Joshua propped his spelling book against the box of cereal and slurped a spoonful from his bowl. He wrinkled his forehead and studied the list of words. Today he couldn’t hesitate or make mistakes. After all, he was the captain of his Spelling Baseball Team, and Mrs. Larsen had announced that the winning team would get pizza for lunch the next day.
Josh and Michael were the two captains. They were the best of friends, but they were always competing against each other. Josh’s soccer team had won the tournament, but Michael had earned the highest grade on the science test. Joshua really wanted to win the spelling contest. He mentally listed the best spellers in the class—Marcy, Tom, Alex, Jenny, and Kathy. Then he listed the worst spellers—Drew, Trevor, and Terry. He wouldn’t pick any more of them than he had to.
Joshua finished his cereal with a gulp and grabbed his backpack. “I’m leaving, Mom,” he called.
His mom hurried into the kitchen. “Time for prayer,” she reminded him.
Joshua rolled his eyes and groaned.
“You have time,” she said with an understanding smile.
Suddenly the kitchen was filled with his sister, two brothers, and father. They knelt around the table, as they did every morning, while his sister, Susan, prayed. Josh’s mind was not on the prayer. He was planning the lineup of his team so that the strongest speller could hit everyone home when the bases were loaded. “And,” said Susan in a louder voice, which interrupted Joshua’s planning, “help everyone on Josh’s team to spell his best.”
Josh winked a thank-you to Susan as he rushed for the door. He hopped on his bike and pedaled to school. Kneeling on the ground to lock his bike to the rack, he noticed Terry scrunched against the brick wall of the school. Josh couldn’t believe what he saw: Terry was reading his speller! He was so dumb that Josh didn’t think he’d ever studied in his life. He looked up, but Josh avoided looking into his eyes. He didn’t want Terry on his team. And he knew Michael wouldn’t want him either.
The bell rang, and the students rushed into the classroom. Mrs. Larsen announced that the baseball game would begin at two o’clock. A groan rose from the class, but Mrs. Larsen just smiled and told the class to take out their arithmetic books.
After lunch, Josh raced out to the playground.
“My team will slaughter you this afternoon,” Michael yelled to Joshua.
Josh laughed. “We’re going to cream you. I have first pick, remember?” He swung by his arms across the horizontal ladder. As he dropped to the ground, he spotted Terry huddled against the building, reading his speller again. “Look,” he shouted to Michael. “Look at Terry over there.”
“Hey,” jeered Michael, “if it isn’t Terry! When did you learn how to read?”
Terry looked up when he heard his name.
“You sure aren’t going to be on my team,” Michael snorted. “Josh is going to get stuck with you.”
Terry looked at Joshua quickly, then hid behind the spelling book. Joshua pretended he hadn’t heard Michael’s words.
After lunch, Josh kept thinking about Terry. Why was he studying so hard? Nobody wanted him on his team, anyway—he was a rotten speller. He would strike out at first bat. But Joshua kept watching Terry. At the end of science he noticed that Terry had again slipped his spelling book open to the review unit.
Two o’clock finally came.
Mrs. Larsen said, “Class, line up along the back wall. Michael, please line your team along the right wall; Josh, please line your team along the left wall.”
Joshua’s first pick was the best speller in the class. “Marcy,” he called. Marcy left the back wall to line up beside him. Michael quickly picked Tom. Joshua picked Jenny, but he was watching Terry.
Terry was trying to appear as though he didn’t care if he were chosen or not. He wore a blank expression on his face as he stared at his shoes. Josh wondered if he minded always being the last kid picked for teams, and he wondered how he would feel if he were picked last for everything. He pushed the thought out of his mind and concentrated on choosing his team.
Michael had chosen Peter, a very good speller. Josh was ready to call out Alex’s name, when Terry suddenly lifted his eyes and looked straight at him.
Joshua hesitated, the words of his sister’s prayer coming into his mind—“And help everyone on Josh’s team to spell his best.” Terry had been studying. He had been studying hard all day—and maybe on other days, for all Josh knew. Surely that was “his best.”
Joshua grinned and called out in a loud voice, “I choose Terry.” Terry’s face broke out in a matching grin as he marched across the room to Josh’s team. As the two crowded together along the chalkboard, both missed the look of happy surprise on Mrs. Larsen’s face.
When the game began, words were pitched to each team. If the player spelled his pitched word correctly, he moved to first base and then on around the field. It was late in the first inning when Terry came up to bat.
“Friend,” said Mrs. Larsen. Terry looked her straight in the eyes, spelled out, “f-r-i-e-n-d,” and went proudly to first base, moving Kathy from third base to home plate.
Joshua, now on second base, whooped, “That pizza is going to taste great tomorrow!”