We power up each step. We rise higher and higher. We feel our legs become heavy. We make one last push to the top. We reach the top of the stadium. We turn back around. We go again.
My name is August Harp, I'm a white boy living in Jackson, and I'm a junior at Murrah High School this fall. I've attended Jackson Public Schools as far back as I can remember. I began in pre-K at McWillie Elementary School, then Bailey APAC Middle School, and eventually Murrah High School, where I now play soccer.
I have been playing soccer my entire life. I still remember my first soccer practice with the YMCA Sharks when I was 4. I didn't want to go because I was so nervous, but my mom and dad literally dragged me to the field, and I am so grateful they did because on that day I met my first love: soccer. When I was 11, I began playing select soccer for Jackson Futbol Club, which led to me playing for Mississippi Fire Juniors and now Mississippi Rush, the back-to-back-to-back state champions.
While it may seem that the soccer teams might be similar, the contrast between these two organizations is so immense, it's like I'm living in two different worlds.
To truly grasp the differences between the teams, you must first understand these simple facts about them. Murrah has 1,600 students: 93.52 percent of the school is African American, and 5.3 percent are white students. Fifteen of the 18 players on my select team are white, while I am one of two white boys on the 22-player Murrah soccer team. Many of my select teammates attend private schools and could afford La Bernardin every meal, while most of my high-school teammates cannot afford school lunch.
Four of my select teammates play for Madison Central High School's team, which has won five consecutive state championships and which Maxpreps.com ranks No. 3 in the nation. Three of my select teammates play for Northwest Rankin High School, ranked No. 10, and one plays for Jackson Preparatory School, which is No. 11. Murrah is ranked 1,612 in the nation and 81st in the state. For most of the players, it's their first time ever playing soccer.
Tap, tap, tap. Our coach raps his pen against his clipboard. Tap, tap, tap. The ball is passed from one person to the next. Our coach yells, "Regionals are in two weeks, I need everything you have right now! Practice like you play! How bad do you want it?"
The team's ego tells us we should win—no, we have to win, we need to win. The team's ego tells us we cannot lose. Our coach's ego tells us that he must win, that he must show up his peers through us. Our ego tells us that we are the best, and we need to show it. My ego tells me that I must win, that I have to be the best.
Our egos on my select team work differently. We all want the team to be the best just so that we can individually be the best. We pretend we want to win, but really, we are just afraid of losing. We have been at the top for so long that we don't remember what it's like to be at the bottom. Murrah forced me to remember what that's like.
"Let's get it—these Clinton boys ain't ready for us!"
We knew we were about to shock everyone. Murrah never made it to the playoffs. We were going to shock everyone. And we did. Goal after goal after goal after goal. By halftime, we were already losing six to zero.
That was my ninth-grade year. We are still losing games, but we are working harder than any other team I have been around. This is when my ego began to change. I wanted to be the best, but I realized this team was going to need a lot of work.
I'm now the head captain of the Murrah soccer team. I have set up practices throughout the summer. I have set up private practices with individual players just to work with them. We go 100 percent at practice because we want to win, instead of just not wanting to lose. It's 95 degrees, and we are still running up the stairs. Tap tap tap. The concrete is stained with our sweat stains. Tap tap tap. We will leave our mark.
My select team is better than ever. We are still easily the best team in the state. We have been working this summer, as well. While we have worked harder, we have been working together but separate. I can now look at my Murrah team and see the missing piece we have always had but never known.
I never would have known what it was like to be on a team like Murrah with members who love each other and would fight for each other if I had gone to a school like the rest of my select team.
My select team has Chevrolet on our jerseys. My high-school team has the same jerseys from 10 years ago. My select team does not lose. My high-school team plays to win. My select team is shackled to the expectation that we have to win. Murrah is free to play without the fear of losing.
August Harp, 15, plans to pursue a degree in journalism and hone his skills in writing and photography, continue playing soccer, and build a blog where he can share his perspective on social justice, sports and politics. This column first appeared at jxnpulse.com.