The Shell of a Turtle

Angelina Ren

The air shimmered with tangible heat as I bent down to tighten the laces on my sneakers.
I followed behind the chattering girls trying out for varsity soccer. An Upper East Side dog
walker strolled past, bopping to a song on her headphones. She paused only to attend to the mess
her golden retriever was leaving behind. 
Then I was alone again.
We arrived at the bench on the soccer field and put our belongings down. I slid on the
long socks and shin guards. All the girls plopped down on the bench. I pretended that I wanted to
stand, to stretch, to prepare, but the truth was, I didn’t want to ask them all to squeeze together to
make room for me. A girl who came skipping up to us with her light blue Stanley tumbler forced
the rest to move in so she could sit.
All of the others had been on the team for a year, but I had never tried out before. Fear
crawled over my body, prickling my skin. My heart was hammering in my chest, and I could feel
their gazes on me. I came into this tryout season, knowing this team was like a cult of white, 5’7,
“popular” party girls, and I was the only Asian present. And a library geek, at that. 
Coach Jacobs blew her whistle and instructed us to gather around. I shuffled in my
mustard cleats across the green turf field, my steps echoing in the uncertainty of my heartbeat. 
“Hi, everyone! I hope we are all excited because it’s…,” Coach paused for cheering, “the
first day of tryouts for the Varsity Soccer team!” 
“Let’s begin! First things first, the preseason captains will lead the warm-ups.” 
The team leaders were at the front of our two-by-two line, with a lap around the field--
with me at the rear of the pack. I scanned the field, hoping to find a familiar face, but to no avail.
We continued with warm-ups, doing side lunges, speed sprints, and knee stretches. While my
teammates were engaging in lighthearted laughter and conversations about their summer, I
remained silent and did my exercises to the best of my ability.
Following our warm-up routine, Coach Jacobs gathered us into a circle and provided a
general overview of the tryout process. Her words were encouraging, expressing a desire for
everyone to feel embraced by this “exceptional team.”
As we transitioned into rondos--the drill in which individuals in the middle aim to
intercept the ball from those on the outside--I felt akin to a mouse navigating a maze surrounded
by cats. Each time I reached the outer circle, it felt as though I was an easy target, about to be
pounced on by my teammates. Whenever one of them passed me the ball, I was besieged by
defenders. It deprived me of any opportunity to react or find space, which ultimately resulted in
the loss of possession.
I felt their eyes on me, sizing me up-- perhaps registering my arms and legs as being
feeble and fragile. Asians weren’t symbols of prowess and athleticism.
The last activity in our tryout was a scrimmage. Since there was an odd number of 17
people, an 8 vs. 8 match began, with me serving as the substitute for the blue team. 
The assistant coach, Coach Powers, handed me the timer and instructed me to signal
when 15 minutes were remaining, at which point he would put me into the game. I nodded as he
walked away to offer guidance to my teammates on the field. 
I kept glancing back and forth from the field to the timer, and eventually, the clock hit the
15-minute mark. I did not want to seem pushy, and I was sure that Coach would call me in when
he felt the need. 
When Coach Powers returned, he seemed perplexed, "There's still more than 15 minutes
I lowered my gaze, "Sorry, no. There's, um, seven minutes left." Coach Powers shook his
head in mild exasperation, urging me to hurry and get onto the field.
Even with only minutes of playing time left, I found myself making numerous
mistakes. Right away, the ball ricocheted off my cleat, bouncing out of bounds. After that, none
of my teammates attempted to pass me the ball, a fact that oddly brought me relief.
Despite my continuous effort to sprint alongside the wing player, the scrimmages
consistently veered to the opposite side, leaving me running without reward. 
Coach Jacobs pulled me aside, “Angelina, call for the ball. Communicate.” 
The next play, I tried asking for the ball, but my voice emerged only as a timid mutter,
gaining no notice. As a result, I couldn’t get a single opportunity to touch the ball. I was just an
extra player filling a position, with little or no purpose. 
At the end of the tryouts, the team captain, Lily, tried to sound me out about my
experience with the team and whether I had found it enjoyable. 
In those moments, my nerves took hold, and I hesitated to meet her gaze, worrying that
my smaller, darker, more Asian eyes might seem odd in contrast to her larger, blue eyes. My
hands grew clammy, and I wiped them across my black-striped Adidas shorts. There was a slight
tremor in my voice as I responded, “It’s enjoyable, yeah. I think it’s, um, great, ha ha.” I hoped
the conversation would end there, and she would leave me alone.
Before she was about to follow up with another question, the other captain asked her to
go over to make a TikTok video with the other people trying out for the team. 
“Hey, Angelina, come join us!” Lily asked, motioning me to walk over with her. 
“No, it’s okay. Sorry, I have to go.” I grabbed my bag, and rushed off.
The day the team roster was released, I felt a whirlwind of emotions as I scanned the list.
A surge coursed through my veins as my eyes locked onto my name among the listed members.
My hand flew to my mouth, muffling in an involuntary, breathless gasp. 
It crossed my mind that perhaps the decision to cut only one player was the only reason I
had been spared the ax. The jettisoned girl was only a beginner, after all. If another head had to
