Finally the day of the home opener came. The team had played two games on the road first and had shown real signs of improvement. In the first game against Kim Campbell the defence had done a good job in holding last year’s second best offence to just three touchdowns and Lane had managed to move the ball well and the Bengals had answered those three touchdowns with three of their own. In the end what cost them the game was a fumble in their own end late in the game which set up the winning field goal.
The next game was a heart breaker. They played the Sacre Coeur Crusaders. Like in the first game, the team started with a prayer circle. The players dutifully recited the words of wisdoms that Coach Ibrahimovich had prepared for them. He had made sure to remove all references to God or Allah and this time any mention of Jihad was removed as well. The irony of them reciting Muslims prayers before playing the Crusaders was lost on all, players and coaches alike. Padre O’Connor, the chaplain at Sacre Coeur, was surprised and a little bewildered to see a prayer circle from a publicly funded high school.
Soon after the game started the pleasant fall day turned into a meteorological nightmare. The skies darkened, wind increased to what weather men call gale force and rain started falling. Horizontally. Any hope of a passing attack was gone and even the ground game was very difficult. Both defences knowing that the pass was impossible, concentrated on stopping the run. Nobody could move the ball. With the score still 0-0 in the fourth quarter, the Crusaders were punting once again. The wind picked that particular time, with the ball in the air, to increase to what the weather men call hurricane force. Even though they had kicked it from their own side of half, the ball carried passed the goal line then passed the dead ball line for a single point. Try as they might, the Bengals could not answer. The final score of 1-0 sounded more like a soccer game.
Two games. Two loses. Even if the points difference was only -4, against Happy Valley things would have to be different.
Ryan had lost a lot of his innocence, but not his desire to fix things. The same enthusiasm that he brought to the fight to save the planet, he would bring to the fight to get rid of Potential Intelligence. He would just need a good game plan.
White and his lackeys and flunkies had told him in no uncertain words to be quiet. “Shut the fuck up” was how it was put. Still there was be a way to get around that order. He thought about it for weeks, even to the point of putting work on the overhead for his grade nine science classes to copy into their notes. While they quietly wrote, he brainstormed ideas. He could write letters to the local papers. Okay that wasn’t shutting up. Maybe he could write those letters and pretend to be somebody else. Like Barovsky, or Doyle. No, that was fraud or something. He could refuse to use PI. ‘Yeah, I’m going to Bunny right now and tell him I am not going to do this. Wait. Bunny’s not here today. I could… I could… I can’t shut the fuck up. They will just have to live with it. What are they going to do to me? Make me teach grade nine applied science. All those kids that don’t want to be there. I’m already doing that. Fire me? They don’t fire anybody. You have to molest a child to get fire. They can’t touch me.’
First offensive: a letter to the Granite City Times. No, an exposé to the Granite City Times. Who is Ken Smith and why he is ruining our schools? No, not eye catching enough Perceived Stupidity: The End of Western Civilization.
“Sir, we done copying. What should we do now?” said a girl from the front of the classroom. At the back of the classroom, the usual crowd had been throwing things out the windows for more than five minutes.
“Here’s a word search. Would you hand them out to the class, Aleisha.”
“Sure, sir. But I’m Chastity.”
Where was I? Ken Smith is a danger to your child.What you can do about it. Yeah let’s go with that. At home that night Ryan wrote a 5 000 word diatribe of Perceived Intelligence. He cited studies from as far away as Taiwan and Finland. He compared the Canadian school systems to schools good and bad. He had his point, proved his point, reinforced his point over and over and over again. He sent it off to the Granite City Times.
And he never heard back from them.
The weather was not going to be an excuse for losing this time. While the sun was not completely out-it was playing a game of peekaboo with the fans and the players, there was no rain and little wind. A larger than usual crowd had turned out to watch the Bengals take on the Happy Valley Vikings. The never-been-in-the-league-before Vikings. The-never-had-a-team -before-Viking. The-never-won-a-game Vikings.
It was going to be good. These guys had barely enough players to field a team. As it was most players had to play both defence and offence. The three girls from the synchronized swimming club had stuck it out and were dressed even if no one expected them to see the field. The guy with the club foot was there too. On the side lines he was practising kicking the ball off a tee and into a net.
The bus from Happy Valley had arrived late. When they did get there, most fans were already in their seats. The players were under strict orders not to make fun of their opposition. Any way they were busy praying when the bus arrived. The fans, on the other hand, were not at all hesitant about laughing at the Vikings. Unfortunately they lacked imagination and style.
