The daily recess kickball game told you pretty much everything you needed know about the pecking order at our tiny school. The little kids stuck to the swings and slides on the grass; the fourth-graders were allowed to play the fifth- and sixth-graders in a parking lot kickball game.
There were just 16 of us in the fourth-grade class versus twice as many older kids. None of them particularly liked me, the new girl. I had bushy hair and an annoying habit of showing off my vocabulary. One day at lunch the kids formed a circle around me and demanded I recite big words. I probably deserved it.
I had never played kickball before. The game made enough sense, but I was not what you would consider “sporty.” The whole sequence of running up to a rolling red rubber ball, calibrating your speed just so to get a good “smack!” and kicking the ball beyond your opponents’ reach confounded me. In the outfield, I usually misjudged where the ball was going to land and let it roll right past me.
On top of that, I wasn’t exactly sure how to run with a newly developing body. Full-on kid running didn’t feel right anymore. I adopted something that I thought was more like a dainty girls’ run. It was pretty ineffective for making it to first base those rare times when I managed to connect with the ball.
We needed all the players we could get. Still, when I got up to kick, there was a “Move in!” cry from the outfield, and a look of resigned disinterest on my teammates’ faces, as they knew my play would certainly end in an out.
Until that one day, during a 2pm recess in early spring when my foot and the ball finally aligned. The outfielders had indeed, moved in, and my kick was straight and sweet, the ball zooming fast on the ground right between two surprised fifth-graders.
I was as shocked as everyone else.
Suddenly, the jock-y (and very cute) fourth-grade boys were paying attention.
“RUN!” they yelled.
I ran, first to first base. “RUN!!!” shouted Steve L., his mouth a gaping black canyon like a Peanuts character. I headed to second base, previously unknown territory for me. By this time the outfielders had retrieved the ball and lobbed it at me for the out.
But they missed!
“RUN!” The entire fourth-grade class was now a cheering, screaming mass.
I hauled to third base, my dainty girls’ run now dropped. At third base I stopped, panting, sure this party was over. But the roller had fumbled the ball and it was now bouncing toward the fourth-grade line-up!
I ran. I ran home. I felt the wind at my back and my heart in my throat. The roller tried to toss the ball at me for the out but she was way too slow. I was safe.
My classmates cheered. “Good job,” said Steve L. “Way to go, Diane!” the equally cute Matt H. added.
It was a sweet, sweet moment. And nothing like it has happened to me since.