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  • Kickers #3: Benched
  • Written by Rich Wallace
    Illustrated by Jimmy Holder
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  • Kickers #3: Benched
  • Written by Rich Wallace
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  • Written by Rich Wallace
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Written by Rich WallaceAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Rich Wallace
Illustrated by Jimmy HolderAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jimmy Holder


List Price: $5.99


On Sale: October 12, 2010
Pages: 128 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89709-2
Published by : Knopf Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
Kickers #3: Benched Cover

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KICKERS: a young middle grade soccer series
Book 3
It’s a race to the Kickers soccer league play-offs. Nine-year-old Ben is pretty sure that if the Bobcats win two of their last three games, they’ll earn a tournament spot. But in their game against the Tigers, the Bobcats are a mess on the field—they’re not passing well at all—and Ben decides to take control. Someone has to win this thing, and his teammates just aren’t measuring up.

Then the whistle blasts, the red card waves, and Ben is out—benched for dangerous moves. Not only that, he’s barred from the next game, too—a key bout against the Rabbits. How can he possibly help his team to the play-offs from the sidelines?
The Kickers series, from award-winning sports novelist Rich Wallace, features nonstop soccer action, black-and-white art, and league statistics and soccer tips throughout.

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From the Hardcover edition.


Ben stared at his quiz paper, trying to remember the capital of Pennsylvania. He knew that it wasn't Pittsburgh. Was it Scranton?

He glanced across the aisle at his best friend Erin's paper, but she hadn't reached that question yet. So he tried to see all the way across the next aisle to Loop's.

"Ben!" his teacher said sharply. "Keep your eyes on your own paper."

Ben looked down. He didn't want to cheat. He just wondered if anyone else was struggling the way he was.

The last state on the list was New York. He wrote Albany in the space. He was sure he had eight of the ten capitals right, but he'd left Maine blank. Was it Portland? Or was that the capital of Oregon? He just couldn't concentrate this morning.

At recess, Ben kept to himself instead of joining his usual game of four square. He hadn't had enough sleep last night. His parents had been arguing about something until nearly midnight.

Mom and Dad had been very quiet at breakfast this morning. Ben could tell that something was wrong.

So he took a seat on a swing and slowly moved back and forth, staring into space and thinking. Usually he'd be running and jumping and burning off energy with the other fourth graders. But right now, he had no energy at all.

A red ball was rolling quickly past. Ben stopped the swing and put his foot on it. When he looked up, Loop was running toward him.

Ben picked up the ball and tossed it to Loop, who grabbed it with one hand and bounced it. "What are you doing over here?" Loop asked.

Ben shrugged. "Just thinking."

Loop took a step closer and leaned toward Ben. "Eyes on your own paper!" he said, imitating the teacher.

Ben frowned. "Very funny." He and Loop were friends but rivals. They competed hard against each other in sports and games.

"I thought you were the perfect student," Loop said. "What did you do, forget to study?"

"I studied. I was distracted this morning."

"Still thinking about that beating we gave your team a few weeks ago?" Loop said with a laugh.

"Maybe I'm thinking about the beating you'll be getting if you don't shut up." Ben made a fist and held it up.

Loop raised both hands as if to surrender, but he had a big grin. "Look how scared I am," he said. "I'm shaking."

"Get lost," Ben said. He pumped his legs hard to get the swing moving again.

Loop went back to the four-square game. Ben kept swinging. The October sun was warm on his bare arms.

It was true that Loop's team had shut out Ben's team in a Kickers League soccer game. Ben was still sore about it, but that wasn't the trouble today. Besides, Ben's team had won its most recent game and was in the chase for a spot in the play-offs. It looked as if the Bobcats would get in if they won two of their last three games.


Ben looked up. Loop was waving him over to the four-square game. "We need you," he called.

Ben could see his classmate Nigel sitting on the ground with his head back, pressing on his nose. There was blood seeping through his fingers.

"What happened?" Ben asked as he walked over.

"Nigel took a whack in the nose," Loop said. "We need another player."

A teacher came over and helped Nigel to his feet, then led him toward the school. There were drops of blood on the front of Nigel's shirt.

"Did he get hit with the ball?" Ben asked.

Loop shook his head. "The ball was on the line and he and Mark both dived for it."

Ben looked at Mark. Mark frowned and rubbed the top of his head.