roll, it would have undoubtedly been mine, and, even though I had been given a nod of
acceptance, I couldn't help but feel as if I didn't quite align with the envisioned team image,
whether it be in appearance, personality, or ability.
The next day, we were supposed to choose our jerseys, which was followed by the order
of seniority. Unfortunately, I found myself with the last pick. When it was finally my turn, there
was only a size medium remaining for the #7 jersey. Despite being a size small, I had no other
options, and, of course, I hesitated in voicing my concerns. Even when the coach suggested
swapping jerseys among teammates, fear held me back. I would barely get the chance to play
anyway, so the jersey size did not matter.
Shortly after, our season kicked off, filled with numerous games. I was granted only a
few precious minutes on the field in each match. Whenever a goal was scored and I was on the
pitch, the entire team would rush over to hug the scorer in celebration. I hesitated though,
walking over with a smile, reluctant to join the embraces, fearful that my Chinese skin and body
odor might not smell pleasant.  
I skipped most team dinners. Whenever the team group chat buzzed with messages about
an upcoming dinner, my eyebrows would draw together, the bridge of skin between them
wrinkling. I thought of countless excuses such as my mother’s birthday or I had to visit my aunt,
rehearsing each excuse in my mind, yet no teammate ever so much as inquired about my
absences. Maybe it was because they didn't notice that I wasn’t present or perhaps my attendance
simply didn't matter. 
In each game, I consistently served as the first substitute, entering the field around the 20-
minute mark to play as a right-wing and exiting the match at around the 40-minute mark, not
reentering unless a player became injured. I was never confident when in possession of the ball,
often hurriedly scanning the field to locate a teammate for an immediate pass. The idea of
dribbling filled me with fear since I did not want to turn over the ball and cause my team to
scramble back on defense. I could not allow myself to become a liability. Yet despite my
challenges, our team performed admirably, securing victories in the majority of our matches and
propelling us into the playoff round.
In the semifinals, our #3-seeded team confronted the seemingly invincible #1 seed. While
that team proved formidable, we mounted a resilient challenge. On the field of battle, some of
my teammates became injured, whether suffering a concussion, a torn knee ligament, or a shin
splint. I was forced into a starting position as the center defensive player--my first time serving
in this role, and I was nervous since I suddenly had to be the orchestrator of the game’s dynamics
and control the tempo. I found myself changing directions at all times, to be open, so that my
teammates could constantly pass the ball back to me, always in search of another opportunity to
bring the ball up the field. Under my field leadership, we always seemed to be forced to change
directions, having lost possession and finding ourselves thrust back on defense and having to
mount another counterattack. In the end, we lost with a 0-1 score.
Our season drew to a close due to our loss in the state semi-finals, placing an emphatic
period to the sentence. Surrounded by Lily and Julia's tearful expressions, and my team members
embracing in sorrow, I found myself unable to display any hint of sadness. Once more, I stood in
silence, simply hoping that the uncomfortable moment would pass so that I could go home. 
The summer of 2023 arrived--the start of the next soccer season--and all the familiar
feelings came rushing back. 
Stepping into preseason, I navigated through the familiar processes. Though this time as
an upperclassman, I discovered a newfound willingness to engage with my teammates. 
“Amelia, how was your summer?” I asked my teammate, who was jogging behind me as
we approached the team bench. 
“Amazing, actually. Bro, you know I went to Australia to watch the Women’s World Cup
soccer final?” 
“No freakin’ way! That sounds so fun!” 
“Yeah, low-key sad, U.S. lost though. You know, it’s okay because we are going to make
up that loss when we become champions in our school league this year!” 
I chuckled, and told Amelia “she sure knew the deal.”
The freshmen approached me and asked questions about the preseason schedule, such as
whether or not we would get punished for arriving late to tryouts and how many people would be
cut from the team. I answered them to my best extent, and even told one of the girls’ that I loved
her cleats.
I smiled, making the conscious decision to integrate into the team's dynamic.
Since many of the former players left, I was chosen to start on the right wing, and our
season was exceptional, as we won every match within our league. Throughout the season, I
honed my skills, developing a better sense of connection with the ball, having more confidence
in dribbling up the field and seizing more than a few opportunities to shoot the ball.
In the course of the season, I decided to make the most out of our team bonding sessions.
Per usual, our captain, Mary, texted our group chat within two months into our season,
announcing that she planned for everyone to have a team dinner at her house that Saturday night.
I hesitated before ultimately asking my mom if she could provide me with a ride. 
“Ride where?” She seemed puzzled. I usually didn’t go out on school weekends. 
“Soccer is having a team dinner… and I guess I want to go.” I rubbed my ears, jerking
my shoulders into a shrug. My mom couldn’t believe it, and she quickly went to get the car ready
by 6:30 PM on Saturday, ensuring that I would be at least half an hour early for the event. Mom
seemed more excited than me. 

