“You need glasses! You wouldn’t know a foul if it knocked you over!” Melvin sputtered at the referee.
“That’s it! You’re out,” the referee yelled back.
Melvin stomped off the court. He dropped onto the bench and glared at the floor.
The coach sat down beside him. “Do you know what this means?”
Melvin nodded without looking up. “I set a new record.”
“More than that,” the coach said. “It worked again.”
Melvin knew what was coming. He’d heard it before—how the other team knew that if they could get him angry enough, he’d lose his temper and get thrown out of the game. But he couldn’t help himself. He got so mad that if he didn’t do something, he’d explode.
“You’re the best player I have,” the coach said. “You just have to keep your cool!”
The final buzzer sounded. The coach yelled something about next Friday’s championship game as Melvin stalked off the court. “Fourteen times!” he muttered, pounding his fist into his hand. He had just broken the school basketball record for technical fouls on one player. It wasn’t an achievement he was proud of.
Who needs refs anyway! Melvin thought, suddenly glad he had invited his buddies over for a friendly game of baseball.
They were already gathering in his backyard by the time he arrived. Soon they were laughing and playing ball together in the small park down the street.
In the first inning, an opposing batter hit a towering shot to deep left field. As he rounded third base and headed for home, Melvin screamed, “Throw me the ball!”
There was a satisfying thump as ball connected with glove, and Melvin tagged the runner. “You’re out!” he proclaimed triumphantly.
“Safe!” the runner yelled back.
“Uh-uh, I tagged you.”
Everyone started yelling at once.
“He slid under your mitt!”
“He’s safe—I was standing right there!”
“He touched the base before you touched him!”
Finally Melvin jumped atop a bench and yelled, “I got him out! You guys are as blind as bats. If you can’t play baseball right, then maybe …” His voice trailed off. The boys were picking up their gloves and leaving.
Melvin dragged home and slumped onto the stump of a tree cut down several years before. He picked at the dirt that filled the holes in the dry wood.
Suddenly his older brother, Mike, sat down beside him. “Short game, huh?”
“Yeah,” Melvin said quietly. “Every time I open my mouth, something bad happens.”
“How about just every time you open your mouth in anger?”
“I bet you don’t know how all those holes got in that stump,” his brother challenged.
Melvin shook his head.
“I put them there.” Getting up, Mike went to the garage and returned with a bucket of rusty nails and a hammer. “Who do you think set the previous record for technical fouls at your school?”
Melvin’s eyes widened. “You?”
His brother chuckled. “It would’ve been a lot higher if Dad hadn’t shown me how he learned to control his temper.” He pulled a nail out of the bucket. “These have been pounded in and pulled out of this old stump at least a hundred times each.”
“Will it keep me from getting angry?” Melvin asked.
“No. I wish it were that easy. You’ll probably still feel angry—at least for a while. But what you do with that anger … Well, after a little practice, you can begin to control that.”
Melvin took the hammer. With an easy swing, he drove the nail deep into the old stump. Then he pounded another, and another.
By dinnertime Melvin had pounded more than fifty nails, and the anger had melted away.
Over the next week, Melvin visited the stump almost every day. Sometimes he went before he lost his temper and started yelling or throwing things. Other times he went afterward and worked out the rest of the anger.
The day of the championship game arrived. The school gym was filled with students. Melvin checked his shoelaces one final time. The buzzer sounded, starting the game.
Feet pounded up and down the court. Back and forth the ball changed hands. Melvin snatched the ball from an opponent and raced toward the basket.
Melvin tumbled to the floor. He rolled over in time to see the grinning face of the boy who had just knocked him down.
Melvin jumped to his feet, his heart racing. Jaw clenched and blood vessels bulging, he stalked over to his opponent. Part of him wanted to shove the boy back and yell at the referee, “Are you blind? Aren’t you going to call a foul?” Part of him wished he was home at the backyard stump so that he could pound out his anger before he lost his temper.
Suddenly Melvin had an idea. He balled up the fist of his right hand and opened flat his left hand. Thwack! Thwack! Thwack! Over and over he pounded as if his fist were the hammer and his palm the stump, until he felt himself gain control. Then he turned and walked away from his bewildered opponent.
Early in the second half, Melvin faked his man out of position and drove to the basket. At the last second, the other team’s tall center stepped into his path. Wham! They both went spinning to the floor as the ref’s whistle blew. “Charging!” the ref shouted, pointing at Melvin.
Melvin jumped to his feet. Charging? he was screaming inside his head. He didn’t have position, you idiot! But outwardly he merely pounded his palm as hard as he could. The ref looked him over, fingered his whistle, then turned and gave the ball to the center to throw inbounds.
The game continued. Late in the second half, with the score tied, Melvin sprinted downcourt, leading a fast break. He caught a full-court pass on the run, dribbled once, and gathered himself for an easy lay-up.
Whack! Melvin was pushed hard from behind and went sprawling into a row of spectators behind the basket, barely missing the basket support. A whistle sounded. Without even looking to see who had pushed him, Melvin began pounding his fist. But this time it sounded louder. Melvin opened his eyes to see the other students smacking their fists in rhythm with each other. With each supporting thwack of the students’ hands, Melvin became more determined to finish the game without losing control.
When the final buzzer sounded, Melvin jumped about and high-fived the rest of the team—and not only because they were the champions. He had won a much more important victory: He had kept his cool. He had finished a whole game without a technical foul! It was a new record—one that he was not ashamed of. He looked into the crowd and found Mike giving him the thumbs-up sign.