The strikerz bring it.., p.3
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       The StrikerZ - Bring it on!, p.3

           Randall James
 
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  The owner stood in the middle of the crowd and addressed the adults and kids. “The store is closed to all other customers for this time, and I brought in additional staff to help. So the kids can roam around and explore the entire store, and the staff will be happy to assist them.”

  As EZ tried on a pair of cleats, he noticed the prices. “Look guys, $125 for these ones, and $199 for those! Feel them. There’s nothing to them — they’re so light!”

  “This is gonna cost a lot of money,” whispered Lukas. EZ and Danny pulled ‘yikes!’ faces.

  EZ whispered, “It’s going to be over a thousand bucks for the cleats alone! Wow! And all the jerseys and kit! Whoa!”

  “Yeah,” whispered Danny, “and they’re getting us hoodies and t-shirts too!”

  EZ glanced over at Bandit, who had found the goalkeeper area and was trying on various coloured right-hand gloves. Sandra and Maddie came over and helped him.

  “Check this out, dudes!” he hollered, as he held up a giant green glove on his right hand. “Cool!” “Groovy!” “Awesome!” came the replies.

  “It’s like Christmas!” blurted Danny.

  EZ and his group walked around the store with their new cleats. CLIK, CLAK, CLIK, CLAK. “Dudes, they’re lighter than air!” EZ exclaimed. “We’re gonna be faster than normal!”

  Milan found a display of headbands. “Hey! Look guys, funky headbands!” Maddie and Sandra zipped over and modelled a couple for each other.

  Eileen and Monika carried a new jersey to each player to try on. Even super-fan Sandra got a new shirt: number 15.

  Monika brought Bandit over two jerseys: a bright green one and one in a wild colour combo. “You’re the special one, Bandit!” she said. “The keeper’s shirt has to be different than his teammates’ shirts.” Monika helped him try them on.

  EZ and all the kids pulled their jerseys on.

  “So . . . this is what it feels like to wear a uniform.” EZ looked at his matching teammates. “Cool.”

  “Yeah,” said Danny. “Sweeeet!”

  “Niiice!” exclaimed Milan.

  They ogled themselves in the two big mirrors. Lukas went from one to another, rubbing the team logo and numbers on his friends’ jerseys. “Dudes, the numbers and logo feel so cool. Groovy!”

  “That’s creepy, Lukas,” dead-panned Zach. That cracked everyone up!

  “We look like a real team,” remarked EZ.

  The kids removed their jerseys and cleats and modelled the hoodies and t-shirts.

  Monika announced, “StrikerZ, you can keep the hoodies and t-shirts on. It’s only the uniforms that we have to save for the practises and games.” The kids cheered!

  As EZ sat down and took his cleats off, he looked at his ratty old sneakers. He picked them up and turned them over, glancing over his shoulder to make sure no one was watching. His right one had a hole in the heel, and they were starting to smell. Even his socks had holes that he tried to hide. For a moment, he placed the cleats beside his sneakers and compared them. The cleats were shiny and purple with rad green stripes, and they fit perfectly. He loved them. He hated to put his sneakers back on.

  After a while, the kids and adults gravitated to the counter. As the owner rang each item through the till, the staff packed all the gear into purple kit bags for each kid.

  Whoa! This is awesome. I feel like a pro!

  Fred looked at his watch and said to Eileen, “We’ve been in the store for more than two hours. Time sure flies when you’re having fun!”

  “Wow!” EZ said to Danny. “I thought we were only here for one hour, max.” The owner presented the bill to Fred, who paid for everything with his credit card. EZ stretched his neck to peek at the card. Platinum. Whoa!

  “Kids, what do we say again?” asked Monika.

  “THANK YOU!” all the kids shouted.

  “You’re welcome!” returned Fred and Eileen cheerfully.

  Afterwards, as they stored the new gear on the bus, Eileen addressed the whole team. “I’ll bet all that shopping has made you hungry, eh?” All the StrikerZ smiled with hopeful looks on their faces, and some replied, “Yeah.”

  EZ whispered to Lukas, “Dude, are they going to feed us, too? That would be awesome.”

  Eileen continued, “Well, how about we load up with burgers and fries then?” A big cheer went up from the whole team. EZ, Lukas and Danny knocked fists.

