By Christopher Alessi
The husky captain adjusts his scraggly ponytail, hocks a wad of spit onto the sparse concrete playground of PS 192, and calls the game back to order.
A group of nine middle schoolers–only two of whom are girls–are the only kids on this playground. As there is no jungle gym, or even swings, the small group of kids has settled for a makeshift game of soccer on a slab of concrete that, along with the ratty soccer ball, suffices as their recreational recess equipment.
The supervisor shows little interest in the game, so the captain, who towers over the other kids, assumes responsibility. The three chosen boys on his team appear alert and eager to follow instructions. The five kids on the other team, including two very petite girls, appear beyond alert; they are terrified.
A lean, athletic boy throws the ball from out of bounds in the direction of the captain, who grabs it, kicking it back and forth between his feet. No one is making any effort to steal the ball from him, but he is still far back from the goal. Another teammate downfield calls for him to pass. This appears to be the most practical and judicious move he could make. But, there’s no way the captain is giving up his ball. So, instead, he drives down the field.
When he runs into the midfield defense he still does not make a pass. Rather, to advance the ball down the field, he kicks it hard against an opposing concrete wall. As it ricochets off the wall he runs to catch up with it. But, then an obstacle: one of the small girls from the opposing team has captured the ball. No matter. The captain easily swipes it back from the girl, who is a quarter of his size, and in the process she is toppled squarely onto her butt.
Without looking back he heaves himself forward toward the goal and kicks the ball into the fence, which serves as the makeshift net. His teammates cheer as do his deferential opponents. The captain–now sweating profusely and dangerously out of breath–raises his fist in the air in triumph.