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It was the beginning of a new school semester at Eastview Academy, and Tessa was going to take some new classes. But she couldn't decide on which class she wanted to take. As she looked at the list, she knew that, as a good sports player, she would sign up for a sports class. She decided to take basketball class, because she thought it looked the most interesting of all the sports classes on the list.

Tessa loved playing basketball, and she was very good at it. She knew how to jump and slam dunk the ball. She had been practicing for five years, and was very dedicated to the sport. She trained herself and tried very hard to become a good dunker. She practiced dribbling and shooting a lot and wanted to become a professional basketball player someday. She always wanted to join the school's basketball team, for she thought it seemed very cool to throw a big, orange ball through a net attached to the wall of the gym. But, there was only one problem. There were two basketball teams in school. One team was for boys and the other was for girls. Tessa thought that it wasn't fair that kids who played basketball in her school had to be split up into two teams. She thought that all sports were meant to be played by both boys and girls. She hated seeing how they split players up into two teams each meant for only one gender. She wished that everyone could play together. Hopefully, the basketball class that she was going to take might allow both boys and girls to play together.

She went over to check the student list, and sure enough, her name was on it.

"Yes!" thought Tessa. "I'm in! I can't wait to make some new friends who will shoot some hoops with me!"

Tessa was delighted that she was now a student in basketball class. The instructor was nice, the uniforms were comfortable, and all of the players were going to get some much-needed exercise. All of the classes were seven weeks and the students had the option to attend two classes a week. Although Tessa was in the girls' team, she really wanted to be a player of the boys' team to see what it was like to be in a team that mostly consisted of male players but had only one female player.

During her first day of class, Tessa played against Aaron, one of the players of the boys' team.

"Pass it! I'm open!" shouted Aaron as Tessa dribbled the ball down the court. But Tessa didn't pass the ball to Aaron. She just kept dribbling it down the court. Finally, she stopped near the basket, aimed, and shot. The ball soared through the air, bounced off the backboard, swirled around on the rim, and fell to the ground without even touching the net.

"Another miss? Oh, come on!" sighed Tessa. "I was sure I was going to sink that one."

"That's what you get for being a ball hog," said Aaron with a snicker.

"Why didn't you pass the ball, Tessa?" asked Coach Roberts. "Aaron had a clear shot."

Tessa shrugged and said "I guess I wanted to be the one to score."

"Well, it doesn't matter which player scores," said Coach Roberts. "Remember, there is no i in team."

Tessa rolled her eyes. She knew that Coach Roberts always said that same thing every practice. She knew this because Coach Roberts was also her gym teacher, and he was always encouraging his students to practice more and develop better sportsmanship.

"I think you could all use some more shooting practice," Coach Roberts told the team. "Our first game is Saturday afternoon. I want the Jackals to come out on top."

"How about a game of horse?" asked Aaron. "That's an awesome way to practice shooting."

Tessa groaned. She hated playing horse. The whole point of the game was to get every player to make the exact same shot the first player made. That was no problem for Aaron. He was one of the best basketball players in the school and could make any kind of shot - a layup, a free throw, and even a jump shot. Tessa was able to make those shots, too, but although she always practiced, she wasn't exactly as good as Aaron. But she absolutely hated playing horse more than anyone else in her class. Every time she missed the net, she got another letter in the word horse. Tessa always felt rotten when she missed the fifth shot and got an e, because that meant she was out.

"Why don't you go first, Aaron?" asked Coach Roberts, passing Aaron the ball.

"Sure thing, Coach!" said Aaron. As Tessa watched, Aaron dribbled the ball three times as he ran towards the hoop. Then he grabbed it with two hands and took his shot. The ball banked off the backboard and fell through the net.

"Nice shot!" exclaimed Coach Roberts. "Now it's your turn, Katie. See if you can copy exactly what Aaron just did."

Katie grabbed the ball and dribbled it three times as she ran towards the basket. Then she grabbed it with two hands and took her shot.

Tessa couldn't watch, because she was worried that her best friend might miss the shot. During the rest of class, Tessa miserably watched as a few of her classmates kept missing the net. Something told her that this was going to be a long semester. But she had hope that she would do well and get some good scores, and maybe even score some perfect slam dunks while she was at it. And she hoped that she would help her team win the big game on Saturday.

The game was in two weeks, so, after school, Tessa and her friends decided to practice shooting hoops. Tessa was practicing shooting five feet away from the hoop.

"If I make this shot, it means I'll have good luck during the game," said Tessa. Then she closed her eyes, aimed the ball, and tossed it over to the hoop. It fell through the hoop without any trouble.