  Everyone stuffed themselves at Burger King. After the meal they said their good-byes to Fred and Eileen and headed back on the bus. “Who knew that shopping could make you so tired,” stated Lukas, as he slumped into his seat. “Groovy!” Everyone laughed.

  During the ride back to New Waterford, EZ gazed at his friends in their new StrikerZ hoodies and t-shirts. He then glanced at the back of the bus where all the new kit bags were stored. Man, I must be dreaming.

  He shook his head and pinched his left arm. Nope, it was real.

  CHAPTER 4

  The New Coach

  Fred wasted no time. He directed his assistant to jump on the paperwork for the property, and he hired an architect and a foreman to get started on the new project. For now, it was a secret. He told Colin and Monika what he was up to, but swore them to secrecy.

  The first practise was set for Thursday at 6:30 in the evening. Fred and Eileen showed up at 6:15 to meet Colin and Monika. Fred brought new soccer balls in mesh bags, and cones for practise drills. They greeted each other and started to discuss drills and positions.

  “Playing eleven against eleven on a full field is going to be a lot different than playing five against five,” Monika remarked, as she surveyed the field and gestured with her hands. “The regulation field is much longer and wider, and the kids will have to learn proper spacing, and how to play on the wings.”

  She thought for a moment, then looked at Fred. “You’ll have to find their strengths and weaknesses, and divide them into forwards, midfielders, and defenders . . . are you going to do some dribbling drills, Fred? Make sure they do their warm-up exercises first.”

  Fred raised his eyebrows and glanced at Eileen and Colin. “Monika, you seem to know a lot about soccer. Would you be willing to be the head coach? I only volunteered because I thought there was nobody else . . . I could be your assistant.”

  Monika shook her head. “Sorry, Fred, I wasn’t trying to take over. I just got caught up in the excitement. Croatia is crazy about football, and I used to play for my local club. My dad and brothers and all my friends are into football . . . I don’t know . . . .”

  Fred smiled. “Well, I definitely think you could do it.”

  Monika replied, “How about if I try it for a couple of weeks?”

  “Deal!” exclaimed Fred, reaching out his hand. Monika shook it firmly.

  ***

  The StrikerZ arrived in their new uniforms, along with some parents and curious kids from the hood. Fred addressed the whole group. “Welcome to the first official StrikerZ practise!” Everyone clapped and cheered. “I would like to introduce our new head coach — Monika!”

  Words of approval went up from the team and spectators.

  “Yay, Mom!” Milan hollered.

  “Cool!” exclaimed EZ, knocking fists with Milan.

  Fred gave a new clipboard and whistle to Monika, who was dressed in her dark blue tracksuit and a white baseball cap. She blew the whistle and addressed the kids. “Alright, StrikerZ, I want you to take a slow jog around the outside of the field and come back here.”

  As the StrikerZ trotted around, EZ said, “Man, this is so cool. We’ve got new uniforms . . . we’re in the League . . . and now we’ve got a coach! And we all know your mom is a football genius, Milan!”

  “Yeah!” agreed the players, as a couple of guys ruffled Milan’s hair.

  EZ checked out his friends’ fantastic uniforms and glowing cleats. “It’s like running in socks,” he said.

  “This feels way different than sneakers,” agreed Jose.

  “Yeah, mine usually
have holes in them!” exclaimed Lukas. EZ nodded in agreement.

  Monika and Fred placed the red cones around the field.

  After the jog, Monika gathered all the players at the centre of the field. “Let’s do some warm-ups, team. Follow me.” She began to exercise, and the team copied her moves. They did jumping jacks, knee lifts, and various stretching exercises.

  Cool. Monika’s such a professional.

  After the team loosened up, Monika called over to Fred, “Can you take Bandit to that goal and take some shots, please?” Fred grabbed a few balls and trotted with Bandit to the far goal.

  Monika divided the players into two groups and said, “Milan, kick me a ball, please.” Milan booted a ball to his mom. Monika rolled the ball up her right foot and leg, and into the air. She then dribbled it with either knee and kicked it high. The ball came down, and she headed it back to Milan. Milan then passed it back to his mom, with a big smile on his face. A collective “WOW!” came from the team. “You must love the ball,” she told them.

