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Paralyzed
 

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Paralyzed


  Paralyzed

  Jeff Rud

  Orca sports

  Copyright © 2008 Jeff Rud

  All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the publisher.

  Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

  Rud, Jeff, 1960-

  Paralyzed / written by Jeff Rud.

  (Orca sports)

  ISBN 978-1-55469-059-6

  I. Title. II. Series.

  PS8635.U32P37 2008 jC813’.6 C2008-903053-2

  Summary: A football tackle gone wrong puts a boy in hospital and leaves star linebacker Reggie Scott feeling confused, guilty and alone.

  First published in the United States, 2008

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2008928571

  Orca Book Publishers gratefully acknowledges the support for its publishing

  programs provided by the following agencies: the Government of Canada through the Book Publishing Industry Development Program and the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Province of British Columbia through the BC Arts Council and the Book Publishing Tax Credit.

  Cover design by Bruce Collins

  Cover photography by Materfile

  Author photo by Deborah McCarron

  Orca Book Publishers

  PO Box 5626, Stn. B

  Victoria, BC Canada

  V8R 6S4

  Orca Book Publishers

  PO Box 468

  Custer, WA USA

  98240-0468

  www.orcabook.com

  Printed and bound in Canada.

  Printed on 100% PCW recycled paper.

  11 10 09 08 • 4 3 2 1

  For Becky, a terrific niece

  Acknowledgments

  Thanks to both Bob Tyrrell and Andrew Wooldridge of Orca Book Publishers for their continued strong support. Thanks also to editor Sarah Harvey, who did her usual tremendous job in steering this project to completion. Finally, thanks to my wife, Lana, and our children, Maggie and Matt, for all you do.

  chapter one

  Keith Hobart’s eyes were a dead giveaway. The Milbury quarterback’s right arm and body told me he was throwing a swing pass to the big fullback who was cutting briskly to my left. But Hobart’s eyes said otherwise. For just a split second, they flickered to the right and that was enough. My instincts took over.

  They didn’t let me down. I jammed my left foot into the turf and lunged the opposite way. I was just in time to see thefootball heading toward the tight end, all alone in the flats about ten yards deep. If he caught the ball, he was going a long way. If he caught the ball, that is. That wasn’t going to happen.

  I leaped, stabbing out my right hand and batting the football from the air. It fell into my left arm, and I slapped both hands over it. Interception! Plays like this were what every high school middle linebacker lived for.

  My eyes darted downfield, scanning the best route. There were more of my team’s black jerseys to my left. I cut sharply that way. If I could just get outside...

  “Ughhh!” I heard myself groan. I felt the air rudely pushed from my lungs before I realized what was happening. I hadn’t even heard Nate Brown’s cleats thundering behind me. But I certainly heard the thud of his helmet hitting my backside. And felt it. My legs caved underneath me, and I dropped to the ground. Hold on to the ball! Hold on to it!

  Even as I hit the turf hard, I managed to keep the football tightly gripped in my hands. I immediately jumped up, holding it above my head in triumph. I looked over at our bench, where Coach Clark and the offensive team were celebrating. I glanced the other way and saw Keith Hobart, the Milbury quarterback, walking dejectedly off the field. It was only the first quarter of the first game of my senior season at Lincoln. I already had a pickoff. I was pumped.

  “Lincoln interception by number seventy-seven, Reggie Scott.” The announcer’s voice rang across the stadium, validating my big play.

  My celebration was short-lived. As I continued to dance around with the ball in my outstretched arms, I sensed a commotion on the field a few feet behind me. I glanced back. Nate Brown, the Milbury tight end, was still lying on the ground. Something wasn’t right.

  The game officials surrounded him. They motioned to the Milbury sidelines forhelp from the training staff. The expressions on their faces told me that football, at this moment, was the furthest thing from their minds.

  The referee motioned for us to return to our benches. From the sidelines, I looked out to midfield where Brown still lay. He was surrounded by Milbury coaches and training staff. Dr. Stevens, who was on-call for all our Lincoln home games, was out there too.