"Yes!" said Tessa as she saw the ball go through the hoop. "We're so gonna win the game this weekend!"

"Nice shooting, Tess!" said Katie. "I'm glad that you're excited about the game that's coming up."

"I sure am!" said Tessa as she attempted to make another shot. "So, who are we playing against on Saturday?"

"Pinewood Country Day School," said Katie. "Their team is the Panthers."

"Oh, I've heard a lot about Pinewood Country Day," said Tessa. "They're Eastview Academy's archival. Those kids are a lot better than we are. Their athletes are more athletic, their musicians are more musical, and their math geeks are geekier."

"Well, winning isn't everything, Tessa," said Nancy.

"I know that," said Tessa. "How could I not? The teachers and coaches, especially Coach Roberts, remind us that almost every day."

"Of course they do," said Katie. "That's because they want us to do well in almost anything, be it sports, music, or even math."

"We'll, not all of us can be good at everything," said Tessa. "I sure hope those mighty Panthers won't beat us in the upcoming game."

"Hey, don't feel bad, Tess," said Katie. "I know that this is a really important game, but we've beaten the Panthers in the past. Our school has beaten Pinewood two years in a row. If we win this year, it will be a three-peat. The first three-peat in Eastview Academy!"

"Well, I sure hope our school wins this year," said Tessa. "It says right on my report card that I play well with others."

"You sure do, Tessa," said Nancy. "I bet that with a little practice, you could even be better than Aaron."

"Yeah," sighed Tessa, rolling her eyes. "I bet I could. That guy's a show-off."

For two whole weeks, Tessa and her friends practiced dunking, throwing, dribbling, catching, and shooting. They had to do well if they wanted to win against Pinewood. As the two weeks passed, Tessa became more and more confident that the Jackals would win.

"This is gonna be a tough game," said Nancy. "This team we're playing against is undefeated."

"Yeah, because they've got Garrett Brand, also known as 'Garrett the Great'," said Alex.

"Who's Garrett Brand?" asked Tessa.

"He's one of the best players in the state," said Alex. "In fact, he's the fastest, strongest player in the league. He's already being scouted by colleges."

"Wow," said Tessa. "He must be pretty well-known. I'm not quite sure if we can beat him."

"Oh, I bet we will," said Katie. "We'll work together to crush him and the other Panthers."

That got Tessa motivated. Maybe she would find a way to beat Garrett the Great and the Panthers at their own game. Before the game started, she went over to Coach Roberts to have a pep talk with him.

"Coach, I heard that these guys have a superstar on their roster," said Tessa.

"Yup," said Coach Roberts. "I heard. Garrett Brand."

"Let me guard him, Coach!" said Tessa, confidently. "I'll show him defense like he's never seen! I'll get in his kitchen and shut him down!"

"Wait, Tessa," said Coach Roberts just as Tessa was about to hit the court. "You shouldn't get caught up in a one-on-one battle between him right away. It's just a team game. Besides, not only he's a good player, but he's also Pinewood's point guard. I mean, if you outplay him but our team loses, how will you feel?"

"Well, that depends," said Tessa. "But I still want to go out there and help my team win."

"Okay, then," said Coach Roberts as Tessa headed for the court. "Good luck out there."

"It's time, Tessa," said Katie. "Go on and fight like a girl!"

So Tessa went out into the court, ready to play and fight like a girl. Just then, she overheard a few of the Pinewood players trash-talking about her.

"Well, look at that!" said Garrett. "I'm playing against a girl. I bet she can't score a slam dunk better than I can. I'm gonna beat that girl like a bongo drum!"

Tessa sighed and shook her head. This was going to be a long game.

As the game started, Tessa was wondering why her team was playing against a team that was better than they were. The Pinewood players were a lot more stronger and athletic than the Eastview players, and they looked like they could crush the Jackals at any second. But she wasn't going to let those Panthers beat her team. She wasn't going to let that obnoxious Garrett the Great bug her.

As soon as one of the Jackals passed Tessa the ball, she caught the ball on a bounce, spun, and did a jump shot into the hoop. It was a three-pointer.

"What the-?!" cried Aaron. "She made three points! She did it better than I could!"

And she did. With her excellent skills at dribbling, catching, and dunking, Tessa was able to help her team score more points than the Panthers. But what she didn't know was that the Panthers were a lot faster and stronger than the Jackals, and they beat the Jackals up by ten points. During halftime, Tessa was tired out. She went over to Coach Roberts to tell him how she was doing.

"Ugh. that Garrett the Great scored twelve points, and I only scored two."