  “Watch me,” Monika said, as she floated effortlessly through the cones with the ball. “I want you to dribble around all the cones and then back again, and then pass the ball to the next person in line to do the same drill.”

  “Whoa!” Lukas cried. “Look how good she is!”

  “Okay, team — go!”

  Monika then walked over and assisted Fred with Bandit.

  As EZ navigated the cones, he was sidetracked looking down at his ultra-cool purple cleats. It was kind of surreal to think that these were his.

  “Keep your head up, EZ!” Monika hollered back. “Don’t look down for too long. You all have to learn to dribble with your head up. Only glance down to see where the ball is. That way you can scan the field better.”

  Monika next got the players to do short and long passing drills. She became more vocal. “C’mon, StrikerZ. I want to see short and crisp passes! Let’s go! That’s it. Accuracy is the most important thing, and then speed!”

  After a while Monika divided the StrikerZ into attackers and defenders and did some attacking drills. She switched players into different positions and made notes on her clipboard. Her demeanour reminded EZ of a general on the field of battle. Cool.

  Toward the end of practise, Monika put Bandit in the goal and said, “I want the attackers to try and beat the defenders and score on Bandit — if you can.”

  “If we can,” whispered EZ to his fellow attackers. “We’ll see about that!” EZ stared at Bandit and smiled. He looks so cool with his funky jersey and green glove!

  EZ and Lukas grinned at each other. “Okay, Bandit,” Lukas announced, “we’re not going to take it easy on you!”

  “Bring it on!” challenged Bandit.

  Whenever EZ, Lukas, Danny, Milan or Maddie got past the defenders, they shot balls at the goal. EZ, though, never blistered the ball as hard as he could. He thought that if he smoked it to Bandit’s stubby side, his friend wouldn’t have a chance.

  EZ kept it a secret, because he didn’t want to hurt Bandit’s feelings. He only shot the ball hard enough for a 50/50 chance. EZ had a feeling that the other shooters took it easy too.

  Bandit, though, was doing excellent, EZ noticed. He dove to his left and crossed his arm over his body to deflect one shot, then leaped to his right for another; he got a toe on a ball here and made a finger-tip save there. He didn’t miss many. I wonder how Bandit will do in League games, EZ thought.

  By the end of practise, EZ was sweating pretty good — and so were all the StrikerZ. Coach Monika blew the final whistle. She had given them an excellent workout.

  “That's it, StrikerZ,” she announced. “Practise number one in the books!”

  All the spectators cheered and clapped. “Practise again tomorrow night, same time.”

  “Each player can keep a new ball!” shouted Eileen.

  “Cool!” “Awesome!” “Groovy!” “Sweet!” “Thanks!” came the replies. The kids said good-bye and joyfully dribbled their new balls home.

  EZ, though, dribbled his new ball over to Fred, who was collecting the cones. “Thanks for the new ball, Fred.”

  “You’re welcome, EZ. You guys looked great in practise! How’s school going?”

  “It’s going okay,” replied EZ, as he gazed at his soccer shoes again. “Thanks for the cleats, Fred. They’re so cool . . . I always wanted to have cleats and a uniform and play in a league, but I never actually thought it was really going to happen. I dream of playing in Europe too. That’s where the best players go.”

  “EZ, you can accomplish any goal in life if you focus. There’s no reason why you can’t play in Europe one day. You have God-given talent. You just have to work hard.” They smiled at each other.

  “Thanks, Fred. See ya later.”

  “See ya, EZ.” EZ dribbled all the way home. He wanted to love the ball.

  ***

  Fred, Eileen, Monika and Colin were the last ones left at the field.

  “You were wonderful, Monika!” Eileen exclaimed. “You’re a natural leader!” They hugged.

  “By the way,” Fred said to Colin, “we need a security guard for the property. It’s a part-time job to start; checking out the grounds at night to make sure there are no intruders. No uniform required. Are you interested?”

  “Am I ever!” Colin shot back with a huge grin.

  “Okay, phone me later, and we'll talk about it.”

  “Um, Fred?” Colin started to say, glancing at Monika.

  “Yes, Colin?”

  “Umm . . . I would love to phone you — and I really need that job — but I don’t have a phone. I would need one for the job, right? I mean, what would happen if I saw an intruder and couldn’t make a call? I had a house phone, but it got cut off about six months ago. I had to borrow Monika’s to call you last time.”

