Excerpt: The Long Shot

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“I'M SORRY, did you say they cut the entire athletic budget?” Julia pushed her chair back from her desk and stood to face Ty Tracey, ex-jock, current jerk, her boss, and the principal of Milton High School.

“The district is in real financial trouble, Julia. You know this. With the budget voted down, we’re on austerity spending. This was one of the compromises the board had to make in order to preserve resources for student necessities like the AP classes and the guidance staff.”

He gestured around her office with a look that clearly showed how little he thought of her kind of necessity.

Julia’s guidance “office” wasn’t really an office. The cubicle was carved out of a corner of the library and assembled from moveable walls. It wasn’t big enough for angry pacing which was what she needed to do right now if she was going to avoid saying something to Ty that would get her fired.

“But it’s the whole athletic department? The board actually cut the boys’ basketball program? No Milton Tigers?”

“Yes, the board cut the entire department,” Ty said.

Ty had been a Milton Tiger; he was wearing his state championship ring on his hand today as he did every day. He’d gained at least fifty pounds since his playing days, so it was possible the ring was stuck on his finger, but a guy like him probably saw that as a bonus—a perma-ring to match the Tiger tattoo she had no doubt he’d gotten during his freshman season. Most ex-Tigers took the team more seriously than they took just about anything yet he was standing calmly in her office telling her they’d cut the program. Right.

“The boosters put the money back for the boys, didn’t they?” she asked. Not that she needed to ask. A first-grader would have known the answer.

The Milton Tigers basketball boosters, an independent club made up of former players, parents, community leaders, and anyone who wanted to be part of the fever that gripped Milton every Friday during basketball season, was flush with cash and power. The boosters funded all kinds of perks for the boys and their fans. Why not a whole season?

“Some programs are being funded with community support through the boosters, enabling them to continue at their current levels despite the cuts by the board.”

She moved a stack of files, files full of kids who needed access to so much more than she could offer, back from the edge of her desk while she said a short prayer for self-control. Ty had never spouted that community support line spontaneously. It was a rehearsed speech to cut off argument about why kids like her girls basketball players would be sitting home this winter while the boys’ team went on undisturbed. “Some programs like boys’ basketball.”

“The Tigers are the heart of Milton High. You know that.”

Ty was right. She knew all about Tigers basketball. She knew the Tigers regularly turned out state championship teams and that the amount of booster support in a small community like Milton for one athletic team was astounding. She knew the boys’ basketball team had fewer scholar athletes and more kids who walked a thin line between high spirits and juvenile offenses than any other team in the school. She also knew the rumors of sexual favors the Tiger cheerleaders handed out to the team went beyond anything their parents could conceive of. So yes, she knew what the Tigers meant to the school and she didn’t like much of it.

“Boys’ basketball survives and everything else gets cut?”

“Boys’ basketball is the only team with an active boosters group. Other teams can start cultivating community funding.”

“Basketball season starts in two weeks!”

Ty didn’t smile but she knew he wanted to.

Julia wished, not for the first time in her life, that she knew how to bat her eyelashes and cozy up to an alpha guy to get him to give her what she wanted. That kind of act would get a better reception from Ty, but unfortunately, growing up with three older siblings who lived their lives in cutthroat competition with each other, her lessons had been closer to ‘always follow up an elbow to the stomach with a kill shot to the groin’ than eyelash batting. She didn’t have feminine wiles and she wasn’t likely to find any in the drawers of her beat up steel desk. So she stuck with what she knew. When you face a problem, pummel it until it gives in.

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