"Okay, so what square am I in?" Ben asked.

"First, of course," Loop said.

Ben didn't feel like playing, but they needed at least four for a game, so he stepped in. Then he noticed Erin walking over, so now there would be five players.

When Ben looked back, the ball was already coming toward him. He lunged for it, but it bounced in his square and went out-of-bounds.

"I wasn't ready for that," Ben said.

"Too bad," Loop said. "You were at the square."

"I was here for about half a second!"

"Doesn't matter. If you're at the square, you're ready."

Ben stood still with his mouth hanging open. Then he gave Loop a hard look and stepped to the side of the court. Erin replaced Ben in the first square.

That was no fun, Ben thought, folding his arms. I might as well go back to the swings.

But with only five players, he'd be back in the game as soon as this round ended. First chance he had, he'd get back at Loop.

Mark muffed an easy shot and stepped off the court with a sheepish smile. Erin moved up one square and Ben came back in.

The ball moved quickly around the court. Ben knocked it into Erin's square, then returned a volley from Jordan. He was biding his time, waiting for the perfect chance to smack that ball hard into Loop's square.

Here it came. Jordan hit the ball softly and it bounced straight up in front of Ben. Ben whipped the side of his hand into the middle of the ball, chopping it on a line drive at Loop. The ball dipped and just barely caught the inside of the square, then bounced across the playground.

"You're out!" Ben said.

Loop was jogging after the ball, but he turned his head and said, "No way."

"Yes way."

"No slams allowed," Loop said. "You know the rules."

"That wasn't a slam," Ben said. "A slam has to bounce higher than your shoulder."

"It did."

"No, it didn't!" Ben took several quick steps to come face to face with Loop. "You're out," he said.

"You're out."

"Quit being a baby," Ben said, giving Loop a shove.

Loop shoved back harder.

Ben was in no mood for talking. He took a swing at Loop, hitting him in the shoulder. Loop swung back but Ben ducked.

Head down, Ben wrapped his arms around Loop and tackled him to the pavement. Immediately they were circled by dozens of kids, all yelling at once.

Loop rolled on top of Ben, but Ben dug in with his heels and flipped Loop off of him. Two teachers pushed through the crowd. Mr. Kane grabbed Ben by the shoulders and pulled him away, yelling, "Stop it this instant!"

Ben shook free and glared at Loop. Loop glared back.

"That was a clean shot," Ben said.

"What was? The slam or the punch?"

Mr. Kane stepped between them. "Enough!" he said. "Both of you start marching. Right to Mrs. Nolan's office. Now!"

The principal's office. Ben shut his eyes and scowled. Then he looked down and saw that his pants were ripped below the right knee. His arm was scraped from the pavement.

Loop was scratched up, too.

Mr. Kane followed them to the office. Ben and Loop sat across from each other in folding chairs. They had to wait a long time.

Whenever Ben looked up, Loop was staring at him. Loop mouthed the word "jerk" several times and rubbed a fist into his palm when the secretary wasn't looking. Ben wasn't scared, but he was still angry.

When they finally got into the principal's office, she said, "It seems that there's been a lot of tension over four square lately." She looked directly at Ben. "A lot of it has involved you."

Ben nodded.

"Why is that?" she asked.

Ben jutted his thumb at Loop. "He said I slammed the ball when I didn't."

"That's not what I care about," Mrs. Nolan said. "I've had several reports of arguments, and now this fight. I don't expect that from nine-year-olds. A game isn't worth that kind of distress."

Ben looked at the floor and chewed on his lip. Mrs. Nolan told them they'd be staying in for recess for the rest of the week, and there'd be no four square for either of them for another week after that.

"Now both of you go wash up and get back to class," she said. "Can I trust you to get along?"

"Yes, ma'am," Loop said.

"Yes," said Ben.

Loop walked ahead of Ben along the hallway. He stepped into the bathroom and let the door swing back at Ben. Ben caught it with his scraped-up arm and winced.

There were four sinks. Ben stood at the one farthest from Loop and pushed the soap dispenser, then carefully lathered his arm. He looked into the mirror to see what Loop was up to, but Loop was looking down at the sink.

Loop finished washing and shook his hands rapidly. Then he cleared his throat and pulled some paper towels out of the dispenser. As he dried his hands, he leaned toward the mirror to inspect a tiny cut below his eye. "Maybe that wasn't quite a slam," he said.

