Tied for 1st place: Life is too hard
Ahmednur Abdi Hudle, 17, Ubah Medical Academy, Hopkins
My boys came over to my house Monday the week before school started. As we always do, we went to the park and played football.
“Man, Ahmed, you can catch!” said my friend. As the day went along, this tall, black, strong man came to watch us play. It was hot that summer day so we stopped playing ball early. As I was leaving, the man came up to me and started talking.
“What’s your name, kid?” said the man.
“Ahmed,” I replied.
“You can play football, kid,” said the man. “And my name is Mike,” he added.
“Nice to meet you, ” I responded.
“I’m a coach for a football team and I would like you to play for me,” he said.
I was happy and took the offer. I played for his team. That summer my father passed away so I needed someone to look up to, so Coach Mike would be there for me and gave me someone to look up to and become the male role model in my life.
He would always take me places, but Coach Mike had to move to a different city. But before he moved, he said to me, “Life is hard.” I always remembered that.
Tied for 1st place: Not just a blind kid
Kris Mitchell, 15, DeLaSalle, Minneapolis
In the 7th grade, I was viewed as the blind kid who couldn’t play sports. I always dropped passes and shot wrong in basketball. I kept air balling shots and getting lucky on some.
I started to think for myself that I sucked at sports and never would be good. I stopped believing I could do anything right. My dad was angry with me because the year before I moved back with my family after a huge fight. Life at home was not that great and I was just getting back to knowing people in the community. I just was down on myself all the time.
Nate Travis, my football coach in 7th grade, gave me a chance to shine. I put my love into the game and often put out my frustrations on any running back who crossed my path.
At the times I was down, he would show me techniques to get my mind off my family and entertain me from my unhappy thoughts. He was a role model to me. He kept me on my feet. He pushed me harder than anyone I know and he didn’t let my poor vision get in the way of it. He treated me as an individual that needed shaping up.
That year I made a big difference for his team in return. I was one of the best DEs he has ever had. We went all the way to the state finals in the Metrodome. We lost, yet he expected nothing out of that game. He just made sure we had fun.
Nothing to Something
Rasheem Turner, Arlington High School, St Paul
My life is not easy, and I seem to fall for peer pressure just to fit in. Once, while still in Atlanta, Georgia, I put gum in a girl’s hair because some kid dared me. They sent me to Coach Cox as a consequence.
Coach seemed very mad. He was all over me like a dog on a bone. “What is wrong with my people?,” he repeated. He must’ve liked that I wasn’t showing any attitude because he changed tones and said “I see something in you.” After that, I thought I could talk real talk with him.
Later that night, I was at the bus stop when a man yelled, “COME HERE!” Scariest moment of my life. I turned to run back to the school and heard a gunshot. My heart dropped as I burst into the school and then Coach’s office.
After I told him what happened, he gave me a ride home. In the car, he told me how he’d lost all he had in the hurricane that destroyed New Orleans. He moved to Atlanta and started his life over as a coach and teacher. I listened. He changed my thinking. Now I never take anything for granted.
It was hard for me to leave Coach Cox to come to Saint Paul. I’ll never forget how Coach saw promise in me and shared his story. If he made it out of nothing, so can I. Now, I’m getting all A’s as a sophomore at Arlington High.
Softball: Welcome to the Jungle
Karly Bermann, 17, Mounds View, Arden Hills
“They roll their eyes at me, Mom!” I shouted as I threw my shiny glove on the asphalt and threw myself on the bench seat of the minivan, crying until my tears made the crumb-filled upholstery soggy.
I decided then and there that I hated softball, that I was too stupid to understand what a throwing “follow through” was, and that the only friends I was going to make were the bugs in the dugout. I was ready to quit.
That night, a professional was called.
It was obvious that my Uncle Kent had not played baseball since high school. But as he strained to drag cardboard boxes across the floor of his company storage garage, clearing a place for us to catch, my doubts faded. I realized how hard he would work so that I could simply learn to throw. For the first time in my life, I was motivated to try at a sport.
My gangly arms flailing awkwardly like Woody from “Toy Story” convinced Kent the traditional teaching method wasn’t working. I was no longer instructed to “follow through”.
“Imagine a forest of bamboo in front of you. Now, spread the shoots apart with your arms. Fight through it!”
That night, I fought my way through acres of imaginary bamboo and insecurities. By the end, nine out of ten throws snapped into Kent’s glove, but the best part was, he never once rolled his eyes when that tenth throw got lost in the jungle.
Again a lesson in perseverance
Sean Moore, 17, Mounds View High School, Arden Hills
The muted stampede comes to a halt, rivulets of sweat running down the glistening rugby players. They dread the coming word.
“Again!” Coach Ed Young yells. He is stoic as he watches his players sprint the length of the field and back. He waits patiently for the stragglers to arrive, chests heaving. He pauses, seeing the hope in their eyes fade as his lips start to move.
