Mike was nervous. The bow tie made his collar tight, and he couldn’t get his finger to where it itched. His Primary teacher, Brother Thompson, looked at the squirmy nine-year-old and shook his head. He had often thought that Mike was more interested in soccer than the scriptures. Today Brother Thompson was right.
It wasn’t that Mike didn’t like the scriptures. It was just that the big game was a week away, and Mike was having trouble thinking about anything else.
“Mike,” said Brother Thompson, “can you tell me what Jesus did when He learned that His friend Lazarus had died?”
Mike hadn’t been listening. He had been staring out the window and thinking about the Pocatello soccer fields, where the league championship would be decided next Saturday.
Mike played in the league for nine- and ten-year-olds. His team had won all their games. But Mike’s coach had said that they had been lucky to win some of them, and half of them had been won by only one goal. Next Saturday would be the championship game. Mike’s team, the Eagles, would play the Lasers. The Lasers were also undefeated in their league, but they had won every game by at least four goals.
Mike thought about what his coach had told him the day before.
“Mike?” Coach Griego had asked, “Do you want to win next week?”
“Do you think we will win?”
“I think the Lasers are gonna cream us,” Mike had answered truthfully.
“Well, I know one thing,” Coach Griego had said. “In order for us to have a chance at winning, you’ll have to play a good game. You’re our best player, Mike. You’re really going to have to take charge out there.”
Mike thought about what Coach Griego had said. He felt glad that his coach thought that he was the best player on the team. But it made him feel bad, too, because if the Eagles lost, it would probably be his fault.
Brother Thompson continued his lesson … “When Jesus learned that His friend Lazarus had died, He went to where His friend was buried. His disciples wondered why Jesus would leave His important teaching to go to someone who was already dead. But Jesus did what He knew was right. Jesus loved his friend, and one of the lessons he wanted to teach was that we should always do the kindest thing.”
Mike was listening to his teacher now. So was the boy sitting next to him, Clint Price. Clint was on Mike’s soccer team, but Clint was as thin and wispy as Mike was strong and solid. They played a lot of soccer together at home during the week, but at team practice, Mike acted like he hardly knew Clint. All the kids thought that Clint was the worst player on the team, and Mike liked to be around the best players. Clint pretended that it didn’t bother him.
“When Jesus went to see Lazarus,” Brother Thompson continued, “He wept for His friend. Then He prayed to Heavenly Father and raised His friend from the dead. Surely He would have liked to have healed His friend so that he didn’t have to die, but if He had, He would not have shown that He had power over death. He knew that it was important to wait till Lazarus had died before He helped him. So remember how important it is to always do the right thing.”
During the week Mike sometimes pictured his team beating the Lasers by two or three goals. Then he’d think about what it would be like if the Lasers won by their usual four points.
“OK,” said the coach just before the game started. “They’re big, all right, but that means that they’re slow. We can beat them with speed and passing. Now, get out there and win!”
The Lasers soon had the ball sailing toward the goal. The Eagle goalie almost muffed the ball, but he managed to drop-kick it back toward the center of the field.
Mike knew at once that it would be a rough game. The Lasers knew how to use their size. Whenever they powered the ball downfield, several Eagles were knocked down in the process.
The Lasers scored first with a hard shot from just in front of the goal. This time the ball went into the net so fast that the Eagle goalie didn’t have time to react. The Lasers scored again just before halftime on a high kick that came down in front of the goal. A tall Laser player jumped up and butted the ball into the goal with his head. The Eagles walked off the field dejectedly at halftime. The score was Lasers 2, Eagles 0.
No one was more unhappy than Mike. He hadn’t played for most of the first half after he’d collided with a Laser player and hurt his leg. On the sideline he’d done the stretching exercises his coach had showed him. “Coach,” Mike said just before the second half, “those exercises really helped. I’m ready to go back in and play.”
“Good,” said the coach. “We need you.”
For the first five minutes of the second half, the Eagles played evenly with the Lasers. Then the Eagles got the break that they’d been waiting for. A Laser was called for a tripping foul in front of the Laser goal. The Eagles got a penalty kick, and they scored on a high shot that went just inside the net. The score was Lasers 2, Eagles 1.
Less than a minute later the Eagles scored again when the Laser goalie slipped while diving for the ball. Tie game.
The Lasers were angry now. Determined to win the game no matter what, they were called for several roughness penalties. But the Eagles just couldn’t capitalize on them. As the clock began to run out, the score was still 2–2.
Then, when a Laser missed an inbounds pass, the Eagles got the ball and forwarded it to Mike. He turned and looked at the goal, about thirty yards away. Gritting his teeth, he started upfield. Mike was not as large as most of the Lasers, but he was a lot quicker. He outran one defender, faked past another, and suddenly was in the clear, streaking toward the goal with only the goalie to stop him. Mike got ready to take his shot—then he saw something that changed everything.
Normally, Coach Griego didn’t play Clint if the game was close, but because of injuries, the coach had no choice. Clint didn’t like the Lasers’ rough style of play, but he had run near the sideline and slightly behind Mike, just in case …
Near the goal the Laser goalie charged at Mike and dived as Mike’s foot hit the ball. But the ball didn’t go toward the net. The words of Brother Thompson had flashed through Mike’s mind:
“Do the right thing.” Mike sent the ball to Clint, who dribbled just beyond Mike, then drew his leg back to make the kick, the biggest kick of the season.
The ball sailed up and over the top of the goal, missing the net completely. The referee blew his whistle, and the game was over, ending in a 2–2 tie. The Lasers and the Eagles were cochampions.
The Eagles kicked up clods of dirt as they left the field. Clint and Mike were still standing by the goal when the coach walked over. “Why didn’t you score?” he almost shouted at Mike. “The goalie was out of position, and we could have won the game.”
Mike was thinking about what Brother Thompson had said about helping a friend and about doing what’s right. “Clint was open,” Mike explained. “You told us that we’d win with passing, so I passed the ball to Clint.”
The coach shook his head and left the field. A moment later Mike felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Clint’s parents. “Mike,” said Clint’s mother, “I’d just like you to know how glad we are that you passed the ball to Clint. That was the first time that he had a chance to score a goal all year. And it almost went in; it really did. Thank you.”
Clint’s parents walked off the field with their son, their arms around his shoulder. On the sideline Mike’s family waited. His father was smiling. “Mike,” he said, “that was quite a thing you did out there. I’m proud of you, Son.”
“Clint was open,” Mike said simply as they all walked to the car. “It was the right thing to do.”