“You suck!” “Where’s the rest of the team?” was the best they could do. Maybe it was because they weren’t used to being the ones taunting. In any other game they were the subjects of the taunts.
Warm ups, coin tosses and other formalities out of the way, the teams lined up for the opening kick off. Jordan White, who was also the kicker as well as being the middle linebacker, put the ball deep into the Vikings end. The kid who was supposed to run the ball back fumbled around with it and only got to the eleven-yard line before Jordan chasing his own kick stuffed him. The kid lay on the ground for a while but was able to continue. On the first play from scrimmage the Vikings ran up the middle for a couple of yards. On the second play the snap was fumbled. The Bengals recovered on the nine-yard line. Things had started just the way they were supposed to.
Unfortunately the two pass attempts were incomplete. But the field goal was good. After only a couple of minutes it was already 3-0 Bengals.
The Vikings chose to take the ball on the 35. They completed a pass for five yards, ran off-tackle for another four and gambled on third down. The Bengals were prepared to stop the one yard plunge. The Viking however faked the quarterback sneak, snapped the ball through his legs to the halfback who handed off to the wide receiver who ran an end around. Eleven of the twelve Bengals were completed fooled by the play. Fortunately Jordan White wasn’t. He eventually caught the ball carrier after a thirty yard gain. He hit him so hard the kid had to go off for a few plays.
They were now in Bengal territory.
The LBSS defence smarted up and managed to stop the Vikings at about the fifty. Head Coach Kidd sent on the punt return team. The Vikings Head Coach sent on the kid with the club foot and set up to kick a field goal.
Now with the seven or so yards that teams take in order to make sure the kick isn’t blocked, the ball would be placed beyond the 55 yard line which meant that the kick would come from the Vikings’ side of centre.
The punt returners were confused about where they should set up. They were on their 20, but Kidd signalled that they should stay where they were. There was no way this kick was going anyway near the goal posts.
The ball was snapped. The O-line was a bit shaky and Jordan came close to blocking it, but they got the kick off. The two kids on the 20 waiting to run the ball back got ready. They immediately realized that the ball was going farther than anyone anticipated.
Anyone on the Bengals that is.
What was at first a slow back pedal quietly into a full run. The ball was clearly going well past their heads. Past their heads and through the goal posts.
The reaction from the fans and the Bengal players was a combination of awl and fear. They had never seen a kick like that.
After one quarter it was 3 for the new look, bound for victory Bengals of Lord Byron and 3 for the hapless newbies from Happy Valley. Things were not going according to the script.
If the press wasn’t interested maybe the government would be. After all had Perceived Intelligence had not been approved by anyone at the Ministry. He started with his local MPP. Johnny Marre had represented the voters and the non voters of South Missachewopa for three terms. People pretty much knew what to expect from him and he knew what to expect from the voters. Ryan phone the local office. His secretary answered.
“Can I speak to Mr. Marre?”
“I’m sorry he’s not available.”
“When will he be available?”
So the next day when Ryan phoned it went:
“Can I speak to Mr. Marre?”
“I’m sorry he’s not available.”
“When will he be available?”
This continued for far too long. Ryan would phone and get the same answer and then phone again the next day. I suppose if the office of Mr. Marre was a more warm and fuzzy place, his secretary would have had the decency to say “next week” instead of “tomorrow”. But she didn’t. Finally Ryan asked why if Queen’s Park is not in session is he not at his office locally.
“He’s out in the riding.”
“What does that mean?”
“He is meeting constituents.”
“I’m a constituent.”
“Maybe he meet you someday.”
“I can’t tell you how helpful you’ve been.”
“You’re very welcome.”
Ryan would just have to go upstairs to the Ministry itself.
He went to the Minister’s website. There was a place to write questions to the Minister but after the disappointment with the Granite City Times he wasn’t sure if the written word was the way to go. Maybe he needed to talk directly to the Minister herself.
Edwina Mist had a fairly high profile. She had been Minister of several other things before her current role. And it was rumoured that she would be running for the leadership of the provincial party when the current Premier, Rushton Kappa stepped down. According to the pundits that was going to be sooner rather than later. Kappa was down in the polls and his hopes of re-election seemed faint.
After a lot of digging around, a few phone calls to friends from university, who had been Young Perpetuals and had gone on in the party and a bit of luck, he came up with the phone number to Minister’s office.
With his fingers trembling a bit he dialled the number and waited while the phone on the other end rang.
“Office of the Minister of Education. How may I direct this call?”
“Oh yes hello. I’d like to speak to the Minister, please.”
