He's feeling bad because of his dad. While he and Joanne knew he was ill, suffering from diabetes, they weren't expecting him to go when he did. One day he was stopping by the house, hanging out with the kids, and the next he was gone. He didn't tell anyone when he checked himself into a hospice center in March, didn't ever say goodbye.

Looking back, Jaden thinks he should have known what was coming. A few weeks before the end, his dad had told him he didn't want Jaden playing football anymore, so he could spend more time on lacrosse. This from a man who'd played semi-pro football here and in Canada, a guy who spent his weekends coaching youth football, a father who was so stringent in demanding that his children put 110 percent into everything that it was sometimes hard to tell if it was because he believed in them or because he was just plain mean.

Maybe he told Jaden to quit football because he didn't want him getting hurt on the gridiron. Maybe it was because he knew just how hard it is to go all the way to the top in football — and figured that with lacrosse, Jaden might have a better shot. Either way, Jaden's seriously considering dropping football next year, even though he loves it almost as much as lacrosse. And now, while he may have arrived at the Denver Elite practice an hour late, he's going to do what his dad said and give it 100 percent. And then some.

On the field, it's time for shooting drills — with an added twist: Trevor Tierney's in the goal. Just the thought of staring down a superstar like this would be enough to set some fourteen-year-olds trembling in their cleats. But not Jaden. He grabs a pass from a teammate, spins around a defender and cuts in front of the goal — rocketing a behind-the-back missile straight at the greatest goalie in the game.

The ball smacks Trevor straight in his helmeted forehead and bounces away. Next time, Jaden knows, it'll go in.


May 22, the day of Joanne and Jaden's last regular-season game, starts like their teammate Kei'zuan's poem about City Lax:

45 degrees

Sun barely peeking through the clouds

Parents forming crowds

The chill of the wind has embraced my face

Tears form, the cold sneaking away.

Although the air is warmer than in the poem, the eye-watering wind is here, whipping through the grass in Martin Luther King Park. The crowds are forming, too, ready to watch the eighth-grade boys take on the Panthers from Arapahoe County at 11:30 a.m. and, the next field over, their female counterparts face off against the Columbine Coyotes a half-hour later. In fact, the home teams' cheering squad is larger than normal: babies, grandfathers, local kids who don't play on City Lax but are nonetheless messing with sticks and balls, Rosie Franklin doling out bear hugs.

Shoes tied, check

Tape on my stick

Mouthpiece in

Ah yeah, it's time to hit.

The City Lax boys start things off with a bang: Kris, their face-off guy, wins the ball at first whistle and hustles toward the goal. On the sidelines, Erik Myhren's taking photos of the action and thinking about his next big play: organizing the Denver City Lax premiere at the Paramount Theatre in August. Some of the proceeds will go toward his charity, KNUW Seeds, the rest toward Jaden's tuition to Kent — if Jaden gets in, that is. Rod Allison is here, too, handing out tickets to the high-school boys' championship at Invesco this afternoon, at the same time he's trying to figure out how to get sticks into the hands of more kids in City Park, Whittier, Cole, Curtis Park and Five Points, expanding the reach of City Lax.

Looking down the road for the nod from my coach

It's time to start the show

The silence hits my ears. No more cheers

Just me, the ball, stick in the air, number four coming towards me with no look of fear.

Soon both fields are a blur of activity, with the City Lax players in blue, white and black proving they don't just belong on these fields, they own them. Again and again, speedsters like Isaiah, Kei'zuan, Jada and Marjoya streak down the field on fast breaks. And when their opponents get the ball, players like Patrick and Trevon are usually just as quick to leave them sprawled in the grass. Failing that, José and his wide-mouthed goalie stick make sure the ball never touches the back of his net.

Kei'zuan scores, as do Kris, Miles, Trevon and Isaiah for the boys' team; and Jada, Marjoya, Leora Bibbs, Ahsten Green and Desia Antwine for the girls. At halftime, the City Lax boys are up 7 to 2, and the girls at their half will be winning 6 to 4.

I grab my stick, I juke to the right, swim move to the left

Hold my stick, feet set.

Everybody is yelling, "Kei'zuan, pass the ball!"

But I am only focused on one thing

Getting that ball straight through the goalie's feet.

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