  “What’s wrong with him?” I asked. Nobody on the sidelines answered. Coach Clark huddled our offense together. They were going over their plays for the next series. Coach Molloy, our defensive coordinator, patted me on the back. “Nice hands, Reggie,” he said. “Real nice hands.”

  I smiled at Coach Molloy. He and I got along well. He had taught me how to tackle as a middle schooler. I had managed to become one of the city’s best middle line-backers in large part because of him. To hear his praise in our first game of the most important season of my life felt great.

  Something wasn’t right, though. Nate Brown was still lying out in the middle of the field. Dr. Stevens was kneeling beside him now, watching him intently and checking his pulse. My chest began to tighten, and I started to sweat. Why wasn’t Nate getting up?

  Then I heard the sirens, getting louder as they approached the Lincoln High School stadium. The ambulance didn’t stop in the parking lot. The coaches had already opened the gate to the track that circled the football field. The ambulance pulled right onto the track and drove parallel to where the Milbury tight end lay. Still motionless.

  As the siren shut off, I heard murmuring in the stands. By now everybody, including all the kids on our team, could sense there was something seriously wrong. The coaches stopped talking to the players. Everybody stopped thinking about the game. All of us were fixated on Nate Brown.

  The paramedics brought a stretcher with them as they crossed the field. Theyhad another device I recognized from tv medical shows. It was a “halo” used to keep an accident victim’s neck stable in the case of a spinal injury.

  The paramedics took their time. They talked to the coaches and the doctor; they took Nate’s pulse and examined him carefully. They fitted the halo around his neck and head and gingerly lifted him onto the stretcher. This was no ordinary football injury.

  A middle-aged couple had rushed down from the stands to the boy’s side. They must be Nate Brown’s parents. They were talking to the coaches and the paramedics. The woman, a tall redhead dressed in a Milbury hoodie and jeans, collapsed onto her knees, sobbing. The man just stood there, staring down at his son.

  The paramedics slowly removed Nate from the field on the stretcher. A kid on the Milbury sidelines began clapping, something we always did when a player got upafter being injured. But Nate hadn’t gotten up. Still, we followed his lead, applauding too. So did the folks in the stands. What else were we supposed to do?

  The coaches huddled at midfield with the officials. They all nodded in agreement. Coach Clark, his face pale and his lips pursed, returned to our side of the field. “Let’s go, guys,” he said. “There isn’t going to be any more football today.”

  I was stunned. A few minutes earlier, we had all been full of adrenaline and emotion. Now we were silently trudging back to our locker room. This was worse than a loss. A lot worse.

  Coach Clark’s gray eyes met mine. “Reggie,” he said softly, “come here a minute.”


  Everybody else was filing quietly into the locker room. Coach pulled me behind the door, out of sight of my teammates. “I just want to be sure you know that this wasn’t your fault,” he said. “You know that, right, Reggie?”

  “Uh, yeah, sure,” I said. I hadn’t really thought about it being anybody’s fault until now. “What’s wrong with him, Coach? Is he going to be all right?”

  Coach Clark shook his head slowly. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’d like to tell you he’s going to be fine, but he wasn’t moving. The paramedics are worried about paralysis.”

  I gulped. Paralysis. “But he’ll be fine, right?” I said. “I mean, they’ll fix him at the hospital.”

  The coach just stared down at the ground. “I can’t tell you anything more than that, Reggie,” he said. “But I can tell you again that it definitely wasn’t your fault. The boy hit you. He had his helmet down. I’ve told all you kids for as long as I can remember that it’s dangerous to hit like that. Now you know why.”

  I nodded. One of the first things my tackle football coaches had taught me in Pop Warner was never to lead withyour helmet. It was illegal. They called it spearing. Still, I had seen plenty of kids do it over the years. But nobody had ever been paralyzed before.