“And you are?”
“And who is Jason Ryan?”
“I’m a teacher at Lord Byron Secondary School.”
“Just a teacher?”
“And you want to talk to the Minister?”
“Yes, I do.”
To Ryan it seemed like five minutes of laughter that followed. When the voice on the other end finally stopped it said “Oh that was a good one. I haven’t laughed like that since the days of the Tories.”
“I don’t get it.”
“Why you were laughing.”
“The Minister doesn’t talk to teachers. If you have something to say, take it to your superiors. The Minister cannot talk directly to teachers. It muddles things up.”
“But things are seriously wrong in my school board.”
“Things are seriously wrong with all school boards. Put something in writing and send to the Minister.”
“And she’ll respond to it?”
“No, but it might make you feel better.’
“This is unbelievable.”
“Listen if you really want to change things, run for Trustee. They’re the people with the real power.”
No football coach is worth his salt if he can’t rant and rave. Head Coach Travis Kidd was worth the whole shaker. Practises were best described as long periods of physical exercise and even longer periods of verbal abuse. However sometimes you could say it was physical exercise followed by physical abuse. And sometimes it was just physical abuse. Fool around and you run hills. Screw up and you get a ball thrown at your head. Really screw up and have your gender identity questioned. But now in the locker room at half time he started with the silent treatment. Okay it wasn’t a locker room the teams stayed at the field and went to opposite end zones.
Given the proximity to the fans everything Travis Kidd said could be heard by the fans. They even heard the silence that started the half time talk. If was a silence filled by all the emotions, fears and desires that this game represented to the 0- for their high school career Bengals felt.
Forty-five players all with their helmets off and their left knee on the ground waiting, waiting for Head Coach Kidd to break the silence. Finally, there was a feeling of relief when he spoke.
“Ladies.” he barked then he paused. “That is the worse display of football that I have ever seen in all my years of coaching.” The feeling of relief was quickly replaced with a feeling of dread.
“If you want to be rhythmic gymnasts, be my guest. But I am here to win a football game and by God I am going to do that.” He paused again “Even if I have to run out on the field and do it myself. From now on there will be no more missed tackles. No more dropped balls. No more running the wrong pattern. We have not been working for months to lose to a team that can’t even use a toilet yet.”
Scottie Van Doornedorp had to fight the urge to say something about how he was pretty sure that they were potty-trained. But even Scottie isn’t that stupid.
The tone switched to one of motivation rather than vexation. “Look at the logo on your chests.” Above their numbers was a small tiger head. “You all are Lord Byron Bengals. You’re part of a long tradition. Remember that. Remember all the players who have come before you. Remember all the glory of past teams and accept your destiny. Now let’s go out there and be who we are.” A good speech. At least it was when he used it at Chevalier.
On to the field the players rushed ready to do their job. Happy Valley kicked off to them. The kid with the club foot booted the ball deep into the end zone where Stretch caught it. With the coaches all calling for him to go down on one knee, Stretch turned and started running down field. It was just too much to ask the kid to concentrate on catching the ball and listen to instructions from the side lines. The down field tacklers arrived and were so close to stuffing him. But Stretch had been put at kick off receiver for a reason. He was faster than anyone else on the team. He wasn’t very good at running patterns; he couldn’t tackle and he would get out of the way of tacklers rather than block. But he was fast.
So fast that he easily avoided any would-be tackler and made it out of the end zone. He gave a head fake to the one synchronized swimmer who got to play on kick offs and headed toward the sidelines. The Vikings had been too enthusiastic about making the tackle down field that no one stayed home just in case they were needed.
No one accept the kid with the club foot.
So the second half of the game between two hapless teams began with a show down between two unlikely heroes. Now the kid with the club foot had always known that if he was even going to have any success in sports it was going to be because of his brains and not his athletic ability. In house league soccer he soon figured out that his role was to stay near his own goal and clear the ball 50 yards down field any chance he got. He knew that if he pushed forward he would get caught up field and wouldn’t be able to get back in time.
When he saw Stretch head for the side lines he quickly calculated the angle he needed to take to intersect the trajectory of Stretch’s line. Slow as he was, as long as he got there before Stretch he could make the tackle. This is advance physics here as he needed to account for the difference in speed of the two objects. And his calculations found that the two lines would meet somewhere around the thirty yard line. The Vikings thirty yard line. That meant that he had to turn around and run toward his own goal line while Stretch was still on his own side of centre. On the surface it defied all logic; in reality it was brilliant. Anyone watching him would have thought that having kicked the ball he was returning to the bench. But no one was watching him.