Ben patted his own scrape with a paper towel. "Yeah, well, maybe I should have been ready for that first serve."

"Then again," Loop said, "it probably was a slam. Otherwise I would have returned it." He turned to Ben and grinned. Then he threw the wad of wet paper towels at him.

Ben caught the wad and threw it back. It thumped against a metal trash can and fell to the floor.

"Now that was a slam," Loop said.

Ben laughed. "What are we supposed to do all week with no recess? I'll go nuts just sitting in the classroom."

"Me too," Loop said. "Three days of that." He shook his head. "That's what I call distress."

From the Hardcover edition.
Rich Wallace

About Rich Wallace

Rich Wallace - Kickers #3: Benched
“When you’ve faced that moment and given everything you have, you let yourself realize that . . . your success or failure is not ultimately based on whether you triumphed, but in how you faced up to the challenge.”—Rich Wallace

Rich Wallace is the author of several books set in Sturbridge, Pennsylvania, including Wrestling Sturbridge, an ALA Top Ten Best Book for Young Adults; Shots on Goal; Losing Is Not an Option; and Playing Without the Ball.


I’ve heard it said that most people who write for kids have a fixed point in their childhood where their most significant memories lie. A piece of them has remained that age, has continued to see the world through the eyes of that child. It’s where their emotions run hottest, where their impressions are most vivid.

For me that place is the high school years, the years of Ben in Wrestling Sturbridge and Bones in Shots on Goal. It’s the moments of absolute torture waiting for the girl to answer the telephone, or of gut-twisting anticipation just before a race. It’s the white-hot fury in the rush toward the finish line, the rare but deserved feeling of confidence when you step to the line for a game-winning free throw, and the satisfying range of emotions after a loss or a draw or a triumph.

I was successful as an athlete in high school and college and beyond, but what I feed off now are the alone times: the training, the psyching up, the self-definition. The way Ben prepares himself in the locker room before going to the mat with Al, coming to the realization that “I’ve been waiting a long time to walk out there in a match that means everything—my whole career. Al’s, too. I earned it and I want it.”

Or Bones, before the championship soccer game: “My eyes are wide; I can feel my heart pumping. Coach calls us over and I walk toward the sideline. I am confident and ready and scared.”

These guys have reached pivotal moments in their lives, not just as athletes, but as people. They’ve reached places where they’ve wanted to be, but it’s terrifying just the same to be there. Because you can’t duck out; you can’t say it doesn’t really matter what happens. Because it does.

And afterward, when you’ve faced that moment and given everything you have, you let yourself realize that it wasn’t the winning that mattered, or the losing. That your success or failure is not ultimately based on whether you triumphed, but in how you faced up to the challenge.

I wonder sometimes if I’ll ever move away from my teenage years, in either direction, and write about little kids or adults. There’s this fiery orb of matter centered on the years from fifteen to eighteen, and I don’t think it will expire in my lifetime. So the likelihood is that any future novel I write will draw most of its heat from that period.

I kept intense diaries during my teenage years, packing them with the ups and downs of my daily existence. I captured the boredom and frustrations of life in a small town, the angst and embarrassments of my first dealings with girls, the desire and growing confidence that came with gradual success as an athlete, and the enormous fun of hanging with a group of funny, frustrated, kinesthetic guys. I turn to those diaries sometimes when I need to relive an emotion for a scene in a novel. And I find the same guy I am now—a lot more naive, a lot more ego-driven, but essentially the same individual.

I hope I never lose him. One way I keep him alive is by letting him write these novels of mine. I hope he finds like-minded readers, and that he can help them face their own moments of definition.

Rich Wallace has worked as a sportswriter and news editor, and as the coordinating editor of Highlights for Children magazine. He’s coached his sons’ youth sports teams year-round, including soccer, basketball, and track and field.


“It’s a riveting story . . . Wallace weighs his words carefully, making every one count in this excellent, understated first novel.”—Starred, Booklist

“There are only a few contemporary writers who can hit the mark with teenage boys, and Rich Wallace, with his first novel, seems likely to join that group. . . . You don’t need to know or like wrestling to become quickly engaged with this story.”—Chicago Tribune

“The sports angle makes this a great ‘guy’s’ book, while the gripping narrative and feisty heroine will appeal to young women, too. A real winner.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

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