When Alicia awoke she first thought she was in heaven. Indeed, everything around her was white: the sheets, the curtains, the furnishings. She sat up in bed and instantly felt a shot of pain course through her knee. She lay back down and stared at the ceiling. Then it came back to her: it had been the fourth quarter with thirty seconds to go and Alicia’s basketball team, the Bulls, were in the lead by one point against the Devil Rays in the championship game. The recipe for disaster. Alicia had been shoving with the other team’s center in the low post when the shot went up from the point guard. She vaguely remembered jumping up against the center for the rebound… and then the other girl had hooked her knee and Alicia had collapsed to the floor. The last thing she remembered was her coach’s worried face above her. And thinking that she had just got her game high record: forty-two points.
A doctor came in. “You took a nasty spill there. A ripped tendon in your knee. We’ve done the surgery.”
“How long will it take to get better?” said Alicia, feeling dread seep through her chest.
“About a year,” said the doctor, “just for it to heal, of course. After that you’ll have to finish physical therapy. You won’t be able to play next season.”
Alicia blinked. Next year she would be a senior. Next year was the year she could get a scholarship to Duke, her dream school. Next year was supposed to be her year to be the best of the best and show it to the world. She was already the best forward on her team. And now she was going to miss her one dream she had had since she was eight years old.
“No basketball,” she repeated.
“I’m afraid so. It’s a bad tear.”
Alicia sat back. That was all she could take in for now. She wondered if the Bulls had won the championship.
* * *
Alicia’s mother and father drove her home and helped her up the stairs of their house. She was still getting used to the crutches she had been given. Alicia then sat in a chair across from her parents. Alicia’s family was not poor but they were not wealthy. She knew that her parents had wanted nothing more than for their basketball star to get a sports scholarship to one of the best schools in the nation.
“There it goes,” Alicia said.
“There goes what?” Alicia’s mother asked, looking sad.
“My opportunity to get a scholarship.”
Alicia knew that her parents would try to make it sound like it didn’t really matter. But she knew better than that. It was her father who had first told her about scholarships in sports and taught her how to play basketball.
“Alicia, you know that’s not the only dream in the world. There are other things that matter. Like academics.”
There it was. Her father was trying to put a good face on things. Her parents stood up and went into the kitchen.
Alicia hobbled upstairs and collapsed onto her bed. She couldn’t deal with the fact that she would probably not play any college basketball. Or make it to the WNBA. Just then the phone rang. Alicia picked it up and saw on her caller ID that it was her coach.
“Hi, Alicia. I thought you’d want to know who won the game,” he said.
“Yeah, I do! Did we win?” Alicia crossed her fingers again, anxiously awaiting his answer.
“The Bulls won, Alicia. And I hope you know that we couldn’t have done it without you. The Devil Rays couldn’t get another shot off.”
Alicia let out a relieved breath. But then again, she felt the same as she had before. What was the point if she couldn’t play next year? “That’s great,” she managed to say. “Thank you.”
“You know that there were scouts at that game. Forty-two points must have looked pretty promising to them, don’t you think? How’s your knee, Alicia?”
“I can’t play next year.”
“Your family told me. But today I saw this brochure for basketball summer camps for girls. They’re looking for coaches. Sounds like just the thing you could do while still healing. I’ll drop it off if you want.”
Alicia said halfheartedly that it sounded great and then said goodbye. She then lay down on her bed again and fell into a dreamless sleep.
* * *
When Alicia woke up she found the basketball camp brochure on her bedside table. She went downstairs to call Emily King, one of her teammates. Alicia needed to talk to someone. Emily said that she’d come over. When Emily came into Alicia’s room she saw the camp pamphlet.
“This looks really fun,” she said. “If Coach had recommended me I wouldn’t hesitate! You should really do this, Al. It would be good for you.”
“I can’t even play next season,” Alicia said. “How am I supposed to wrangle a bunch of grade-school girls?”
“Come on, Al.” Emily raised her eyebrows. “When we were in fourth grade you were the one who taught me how to play basketball.”
“I still don’t know,” said Alicia. “Well I do. Sign up for it, and if you change your mind I’ll do it for you.”
After Emily left, Alicia thought about the summer camp. Both her coach and Emily were right. It would be good for her to share her talent with others, even if she couldn’t use it for herself. It might be fun, anyway, teaching her favorite sport to little girls.
* * *
It was now late in June and the first session of the All-Star Girls Basketball Camp was beginning that day. When she arrived at the gym and saw all the little girls she was surprised to realize that for the first time since she had injured her leg she felt happy. She became good friends with all of the girls she coached.
At night she had long conversations with Emily on the phone. Emily said she thought Alicia shouldn’t give up on her dream and to keep trying. Alicia found that she agreed. One day, after everyone had gone home, even the coaches, Alicia put on her old basketball shoes and shorts. Then she threw her old jersey on over her baggy white T-shirt. Then she picked up a basketball from the rack and threw her crutches down next to her shoes and sweatpants. Alicia then felt the pain, but she ignored it. She started slowly dribbling down court, with a huge limp.
Emily had dropped by to talk to Alicia. When she saw her dribbling down the court she stepped into the gym to see what would happen next.
Alicia was now at the three-point line, slowly inching her way towards the basket. Her eyes were squinted up with pain. She finally stood in front of the hoop and shot the ball up in a beautiful arc. The ball swished through the net. Emily slowly started clapping and shouted, “Forty-four points for Alicia Peterson!”
Alicia just smiled with tears pouring down her face.