They were all watching Stretch who was beating the Vikings one after another. He was going all the way. Or so everyone, including Stretch, thought. In fact Stretch was sure that he was on his way to scoring when the kid with the club foot got low and drove his shoulder into Stretch’s knee. It was more of a bump than a tackle but it did the job. Down went Stretch. The crowd all gasped and a collective “shit” was given off by the Bengal coaching staff. For their part the Viking bench went wild as the kid with the club foot came off the field. In fact, Fiona Lindenhauser, who was watching the game despite a rather large apathy toward the sport, thought the game had ended and the Vikings had won.
The happiness of Happy Valley was short lived. Even if he hadn’t scored, Stretch had given them excellent field position. Lane knew that their concentration would be lacking for a play or two. So he ran play action and went long to Scottie in the end zone who managed to hang on to the ball. Convert kicked. Score LBSS 10 HVHS 3.
“If you want to change things, run for Trustee.” That sentence spoke volumes about how much the Ministry of Education was out of touch. “Trustee” all sorts of people can run for Trustee. Eighteen year olds. Residents of mental institutions. Convicted criminals. But not teachers. If teachers were Trustees they would vote themselves outrageous pay increases. Lawyers regulate lawyers. Doctors regulate doctors, hell even investment bankers regulate investment bankers, well sort of. But here was the Ministry telling Ryan to run for Trustee. If only he could, he would sock it to the man. No more pulling the wool over the Trustees’ eyes. No more stupid BS like dogs in guidance, no more umpteen Supervising Principals without schools to be Principals of.
Ryan ran ideas over in his head for days. Days went by where his classes did nothing but copy into their notes or watch movies. Sometimes the movies had very little to do with science. Sometimes the movies had very little to do with anything.
At first it was just a vague notion. That it grew into a proper idea. He couldn’t be elected as a Trustee. But he could still run a election campaign. The fact that he couldn’t hold office might even help if it brought him more publicity.
The election wasn’t going to be until the fall of the next school year. Normally people don’t start campaigning until a month or two before. If they campaign at all. Some don’t have to. No one runs against them so they win by something called acclamation.
A full year before the election signs started appearing throughout South Missachewopa. Signs that said things like:
Vote Ryan.Even if they won’t let you.
A vote for Ryan. It’s a vote against Ed Smith.
When schools won’t fail our kids, they fail all of us.
0 plus 0 shouldn’t equal 50% Vote Ryan.
Ryan was smart enough not to use his full name. That way when the attack dogs that worked for Superintendent White went on the offensive, he could always claim that Ryan was a common name and it must be some other guy with a bone to pick with the school board. He imagined there must be quite a few in the category. But the attack dogs remained silent. Perhaps they hadn’t noticed or perhaps their attention was diverted.
Unfortunately the press didn’t notice either.
So after a couple of months of the sign campaign and a couple of thousand dollars spent, Ryan had to admit that he had very little to show for it.
There was no one about to admit defeat at what the other schools were calling the Loser Bowl. With a seven point lead and a quarter to go the Bengals of Lord Byron Secondary School were full of energy. They could smell blood. On the other hand the Vikings had never been so close to winning a game.
The third quarter had ended with a Bengals ball on the Vikings 35 yard line. One more score and they could count on this game showing up in the win column. Head Coach Travis Kidd felt they needed a little extra to push this game out of reach. So he called for a prayer session.
During the change over at the end of the third quarter, while the referees were changing ends the offence all dropped to one knee and following Lane’s lead recited the following. In keeping with board policy and to be sure not to offend Trustee Lindenhauser all references to God and Allah had been replaced.
“Football is great. Football is great.’
“Oh Football! Fill my request!”
“Hey, shouldn’t we be facing something?” asked Scottie in a moment of clarity.
“Yeah. That’s right. Let’s face the …” Lane looked around. “the goal posts.” He continued
“There is no Football, but Football and Football is the greatest.”
“Com’on Ladies. It’s time to play some football.” said Head Coach Kidd, who was worried about taking too long and pissing off the refs. “Bring it in and let’s have Knights on three.”
“Don’t you mean Bengals on three, Coach?” asked Scottie
“I said Bengals. Let’s have it, please. The refs are waiting.”
“One, two, three, Bengals.” came the cheer.