"That's fine, Tessa," said Coach Roberts. "We don't need you to score points."

"I know, but Garrett is just so cocky out there, with all his flashy spin moves and crossover dribbling," said Tessa as she took a sip from her water bottle. "I mean, I can dribble between my legs and behind my back, but I'm not so sure if my moves can outmatch Garrett's moves. No matter how hard I try, this guy just keeps eating my lunch. He's really in the zone. I can't slow him down."

"Well, try to get him out of the zone," said Coach Roberts.

"How?" asked Tessa.

"Well, he's a rhythm shooter," said Coach Roberts. "So you should try to disrupt his rhythm and find a way to rattle him."

"Ten-four!" said Tessa, now a bit more confident. "I'll find a way to rattle him up!"

So, after break time was over, Tessa was back in the game, knowing that she was going to win the game for her team.

"I'm not going to listen to those stupid Panthers brag about how great they are," thought Tessa. "I don't care if they think they're better than us. I'm going to help my team win this competition."

Meanwhile, Garrett the Great was bragging about how he loved basketball to his teammates.

"Do you guys know what I love about basketball?" asked Garrett.

"No," said one of the Panthers. "What is it?"

"It's seeing the exasperated look on a kid's face when they know they can't stop me!" replied Garrett with a smug smirk on his face. But he didn't know that Tessa had overheard him talk, and she was not happy about it. She knew that she had to do something to keep her team from losing to the Panthers, so she dribbled, bounced, catcher, and dunked her way up to 50 points. But the Panthers knew that the Jackals were no match for them.

The game was getting close to an end. The Panthers were up by 53 points, and the Jackals had 52 points. As Tessa went for a water break, she was peeved that the Panthers were better than the Jackals.

"Those kids score every time they touch the ball," grumbled Tessa.

"We can still win," said Katie. "We've only got ten seconds left."

"Let me take it to the hoop, Coach!" Tessa told Coach Roberts. "I want to stick it in their faces!"

"No, Tessa," said Coach Roberts. "That's what Garrett wants to do. Don't go one-on-one. He's too big, and he'll block your shot."

"No, he won't," thought Tessa as she confidently went back into the game.

"Time's running out, girlie!" said Garrett as Tessa grabbed a ball and returned to the court. "And the ball's in your hands! You can take the last shot. You can be the hero. But I don't think you have the guts!"

"Oh, really?" said Tessa. Then she started driving down the lane, despite her coach's warning not to. She dribbled the ball down the court, with Garrett the Great right behind her. Little did he know that Tessa had a few tricks up her sleeve.

"Go ahead and take the shot, woman!" taunted Garrett. "Take it!"

"I will!" said Tessa.

And she did. When Garrett wasn't looking, she bounced the ball, which bounced between Garrett's legs and flew over to Nancy, who grabbed it, jumped, and threw the ball into the net, just as the last few seconds were up and the buzzer sounded. Garrett stood there, looking in shock.

"Tessa laid it in at the buzzer!" cried Aaron. "We won!"

"What a pass by Tessa!" said Coach Roberts.

As Tessa came over to the benches, Coach Roberts congratulated her for helping her team win the game.

"Wow, Tessa!" said Coach Roberts. "Everyone in the gym thought you were shooting, but you just dished it off!"

"Of course I did," said Tessa. "Was there ever any doubt? I was able to believe in myself that we would beat the Panthers."

"Wow, Tessa!" exclaimed Aaron. "You were even better than I am. I didn't know you could beat Pinewood so well."

"Way to go, Tess!" said Katie. "You found a way to help us win the game against Pinewood! I thought those guys could never be beaten, but you knew how to disrupt their rhythm."

"That's right," said Tessa. "And the reason I did so well was because I was motivated. I didn't want the Panthers to beat us, and I was determined to help my team win, so I decided to turn my determination into total domination. I used my awesome skills, my school spirit, and my passion for basketball to do exceptionally well and help the Jackals win. I was unstoppable out there."

"You sure were, Tess," said Nancy. "I can't believe you would do so well to help us win the game against Pinewood."

"Well, I'm a basketball champion," said Tessa. "You'd better believe it."

And her friends did believe it. Tessa was a champion to them, because she had very good sportsmanship and was always motivated. From that day on, Tessa was considered the best player in Eastview Academy's basketball class, both by boys and girls. Now everyone was able to play fairly and be on each other's teams because of her persistence, dynamic confidence, and true sportsmanship. She was able to inspire others to become better at doing what they loved to do. All the other players admired Tessa, and they all wished that they were as good as she was. She was a slam-dunking star.