  Coach and I walked into the locker room. The players were changing quietly and grumbling about the game being cancelled. I wasn’t thinking much about the game. It didn’t seem very important now.

  chapter two

  I was in a daze, changing out of my football gear in silence. I didn’t feel much like talking. It was weird. I had felt him hit me, and everything had just seemed normal. Like a thousand other football plays I had been part of.

  “Hey, Reggie.” Jeff Stevens’s deep voice snapped me out of my thoughts. Jeff was Dr. Stevens’s son and our wide receiver. “Feel like coming over tonight to play someXbox 360? I got the new Madden game this week.”

  Jeff was one of my best friends. Normally, I would have loved nothing better than to spend Friday night at his place. The Stevens family lived in a huge house in the ritzy Camelot neighborhood, not far north of Lincoln High. They had a big swimming pool and a hot tub. Jeff’s mom was a terrific cook. But I just didn’t feel like it tonight.

  “I can’t. Plans with my family.” I wasn’t really lying, but I wasn’t exactly telling the truth, either. My parents were at the game. I was riding home with them, but we didn’t have anything special planned.

  “Okay. See you at practice tomorrow,” Jeff said. At the Saturday sessions, our team usually reviewed video of the previous night’s game and then ran through a light, no-pads workout. There wouldn’t be much video to watch tomorrow, though.

  “Later,” I said, watching Jeff leave the locker room. I wasn’t far behind him. I justwanted to get out of the stadium and think about something other than football.

  Mom and Dad were just outside the locker room door. I guess I had taken longer than usual to get changed. There were only a few other sets of parents still waiting.

  “Hey, kiddo!” Dad said with a grin. “How are you doing?”

  “I’m okay,” I said. “I mean, it was kind of weird with them stopping the game. I hope Nate’s all right.”

  “Me too,” said Mom, her eyes opening wide. “The first thing that came to my mind when I saw that boy lying there on the field was that it could have been you. I don’t even want to think about it...”

  Mom put her hand up to her mouth and drew a deep breath.

  “Well, it wasn’t me,” I said.

  “Do you know the kid?” Dad asked.

  “I didn’t recognize the number.”

  I nodded. “It’s Nate Brown. I’ve been at a couple of football camps with him. He’s a nice guy. A good tight end too. He’s really quick.”

  Nobody said anything. I could tell we were all thinking the same thing: We hoped Nate Brown would still be quick after today.

  We walked out to the parking lot. I was just buckling up in the backseat of the Bronco when Mom said, “We thought we’d take you out for a victory supper tonight. You guys didn’t get to play the whole game, but we’ll still go out. What do you feel like?”

  I mulled it over for a few seconds. I wasn’t really feeling hungry. In fact, my mind was not on food at all. It was on Nate Brown. I kept seeing him being carried off the field. I kept seeing his mother breaking down on the field.

  “Can we go to the hospital?” I said it so fast I surprised even myself. “I’m kind of worried about Nate. I mean, he wasn’t even moving.”

  Dad had already left the stadium parking lot. As I spoke, he pulled the car over and stopped.

  “Reggie,” he said, turning his head and looking directly into my eyes. Mom was staring at me too. “It was an accident. What happened to that boy wasn’t your fault.”

  I knew it wasn’t my fault. Why did everybody feel like they had to tell me that?

  “I know,” I said. “I just want to make sure he’s okay.”

  “I’ll tell you what,” Dad replied gently. “We’ll go out and grab a bite to eat. Then we’ll go home and maybe watch a movie. You can go check on Nate at the hospital tomorrow after practice.”

  I nodded.

  “Maybe he’ll even be out by then,” Mom said.

  I didn’t say anything. But somehow, I doubted that very much.

  We went to Sperlini’s for pasta. Normally, I would have been happy to get a big plate of tortellini with meat sauce, a Caesar salad and a Coke. But I still wasn’t hungry. I asked the waiter for a half-order and a water.

