I’ve never been crazy about my name, Antoinette. It sounds like some fragile French girl who couldn’t look at a spider or a fly without fainting. So I got everybody to call me Toni, which fits me a whole lot better than Antoinette.
I think I started playing basketball the day I climbed out of my stroller. My brothers thought it was kind of funny, because the ball was bigger than I was, but that didn’t stop me. I got so that I could really dribble and shoot well. Once our home teacher asked me what I was going to do when I grew up, and I said, “Play professional basketball.”
The summer before I went to sixth grade, we left our little town of Cotter Creek and moved to the city. It was a bit scary being in a big place, but we bought a house just two blocks west of the city park, and it had the biggest outside basketball court I’d ever seen.
The first day we moved in, I went to the park—and every day after that! One afternoon I was shooting free throws when a bunch of boys came and started playing a game on the next court over. I didn’t pay much attention until one of them said, “Maybe we can get that girl to play in Devin’s place.”
“It’s just to make the teams even,” someone else said.
A moment later someone walked up behind me. “Hey, do you want to play?” I turned around. There was this boy, probably a year older than I was and about two inches taller. He had a friendly smile. “We’re short one player,” he explained.
“Sure, I’ll play with you.”
“I’m Tanner. Are you new around here?”
“We moved in a couple weeks ago. I’m Toni.”
“Do you know how to play?” one of the others asked when I went over to their court.
“I can dribble without falling down,” I muttered.
“Just don’t throw the ball away,” a blond boy growled back.
At first, nobody trusted me near the ball; then I got a break. Tanner was being double-teamed and was about to have the ball knocked out of his hands. I was standing a few feet from him in the open because no one figured they had to guard me. Tanner tossed me the ball. I shot a little jumper that swished through the net.
“Lucky shot!” the guys on the other team hooted.
The next time Tanner got the ball, I was under the basket in the open again. He tossed it to me, and I went up for another two points. Twice more Tanner fed the ball to me, and I hit the basket two more times.
After that, the other team had someone guard me. I stole the ball right out of the hands of one of their players and raced for our basket, spinning and going in for a smooth layup. Everybody else just stood and gawked at me.
We won the game, and I ended up being the high scorer on our team. The players on the other team complained that the only reason I had scored was that no one was guarding me. Tanner laughed and challenged them, “All right, which one of you wants to go one-on-one against Toni?” There were no takers.
After the game, we walked down the street to the supermarket, and some of the guys went in. Tanner and I stayed outside. Soon the others returned with soda pop for all of us. Everybody was really nice, and for the first time since leaving Cotter Creek, I felt things were going well for me.
Afterward we walked over to Tanner’s house and watched TV. We’d been there for only a few minutes, when someone asked Tanner where his mom was. He shrugged and said that she was gone and wouldn’t be back for an hour or so. I squirmed uneasily because my parents’ rule was that I wasn’t to go over to a friend’s home unless one of the parents was there. I should have left, but I didn’t. I told myself that it really didn’t matter because we weren’t doing anything wrong.
From then on, I spent a lot of time with Tanner and his friends. Many times after playing in the park, we’d stop at the supermarket for drinks. Usually I didn’t have any money, but Tanner just waved me away and laughed. “It’s no big deal, Toni. You watch the bikes and one of the guys will grab something for you.”
After getting our drinks, we’d bike to someone’s house and watch TV. Many times no parents were there, but since I had stayed that first time at Tanner’s place, it got easier to tell myself that everything was OK. We weren’t doing anything wrong, even though there were times when the guys talked kind of crude.
One Monday night in his home evening lesson about Alma in the court of King Noah, Dad explained how Alma stood up to the wicked priests, who had been his friends, and told them to spare the life of the prophet Abinadi. Dad challenged us to be like Alma, even when it wasn’t the popular thing to do.
“Why are the scripture stories always about boys?” I complained at the end of the lesson. “I’d like some scripture stories about girls.”
Dad smiled. “Toni, there are some wonderful stories about women in the scriptures. But who the scripture character is, is not the important thing. The important thing is the lesson we can learn from whomever the story is about. You don’t have to be a man to learn the same lesson that Alma learned.”
“I’m not at all like Alma,” I said. “I want a scripture story about girls doing real things. When am I ever going to be running around with a bunch of wicked priests, talking back to a crooked king?”
My brothers laughed and rolled their eyes.
A few days later, after my regular afternoon basketball game with the guys, we all headed for the supermarket.
That afternoon Tanner and I went into the store with the others. I didn’t have any money, but Tanner grabbed a couple of sodas for us. As he strolled down the aisle, he slipped them under his big T-shirt and down into the pockets of his baggy knee-length shorts. Then he followed me out of the store.
Suddenly I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I still wasn’t sure if I had actually seen what Tanner did, until the others came out of the store and he pulled the two sodas from his pockets and handed me one.
“You didn’t pay for those, Tanner,” I blurted out.
While the others gathered around, Tanner laughed, still holding the soda out to me. “These are two bonus cans, Toni. We give this store so much business that we deserve to pick up some free stuff once in a while.” The others laughed and nudged Tanner playfully. “Tyson and Brent picked up a couple of free drinks too.”
I gaped. “I can’t drink stolen pop.”
“You can’t?” Tanner asked, a smirk on his face. “What do you think you’ve been drinking all the other times we’ve come down here? Did you think someone else was paying for your drinks?”
“I just thought … Yes … I mean …”
All the guys laughed. Tanner popped the lid from the can and again held it out to me. “Go ahead, Toni, drink it. It won’t kill you. Besides, you didn’t take it—I did.”
“You do this all the time?” I asked, still having a hard time understanding.
“But it’s still stealing,” I rasped.
“It didn’t bother you before.”
“I didn’t know before. I—I guess I’m not thirsty.”
Tanner shrugged, and held it up. “Anybody want a soda?” Three or four hands grabbed for it.
While the guys drank their sodas, I stood there wishing that I’d never left the basketball court. They were my friends. We had had good times together. But they were doing things I knew were wrong. I had been doing wrong. I had gone to their homes without their parents being there. I had been choosing the wrong, too, and making excuses for myself.
Suddenly I thought of Alma, and I realized that even though he was a man who lived two thousand years ago, he knew what it was like to stand up to friends and tell them he didn’t want to keep doing what was wrong. And I knew that it didn’t make any difference that he was a man and I was a girl. Just like Dad had said, the lesson to learn was the same.
“Let’s head over to my place,” Tanner said. “We’ll have the house to ourselves for a while. And I found a video hidden in the top of my brother’s closet that will be interesting to check out.”
All the guys started climbing onto their bikes, but I choked out, “I’m going home, Tanner.”
“You don’t want to come with us?”
“I’d better get home,” I said slowly. “Mom’s probably waiting for me.”
Tanner shrugged. “That’s cool. Maybe you can come over tomorrow. We’ll tell you if the video’s any good.”
I prayed silently for the courage to speak out like the prophet Alma, and not put the blame on Mom. Then I shook my head. “I won’t be coming again.”
“Do you think that you’re too good to hang around with us?” Tanner growled.
I swallowed hard. “I’m just trying to do what’s right.” I took my bike and started to walk away.
“You’ll be shooting baskets by yourself,” Tanner called after me. “If you’re too good to hang around with us, we don’t want you any more.”
I stopped, knowing that walking away meant having to make new friends. It probably meant being teased. But I had to do it, just as Alma had. A few minutes before, I had felt sick, not knowing for sure what I should do. But that sick feeling was gone now, and in its place was a warm, comfortable feeling. I climbed onto my bike and headed home to talk to Dad and Mom.