“I think we ought to kick Robby Burns off the team,” my best friend, Joey, said to me one day after a football game. “He can’t run very fast, and he’s always fumbling the ball.”
“Yeah, and whenever he plays,” I mumbled, “we usually lose.”
“But you’ll hurt his feelings,” said Joey’s younger sister Margie, who had overheard us.
“What does she know about guys playing football,” I grumbled under my breath. “I’ll see how the other guys feel about it,” I said aloud to Joey. “If they agree with us, I’ll talk to Robby after supper.”
“I think you’re both awful,” Margie complained. “Robby can’t help it if he’s not as good as you two are.”
“Margie,” I said, trying to be patient with her, “we’ll still play with him, but not football. He can watch us when we play that.”
I looked up, and Robby was standing right beside me. He had heard what I had said!
“Don’t worry,” he said, smiling. “I don’t mind not playing.”
Something about his smile stuck in my mind. Way down deep I knew that if I’d heard someone say that he didn’t want me on his team, I wouldn’t have smiled. That night after dinner I went for a walk with my dad. “You can understand how we feel, can’t you, Dad?” I asked him as we walked along. “He never helps us win. He’s just not good enough.”
“Yes,” Dad answered, “I do understand how you feel. Even so, it won’t be easy deciding which is more important—winning a game or keeping a friend.”
“But Robby’s still our friend. He told me he doesn’t care if he doesn’t play. I know he understands why we dropped him from the team.”
“I hope you’re right,” Dad said thoughtfully.
The next day in school we had a spelling bee. Robby Burns was one captain, and he picked me to be on his team. “We’ll have a contest each day for four days,” the teacher explained, “and the team that spells the most words correctly will represent our class in a spelling bee against the other third grade class.”
It sure sounded like fun. It was fun, too—except that I found out I wasn’t as good a speller as I thought I was. But Robby was terrific. He never missed a word. The other two on our team didn’t miss many, either. But I sure did.
On the last day we were tied with another team for first place, and there was a special spell-off. I was scared, but Robby encouraged me every time my turn came. It didn’t do much good, though, because the words were just too hard for me, and I missed nearly every one. I felt awful when we lost and the other team was declared the champions. I wouldn’t have blamed Robby for being sore, but he wasn’t.
“I’m sure sorry, Robby,” I apologized. “If it hadn’t been for me, our team would’ve won.”
“That’s OK, Chris,” he answered. “I know you did your best. Besides, it was fun just being on the same team.”
I thought of a few days ago, when I’d said we didn’t want him on our football team.
“Robby’s quite a guy,” I told Dad that night at supper.
“He sounds like a good sport,” Dad answered.
Dad was right. That’s just what Robby was—a good sport. He wanted to win as much as anyone, but he was willing to lose rather than hurt someone else’s feelings.
The next afternoon when the guys got together to play football, I made a little speech. “And from now on,” I said, “anyone who wants to play, can, and no one is going to make fun of someone else. We’re not a professional team where everyone has to be terrific. We’re just a bunch of neighborhood kids who want to have a good time.”
Robby was standing next to me. “Come on, sport,” I said to him, “you’re on my team!”