Excerpt from Chapter Five of Hazardous Choices by Joseph M. Rinaldo
Coach Rotteli kept the meeting flowing. “Any other coaches want the floor?”
“Thanks, Coach.” Karl Vaughn stood. “Remember to watch the tapes you have of last year’s games, and keep pushing yourselves to get stronger. Once in a while, remind yourselves how bad last season sucked, and let that motivate you to work harder.” He paused for effect, and then continued, “I’m already looking forward to having a great next season!”
“The only thing I want to add to that,” boomed Coach Pearl again, “is that you can’t win a championship in the summer, but you can lose it. You lose it by not doing the things you know you should. Yeah, it’s summer, you’re outta school, but don’t slack off. You came here to play football and WIN games!”
Troy stood up, and with mock enthusiasm, said, “OK, Coach, which great coach you read about said that?”
“All of them!” Coach Pearl snapped back.
“One last thing, I want to personally thank each and every one of you for going to the “End the R-Word” rally last night. Seeing everyone there in uniform standing together sent a great message that as a group and as individuals you will not put up with people making fun and degrading the mentally retarded. I really appreciate that, and Eric does, too.” Looking at them like a proud father he added, “That means a lot to me, and it shows what tremendous character all of you have.”
“Thanks, Coach.” “Glad to be there.” Players shouted from around the room.
“Coach,” Troy said from his position standing along the wall. “I glad to make you proud, but I was there for Eric. I think of him every time I hear that word.”
“Damn straight!” “That’s right!” “Preach on, Brother T-dog.”
“Get out of here, and go study. Good luck, everyone!” Coach Rotteli said with his eyes welling up.
Troy and Darnell walked out together both wearing their lettermen jackets. “What’s your plan for the summer, D?”
“Back to my mom’s place in Chicago,” Darnell mumbled in a low voice, aching with depression as they drifted off from the crowd moving down the hall.
“Does that mean rejoining the gang?” Troy stopped walking and stared Darnell in the eyes to emphasize his seriousness.
Darnell responded with a soft, hesitant, “Yeah, if I don’t go back to the gang, they might take it out on my mama.”
“Oh, my God! I knew it was dangerous, but that…” Troy’s words drifted off as he reflected on what Darnell must be going through. “I, uh, I’ve been thinking that we might have a place for you at my parents’ house; if I can swing it, would you be interested?” To lighten the mood, Troy quickly added, “That means living in Owensboro, which sucks, but you already know how bad that sucks.”
“Man, that’s really nice of you. I would say yes, but my mom is all by herself, and I feel guilty leaving her alone any more than I have to. And like I’m sayin’, since they know where she is, she’d probably pay if I dis’ed the gang. Thanks, though.”
Darnell gave a slight smile to show his appreciation.
“So how could you come play ball down here if leaving them means dis’ing the gang?”
“I told them I have a chance to make the pros. They bought it, cuz everybody wants to believe a guy from their neighborhood can make it, so here I am.”
“My offer about living with us stays open, D. I’ll even drive up there to pick you up. Make up some crazy-ass story about a tryout with the Tennessee Titans if you have to.” Troy looked Darnell in the eye to reinforce his sincerity. “I’ll drive you to the bus station tomorrow afternoon, okay?”
“Yeah, that’d be good. To the bus station, I mean. I like you too good to ever let you come into my neighborhood.” Darnell’s depression churned his stomach as the realization of returning to gang life hit him. Regardless of Troy felt about Owensboro, Darnell would stay forever if he could. For Darnell the safety of Owensboro meant more than any of his classmates could understand.
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