  Fred admired Colin’s honesty.

  “You’re right,” answered Fred. “You’re going to need a good cell phone for the job anyway. I’ll get you one tomorrow. We were serious when we said to let us know if you need anything — anything at all.”

  “Thanks, Fred.”

  They shook hands.

  CHAPTER 5

  Red-handed

  EZ, Lukas and Danny arrived at the field twenty minutes before practise with their new kit bags. EZ unzipped his bag and checked out how much room it had. He wore his uniform, so inside were only his hoodie and cleats. “Look how big our kit bags are,” he said. Danny and Lukas watched him with quizzical expressions on their faces.

  “What are you doing?” questioned Danny.

  “C’mon,” said EZ. “Let’s go shopping at Sobeys. We’ve got time.” Danny and Lukas quickly agreed, and the three blasted up Hudson Street and closed in on the grocery store in two minutes. “How are we going to do this?” Lukas whispered.

  “It’s easy,” replied EZ. “You and me will transfer the goods through the store, and Danny will be in the aisle closest to the exit. Danny, you bend down and look at something on the lowest shelf, and make sure your bag is open.” Danny nodded.

  “We’ll make two deposits of chips and pop,” EZ continued. “Lukas, you get a big pop, and I’ll get two bags of chips. After the drop-offs, we’ll go down an aisle far away from Danny, in case anyone is following us. Danny, you zip the bag and head out the door and we’ll meet you part way down the road. Okay, dudes?”

  “Roger!” confirmed Danny and Lukas.

  Inside the grocery store, everything went according to plan for the first deposit of snacks into Danny's bag. But when EZ was about to deliver the second bag of chips, Danny whispered, “Abandon!” He pulled the pop and chips out of his bag and put them on the shelf. EZ kept going down the aisle with the chips, as though he was still shopping. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted Mr. Lee, the store owner, and his son, racing around the aisle toward Danny. Oh, no. . . .

  “A-ha! We finally caught you little thieves!”

  ***

  When the players a
nd fans showed up for practise, EZ, Lukas and Danny were missing.

  “Where’s the big three?” Fred asked Monika and Colin.

  “I don’t know,” replied Colin. “When I left the house, I thought EZ was already here.” Monika started the practise anyway.

  Ten minutes later, a police car drove slowly past the field and pulled into Colin’s driveway. Fred noticed the cruiser and glanced over at Colin, who immediately jogged home.

  ***

  As the police car crawled to his driveway, EZ tried to shrink down. Oh, man, how embarrassing. There’s the whole team, plus Fred and Coach, and everyone from the hood, and here we are in a police car! Danny and Lukas were also attempting to hide from view.

  My dad’s going to kill me!

  When the car stopped, the police officer got out, walked around to the other side, opened the car door and let the three kids out.

  “What’s going on, officer?” enquired EZ’s dad. “I’m the father of this one,” he said, pointing to EZ, who got ‘the look.’ Oh, man!

  “Well, it seems these three were almost caught in the act of shoplifting at Sobeys. The store called the police, and I went and talked to the boys and searched them. Mr. Lee has seen these kids in the store before, and he says the store is missing some inventory. He thinks these kids are stealing from him, because they never actually buy anything.”

  The officer glared down at the three boys. “They were acting suspiciously, but when I checked them out, they didn’t have any merchandise on them. There were pop and chips on the shelf close to Dan, but nothing in his bag.” He shook his head at Danny.

  “Mr. Lee wanted me to charge them with shoplifting, but I had to explain to him that the boys would have to leave the store with merchandise to be accused of stealing. So they’re free to go, but I thought a ride home in the cruiser might embarrass them. They’re in your hands now.”

  The officer looked into the eyes of each kid and said, “Let this be a good warning to you. I don’t want to be called again because of you. Stealing small things now will lead to bigger things later. Trust me. I’ve seen it too many times.”

  “Yes, sir,” said each of the guys.

  “Thank you, officer,” said EZ’s dad, shaking his hand.

  When the police car had left, EZ’s dad asked, “What are you guys doing? Please tell me that you’re not really stealing?” None of the guys could meet his eyes.

 
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