Placing his left hand on Rex’s shoulder, and raising his right arm toward the bright lights above the dining hall, Coach Dan cleared his throat dramatically, and spoke.
“Before Rex and I make our big announcment, I would like to again thank Carl and Pamela Hutchinson, not only for their generous hospitality this evening — dinner was superb — but also for their continued support of the Bark Bay fencing team.” Polite, sincere applause, even from Double-J. Coach Dan clasped his hands in front of him, and continued.
“As you know, we have been functioning without a team captain so far this season. Now this is not that unusual, given the highly individualistic nature of fencing — many of the teams we compete against do not have captains, function fine without them.”
“The Academy has a fencing captain,” Annie said quickly.
Coach Dan nodded in her direction. “True. And the last two years, we also had a captain.” There was a brief silence as the memory of Miles, as well as the desire not to speak his name, arose in everyone. “Back then I saw there was a clear need for a captain, a leader who could help define our team’s identity. We were still the new kids on the block, and having someone serve such a visible role was crucial to our development.
“But it’s a new year, a new season, a new team. Many familiar faces, but some new. When we began practicing in the fall, I had no idea how you all would interact with each other, could not see what team you might become. What I did know was that if I appointed a captain,” — Annie could see that Coach Dan was now looking beyond them, was focused on Double-J — “the entire team would begin to revolve around that person, like moons pulled into orbit by the gravity from a powerful planet. I wanted to see every one of you — develop a bit first, before deciding if you even needed a captain.
“And then,” Coach Dan said, turning to Rex, “the Tuesday before Thanksgiving break, I had a conversation with this fine young gentlement. I said to him, ‘Rex, I think this team could use a captain.’ He agreed, and then I think I surprised him — I asked him why he agreed with me.”
Coach Dan nodded at Rex, who recognized the cue and continued, “We have a lot of — strong personalities on the team,” he said, Annie sensing that he was also now addressing Double-J directly. “There is no shortage of advice given at practice. If anything, there’s too much advice, isn’t there, Butch?”
Butch nodded swiftly. “Yeah. You remind me to keep my back straight, Annie tells me to concentrate on my footwork, Double-J says I need to pay attention to my arm position, then Coach Dan talks for five minutes about keeping distance — it’s overwhelming.”
“It’s a difficult sport,” Coach Dan said quickly. “There’s a lot to take in, and I agreed with Rex’s analysis on the babel of advice at practice. And that,” he said, extending his right arm towards Rex, “is when I asked Rex to be this year’s captain of the Bark Bay Fencing Team.”
“YES,” Annie said, clapping enthusiastically. She looked to the teammates around her, who also began clapping, then turned to Double-J, who remained standing to the side of the room, not clapping, a sarcastic smile slithering onto his face as he saw Annie looking at him, the smile freezing into position as Double-J pointed back to Coach Dan.