“Again!” The athletes are now running in the ruts their feet have cut into the ground. They stumble along under the scorching sun. Their legs are dragged along by sheer force of will.
Young pays this no heed. He expects the best out of his players, demands excellence. His goals reach past perfection, hoping these torments will make them better players and better men. They know and fear the coming word, but none of them falters to follow the order. “Again!”
Young believes in a simple philosophy of commitment and perseverance. He has instilled a mantra into every one of his players: “If you’re not going to practice as hard as you play, do your teammates a favor. Go home.”
Some days, the team feels like packing it in, until they remember their coach’s words. He has given them a cause greater than themselves. The players don’t give it their all because they fear him. They work hard because they know they will pummel their opponents up and down the field. Again and again.
Sam Toninato, 16 Mounds View High School, Arden Hills
Coach Suddeth lumbered towards me, clutching a green clipboard with his thick hands. The sun glared off his bald head as he motioned for me to come near him.
“Toninato,” he grunted, glaring over the top of his clipboard. “You’ll be playing goalie this game.”
I wasn’t surprised. No one on my third grade soccer team liked playing goalie. However, I was horrible at every other position, so it only made sense that I would be placed as the position no one wanted.
“Are you sure? I’ve never played goalie before.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll do fine. It isn’t that hard. Just don’t let them score.”
I was too young to catch the sarcasm. As I jogged out to the goal, an uneasy excitement swept over my body. This was it. I had found my position; I was going to be a great goalie.
I pulled the goalie jersey over my head and slowly put on the beaten pair of goalie gloves. I planted my feet on the ground, and raised my arms in front of me in anticipation. I was ready.
Forty minutes and 11 goals later, I trudged off the field, my head hung in shame. Not only had I let in 11 goals, I had run into the goal post.
As I reached the sidelines, Coach Suddeth turned away.
“I’m sorry,” I croaked, fighting back tears.
But Coach wouldn’t look at me. When I needed his help the most, my coach wouldn’t even look me in the eye.
The Voice within
Sabrina Zappa, 16, Mounds View High School, Arden Hills
Since I was a child I have loved the art of music, particularly in vocal form. Whether it was my mother’s mezzo-soprano filling the upstairs living room or Freddy Mercury’s piercing falsetto, to me there is nothing more powerful than singing. So I decided about two years ago to pursue my love of vocal performance and invested in a private tutor.
My tutor’s name is Mrs. Remus, and she certainly is a unique character. With her piercing blue eyes and broken nose, she has the air of a very strict schoolteacher.
But behind her rougher silhouette there lingers a true heart of gold, one that wants to push her students to its maximum capacity so they will ultimately succeed.
My first lesson consisted of me singing up and down the scale, in order to find my vocal range. When I finally hit the highest note I could muster, I looked at her for evaluation.
She cocked an arched brow, leaned back on her piano bench, and smiled. “Not bad, not bad at all. I can see you’re going to be a very strong student. A bit shy perhaps, but you know how to sing to the rafters.” And with that she opened up a dusty old Broadway songbook, and the lesson continued.
For the next weeks I would meet with her, hardly containing my excitement when I had the privilege to sing. She was the one who gave me honest opinions, and never sugarcoated any of her responses.
“Look, you’re sounding too much like J. Hud right here (her nickname for American Idol contestant Jennifer Hudson). If you want to rif…do it in front of your friends. You’re here for practice, not for being a diva.”
She also was the one who helped me find my inner voice. One of the most important lessons she ever taught me was not to try and copy someone else. Your voice is your voice. No one can take that away from you, and no one will ever be able to copy it perfectly. So why not use it to your advantage? The art of vocal performance is a truly challenging feat; but with Mrs. Remus’s help every practice gets me one step closer to finding my true voice within.
An extraordinary “coach”
Zhongling Liu, 17, Mounds View High School, Arden Hills
He’s by no means a “sports” coach, but I doubt I could be writing this without him. His name was Joe Kurtz. After my ninth birthday, I moved from China to Minnesota, and confronted English for the first time.
However, after a year struggling in an ESL class, I was getting nowhere. My parents decided to hire Joe as an English tutor. I first met him in an University of Minnesota building. He donned a white, button-down dress shirt and khaki pants, and sat quietly in a seat normally reserved for lunching students.
By his shoes was a white paper bag, laid aside and filled with books. His wrinkled face revealed his old age, but he had none of the tiredness. His eyes, still perusing the newspaper, were both inquisitive yet deeply thoughtful at the same time.
“Hello?” I called out, catching his attention. He looked up and saw me.
“Hi, my name is Joe, how nice to meet you!” And he genially offered me his hand. After a small introductory chat, we started our first study session.
His plan was to train my writing skills. Writing, he reasoned, also trains my reading and thinking skills all at once. I followed without questioning; his first impression convinced me that he knows his route.
We met for two summers. They were anything but a waste. His thoughtful critiques inspired me to appreciate English as a language worthy to be explored. My fluency in English today could not be accomplished without him.