THIS WAS A big game for both coaches. Although they had remained best friends for the past twenty-two years Billy and Spirit were, nonetheless, still competitive at heart. Coach Pedakakis was popular in this community, but he had not won a league championship in four years. And some of the fathers of the seniors were putting a lot of pressure on Billy. Coach Sintasket knew all too well that this might be the Bobcats’ last chance for a winning season and the last opportunity to finally beat his old friend. Spirit received pressure as well, but it all came from within his own mind, his pride. Spirit carried a burden in his mind… the burden that he had already lost two games and he felt both should have been won.
Friday, after school, Spirit, Abel, and the team entered the bus and headed north on Highway 21. It was an uneventful trip except for one stop while the bus driver got out and examined the front bumper after he hit a cub, a black bear that was lumbering across the road. Also, they did have to slow down and stop for a large flock of turkeys that crossed 21. But the kids were quiet, deep in thought on this trip. They knew that Sinkiuse had not won a gridiron contest against Eureka in almost twenty years. Cloud, Sylix, Tyee, and Larry especially wanted to perform well because they knew college scouts would be in attendance.
The Bobcat bus pulled into the large parking lot and came to a stop behind the school. Billy was there to greet Spirit. They gave each other a half-hug and shook hands. Billy said, “I guess you know where to go. Here’s the locker room key, but we have a pancake feed prepared for all the players. Just unload your stuff and head into the cafeteria.”
After a hospitable dinner the boys suited up and listened to Spirit’s strategy for the game. He instructed Larry to mix up the offensive plays with about a third to Tulameen, a third to Sylix, and split the remaining third between Swift, Mac, and any of the subs. Spirit felt that Larry was fully recovered, but he was unsure about the younger Skosum. Swift was running strong, but Spirit considered, His cuts haven’t been quick, he’s had trouble changing directions, his back must still be a little tender, and his decisions haven’t been good. He’s certainly not the player he was when we were at Wapato.
Spirit knew that Swift was provided a refill for his pills. The coach wondered if the pain killers were affecting the boy’s judgement.
Spirit finished his game plan with a talk about sportsmanship. He knew it was not necessary because these kids had always performed well in that area, but he continued to give that speech because it was something that he strongly believed in. Spirit had learned early on from Coach Ellsworth, his old high school coach, and recalled his exact words, Sportsmanship meant honor and, no accolades, no championship, no victory was as important as honor. In the final analysis, that’s all a man has… his honor. You can throw it away in an instant, but it’ll take years of great effort to earn it back.
With that reminder the Bobcats left the locker room, walked across the vast courtyard, and descended down the long, steep stairs to the football field. Spirit hesitated at the top of the stairs, looked over the scene, and took in a long, deep breath of the familiar, sweet, autumn aroma. He took in the view of the familiar, expansive, almost flat face of Big Gibraltar Mountain which filled much of the southeast sky. It was an enormous structure that almost encroached upon the football field. Spirit could smell the humidity in the cool, crisp air. A small waterfall peeked out from the wall face and the Sinkiuse River gently flowed west between the mountain and the field as it abruptly turned south towards the reservation and its ultimate destination into the mighty Columbia.
After Spirit descended the stairs and crossed the field he spotted Billy. They again shook hands. Down-playing his most talented team yet, Spirit informed Billy, “My quarterback’s recovering from an injury, and my top running back isn’t quite healthy yet.”
“My quarterback’s in the same condition. Buddy suffered a hard hit against the Lions and then it was aggravated during last week’s game with the Rangers. But I think he’s recovered enough to give a decent showing tonight.” Billy was referring to his senior team leader, Buddy Browder, one of the top rated 8-man quarterbacks in the state.