  “You feeling okay?” Mom said. “Usually you’re hungrier than this after a game.”

  “We didn’t exactly get a full game in, Mom,” I replied. That got me thinking about Nate Brown all over again. As Mom and Dad talked, I stared ahead at the big-screen television on the wall. It was playing a European soccer game. I tuned everything out. My mind was somewhere else.

  chapter three

  I woke up early the next morning to the sound of geese honking. I got up and went to my window and watched intently as an entire flock flapped past our house. They were flying unusually low, in a V, with one bird leading the way. The rest of them followed the leader, in nearly perfect formation.

  I knew these geese were going south for the winter. Pretty much every fall,I saw the same thing: These huge beautiful birds flying together, honking noisily. Dad had told me about how geese take turns at being the leader. I thought it was pretty cool that these birds were smart enough to share the responsibility. None of them got too tired.

  I had only been thinking about the geese for a few seconds when thoughts of Nate Brown rushed back into my head. I felt butterflies in the pit of my stomach. I wondered how he was doing and whether he was out of hospital yet.

  Mom and Dad were already up and eating breakfast. Dad had the Saturday Times spread across the kitchen island, as usual. Mom was reading a novel. Saturday morning was pretty relaxed around our house. I didn’t feel relaxed this morning.

  “Hey, kiddo,” Dad said. “Have a good sleep?”

  I nodded. But I got right to the point. “Can we go to the hospital today?” I said. “I really want to see if Nate is okay.”

  Mom looked concerned. She glanced at Dad and then fixed her blue eyes on me. “You have something to eat and go to practice, and then I’ll take you up there,” she said.

  Dad was reading the front section of the newspaper. I snatched the sports section of the Times from the pile under him. It was our usual routine on Saturday. It was the only section of the paper I ever read.

  I flipped past the college football coverage and checked out the prep scores from last night. Although we hadn’t got to finish our game, there had been plenty of other high school action. I was curious to see how all the other teams in the city had done in their season-openers.

  The headline running across the top of the inside page caught my eye immediately. Milbury star suffers serious injury. Once again, I felt queasy. But now it was much wo
rse than before.

  Promising Milbury High School tight end Nate Brown remained in hospital last night after being injured in a game at Lincoln High, the story began.

  Brown, a six-foot senior, was hurt as he attempted to tackle Lincoln’s Reggie Scott early in the first quarter. Brown was removed from the field on a stretcher and taken to Gower General Hospital.

  Medical staff at Gower would not provide any information on Brown’s condition last night. But the injury was considered serious enough that the season-opening game between Milbury and Lincoln was halted.

  I scanned the article to the bottom, looking for more information on Nate. But there was none. Obviously, though, the injury was serious if the newspaper was doing a separate story on it.

  “Did you see this?” I asked my parents, my voice croaking. “I wish it said how he was doing.”

  “Don’t worry, Reggie,” Dad said. “There’s nothing you can do about it anyway. You get ready for practice. Mom will take you up there afterward.”

  I went upstairs to wash my face and brush my teeth. About the last thing I felt like doing this morning was playing football. But maybe somebody there would know something more about Nate’s condition.

  Dad drove me to Lincoln, mostly in silence. He could tell I was stewing about Nate Brown. There wasn’t much he could say to make me feel better.

  I got out and began heading to the gym. Dad pulled alongside me and rolled down his window partway.

  “Reggie,” he said, “you can’t dwell on this. Just try to forget about it. Go out there and have some fun.”

  “Okay, Dad,” I replied. But I didn’t feel okay, and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to forget about it. What if Nate never walked again?

  I seemed to be the only one preoccupied with Nate Brown. The accident the night before was only mentioned once—as we watched the brief videotape of the first quarter.

  Just a few plays in, the sequence that caused the injury flickered across the big-screen tv at the front of the room. There was me making the right read and picking off the football. There was me looking upfield. Then, suddenly, there was Nate Brown, lowering his head and slamming into my backside with his helmet.

 
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