wall of the gym. A man with a whistle would tell everyone when to start, but first he told everyone to pick a partner.

The other kids all started trying to find partners, but Stephanie and Shannon just stood close together. They both knew who their partners were going to be.

“When your number is called,” the man with the whistle said, “you’ll be the shooter. Your partner will get the ball and pass it back, so you can shoot again.”

Stephanie and Shannon looked at each other, their eyes wide. That was just how they had done it all week at recess!

Stephanie’s number was called first. She stood with both feet behind the line of tape with the ball. Shannon stood under the basket. When the man blew his whistle, Stephanie took her first shot.

It went in!

The net wasn’t metal, though, so it didn’t go CHANG, it went SWISH.

Shannon caught the ball right out of the net and passed it back.

For her second shot, Stephanie tried to go too fast. She rushed. Her second shot barely hit the rim and bounced into the corner of the gym. Shannon ran so fast after it. She ran like lightning!

Stephanie told herself that, when Shannon’s turn came, she would run just as hard for her partner and new friend.

Stephanie took her time on the rest of the shots. Even though the clock was running, it wouldn’t do any good to take a fast shot if it didn’t go in, anyway. That strategy worked pretty well, because Stephanie made five in two minutes!

After the whistle blew, Stephanie walked over to Shannon.

Shannon had a red, sweaty face. She was breathing hard. “You did great,” she said between breaths.

“You did great getting my ball,” Stephanie said. She wasn’t breathing nearly as hard from shooting as Shannon was from getting her ball. She told Shannon about her idea to take her time shooting, and Shannon agreed that it was a good plan.

When Shannon lined up behind the tape, Stephanie got under the basket, ready to do some serious running. Shannon’s first shot missed, and Stephanie ran to where it bounced and picked it up. She passed it back. Shannon took her time, and her next shot went SWISH!

Chasing down the ball really was a lot of running. Stephanie wiped sweat from her face and took fast breaths. She didn’t slow down, though, and tried her best to get Shannon’s ball back to her quickly.

Shannon had made four, so far, when the clock was down to ten seconds. Her next shot rolled into the corner, and Stephanie ran her absolute fastest to get it. She peeked at the clock that went 9…8…7. She passed the ball to Shannon. “You have time,” Stephanie said, “just make it a good one.”

Shannon lined up the ball and took her shot. The whistle blew, while her ball was in the air. It hit the rim and then the backboard. Bounced against the rim again and up in the air. Stephanie watched it slowly fall…and SWISH! It dropped through the basket.

Stephanie jumped in the air with her hands up. She ran to Shannon and hugged her. They both got five!

Their scores earned them ribbons for fifth place!

They showed each other their ribbons, even though they were the same.

“Just think,” Shannon said, “next year we’ll do even better. We can practice every day until then.”

“Yeah!” Stephanie said.

“Maybe we would be allowed to put some tape on the ground at school, and we can shoot from behind it, like in the contest.”

“Yeah,” Stephanie said, “except, I don’t think I can shoot baskets every day. I have to play with my other friends, some days.”

Shannon giggled. “You’re right. I was just thinking the exact same thing. How about we play one day a week?”

“Yeah! One day a week, for a whole year, will be a lot of days. We just might tie for first in the contest next year! And we can still use your idea about the tape because that is a good idea.”

Shannon held her hand up high. Stephanie smacked it with hers in a high-five!

The End

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