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For the Love of the Game | Shawna Hopp

The grass was wet with rain. The air was crisp and chilled. The bleachers were empty. The dome lights were off. Only the crickets made a sound.

Chris stared down the white fifty yard line. Even in the darkness, he could tell the paint was fresh. The shadows of the moon showed him the divots had been filled in. There were no remnants of the accident on the field. He looked down at his wheelchair. It told a different story.

It was not an important game. There were no scouts in the stadium. It was not for a title. His team had already secured their slot in the State Championships. His team looked at it as nothing more than a warmup game. The other team did not see it that way. They had been ruthless in their pursuit of a win.

It was the first time this season his team had been behind in points. The loss shouldn’t have mattered but Chris was a competitor at heart and losing was not in his blood. A sophomore quarterback had been brought in to play the game. The coach wanted to save Chris’ arm for the State Championship. Chris could not take the loss, even if he wasn’t at fault. He had begged the coach to put him in. His coach had refused, initially. He had stated it was too risky.

Chris had been the starting quarterback for three years. He had earned his five-star rating and had already signed with the University of Alabama. His future was set and he did not need the win. Yet, he wanted one more victory before the State Championship. He wanted to end his high-school career undefeated. He begged the coach again. The coach gave him the final quarter to turn the game around. They had been down by nine.

The first touchdown came with ease. Chris had sailed that soft pigskin into Jamal’s hands effortlessly. The touchdown and the follow-on kick had brought his team within two points of their opponents. The crowd had gone wild. Their screams had been deafening. Yellow and black signs with his name had littered the stadium. Chris had returned to the sidelines and watched anxiously as the defense blocked their opponents from widening the gap again. By the time Chris stepped onto the field again, his anxiety had turned into excitement. He was about to win this game for his team.

His team had been on the opponent’s thirty yard line. The ball had been spiked and he scanned the field for an open team mate. Jamal and Aaron were blocked and Leo was not looking his direction. Chris knew he would have to run it himself. He tucked the ball beneath his arm and began to run. He kept his eyes down the field, scanning for opponents, as he raced toward the end zone. The roar of the crowd had reached new heights. He had looked down just long enough to see the fifty yard line beneath his feet when it happened.

Chris’ helmet collided with another player. He had felt his body accordion into itself and he felt his body give out beneath him as pain exploded through every orifice. His helmet hit the turf. He immediately reached for his lower back, from where the explosion resonated. He twisted in pain for a few seconds before forcing himself to roll over. Panicked, Chris signaled for help with his hand. His coaches and medical personnel had already swarmed around him. The crowd had gone silent. Everyone on the field had taken a knee. His parents were pushing their way down the bleachers.

Chris remembered when they placed him onto the orange backboard. He could not move his legs despite his brain screaming at them to move. He had been grateful, at the time, for their numbness as it alleviated the pain. Chris had used his hands to cover his face while he was carted off the field. He could not face the silence of the crowd.

Football had been his life. He knew no other world without it. The roars of the crowds had fueled his existence. The stadium had been his happy place and his home. Yet, his home and happy place had been taken away from him. The moment he heard the surgeon say he would never play football again, Chris’ world had collapsed.

He wheeled himself down the wet fifty yard line. His team had gone on to win that game and the State Championship but Chris had not been there. He had been in the hospital for a month and had undergone spinal surgery to repair the damage but it was unsuccessful.

The rain masked his tears. This was the first time Chris has been on the field since the accident. He had waited until his parents had gone to bed before rolling himself the two blocks to the school. He had wanted to be alone. He did not want anyone to stop him.

Chris reached into the pocket of his jacket, now soaked in rain and tears. He ran his fingers over the smooth silver barrel of his father’s handgun. He stared back into the empty metal seats. He could no longer hear the cheers of the crowd. He could only hear the crack of his spine, the gasps of the crowd, and the screams of his mother. He could no longer see the black and yellow spirit of the fans. He could only see the dropped jaws, the horror-stricken faces, and the kneeling down of his teammates. He could no longer remember his victories. He could only remember his failure. With all his strength, Chris pushed himself out of his wheelchair. He collapsed in a mangled heap on top of the fifty yard line. He rearranged his body so he was lying on his back. His body perpendicular to the yard line. The rain pelted his face as he placed the cold metal barrel against his head and closed his eyes.


Shawna Hopp is currently serving on Active Duty in the United States Air Force. She lives in Florida with her husband, daughters, and dogs.


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