Mary opened the door for me as I arrived, “Angelina? How rare to see you at a team
function!” she joked, taking my coat, and to my surprise, all my teammates welcomed me in,
showing me to the array of snacks on the counter: chocolate pretzels, fresh cheese AND
pepperoni pizza, sparkling water, charcuterie board, pasta, carrot and celery sticks, and hummus,
and of course, classic potato chips. We had a full-on karaoke session that night and then sat
around the living room watching She’s the Man, a movie about a girl who plays on the boys’
soccer team at her prep school. 
The following week, we engaged in a thrilling game against a former league rival,
playing neck to neck, and going for every ball. Slide tackles flew all over the place and I found
myself constantly rolling across the grass, slipping as I tried to gain control of the ball. One
opponent even attempted to grab my jersey as I was dribbling, but I passed the ball to my
teammate and slipped out of her grasp.
As the second half unfolded and we maintained a slim lead at 2-1, our captain had an
opportunity to take a crucial corner kick. 
Positioned just outside the box, closer to the sidelines, I hesitated, assuming this chance
should be seized by my stronger teammates, better equipped for a successful header. 
Coach Powers disrupted my thoughts, shouting my name, “Come on, Angelina! Get in
the penalty box.
Reluctantly, I obeyed. A weaker defender, barely jogging, deliberately stood in front of
me, perhaps underestimating my potential. 
As our captain adjusted the ball, ready to take the kick, I juked my defender by stepping
backward, and before she knew it, I had evaded her, charging the white net. I found myself in the
direct middle of the box, almost as if the moment were destined. 
As the ball sailed in from my corner kick, Sheryl, my teammate, jumped in an attempt to
head the ball into the goal, but it skidded off her temple, aligning perfectly with my leap. 
Then, my head made contact with the ball, and I witnessed the orb traveling toward the
The goalkeeper dove to save the ball, but the attempt fell short, and the ball nestled into
the lap of the net. A rush of ecstasy flooded through me—all my hopes and doubts coalescing
into that transcendent moment, a victory for both myself and my teammates. 
I opened my arms wide, soaring like an eagle as I launched myself into the air, finding
Amelia’s outstretched arms and those of my other teammates as they swarmed around,
enveloping me in their collective embrace. 
“We did it!” I yelled at the top of my lungs.
“You’re like a turtle finally stepping out of her shell.” Amelia patted my shoulders,
smiling. We ran back to the halfway line. 
“Turtles need their shells,” I said, laughing.
She grinned back. “Our team is your shell, girl."

Angelina Ren is a 16-year-old from New York City. She is on her school's varsity soccer
team. Angelina has a passion for writing, business, and entrepreneurship. She runs a nonprofit
called Teddy Bear Community, which offers numerous types of classes to K-12 students,
regardless of gender, race, or background. They strive to give back to the community, especially
to those in under-resourced areas, and value the importance of a good education, firmly
believing that everyone deserves a chance to learn. She wrote this piece because she wanted
to note her personal growth as a player and person.

"Soccer Ball Blue" by HolgerLi is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.

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A magazine for teen writers—by teen writers. Under the Madness brings together student editors from across New Hampshire under the mentorship of the state poet laureate to focus on the experiences of teens from around the world. Whether you live in Berlin, NH, or Berlin, Germany—whether you wake up every day in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, North or South America—we’re interested in reading you!