Whether it was because of the sanitized Muslim prayer or in spite of it, the Bengals took the ball and marched into the Vikings end zone. Bengals 17, Vikings 3 with 9.43 to play. From the insuring kick off the Vikings ran a fake double reverse which didn’t fool Jordan and the Vikings offence over on their 29 yard line. They managed a couple of first downs until they stalled on their own 52. once again they sent on their field goal unit. And the Bengals responded by putting Stretch on the ten. Off to one side hiding from the Bengals coaching staff and behind the kicker was the Vikings fastest runner. When the ball was snapped , the holder stood up and kicked the ball to the wide side of the field. The same side that the on side runner was on. The kick had enough height that the runner arrived in time to catch the ball in flight and race untouched into the end zone. It was a play never seen in North America. But one of the Vikings Coaches was an Australian on exchange for the year. For him it was a routine play in Rugby League. Bengals 17 Vikings 10 with 4:43 to go.
On the Viking bench there was a large argument about whether they should kick deep and hope the defence would hold them and get the ball back for their offence or kick short and hope to recover the ball. The proponents of the short on-side kick won out.. But with one concession; the kid with the club foot came on and lined up as if to kick the ball. He was on the right side of the ball. On the left side trying really hard to not look like she was about to kick the ball was one of the synchronized swimmers. A left-footed synchronized swimmer. With the whistle the kid with the club foot kick the turf beside the ball and the synchronized swimmer girl kick the ball for real; hard and low into the knees of Invisible.
Poor Invisible, who probably wished his name actually meant something, couldn’t get low enough, fast enough to snag the ball. It rebounded off his knees and into the arms of an on-coming Viking who had been instructed to do nothing but fall on the ball.
The Gods of Football appear to be fickle.
The Viking offence returned to the field and began to march down toward the Bengal end zone. With less than a minute to go they found themselves on the four yard line. First down goal to go. On first down they tried the double reverse again. It failed to fool Jordan who dropped the ball carrier for a lost. On second down they tried the double reverse yet again. Jordan assumed that they wouldn’t be so stupid to run the same play two times in roll, so he ignored the second hand off. He was certain it was a fake. He got to the ball carrier with his usual speed about the same time that the guy who actually had the ball was scoring. 17-16 with the convert to come.
What should the Viking coaching staff do? They could kick the convert and settle for the tie or go the riskier route and try a two-point conversion. Go big or go home they said and decided to go for the two points.
What they hadn’t considered was that they had really pissed Jordan White off. You know, ‘Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me.’ Jordan wasn’t going to get fooled again.
From the five yard line they ran a draw play which meant that the quarterback drops back as if he is passing but hands the ball off to a running back. Again it fooled the entire Bengal defence except Jordan who got to the running back at the one. The ball carrier bounced off Jordan and dove for the line. Invisible, who had initially been knocked down and backwards into the end zone, was just regaining his feet managed to get a hold of the Viking running back long enough until others arrived to make the tackle. For a moment all action froze as everyone on both teams was waiting for the ruling on the field. Had he broken the plane of the goal line before being tackled? Where he was lying would indicate than he hadn’t. But it was his forward progress that counted. The two refs were stationed on the goal line, each hoping that the other would make the decision. Finally one of them waved his hands to indicate that the ball had not crossed the goal line and the other ref quickly mimicked his motion.
Bengals 17 Vikings 16 with 5 seconds left on the clock .
Would the Vikings try an on-side kick again. They had few other options. Again the kick off team lined up with the club foot kid on one side and the left-footed synchronized swimmer on the other. But this time Invisible was ready for the kick.
Only they didn’t kick it to Invisible.
The Bengals were all lined up ready to receive a short on-side kick. Only Stretch was back if the kick was long.
And the kick was long and a long way away from Stretch. Again the Vikings Coaches had put their really fast guy near the side lines where he raced toward the ball. Would Stretch, who had terrible hands and couldn’t tackle, make it there first? Or would the Viking speedy guy arrive in time to pick up the ball and race once again into the end zone.
Head Coach Kidd couldn’t tell. The Viking Head Coach couldn’t tell. From their seats in the scaffolding that passed for stands, Bunny or Doyle couldn’t tell. Lyndsey Baggott, who had started to see something she liked in the tall skinny kid who everyone just called Stretch, couldn’t tell who was going to get there first, but she was sure it was going to work out.
Optimism goes a long way. As the Viking fast guy bent down the ball bounced off his hands and towards Stretch, who, living up to his nickname, got down low and like a defender in soccer, hooked the ball away and out of bounds. It was a temporary solution as it meant that the Vikings would take over where the ball had gone out. But the clock had expired during the kick off. By the skin of their teeth the Bengals had won their first game in living memory.