By Michael Zobel, 16, Mira Costa HS
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Michael (back row wearing hoodie) sings during rehearsal.
Photo by Managing Editor Libby Hartigan

My black Mira Costa soccer hoodies are pretty much all I wear to school. Everybody knows that I play soccer, because they hear me talking about what happened in the games or at practice.

There’s something about having a ball at your feet and shooting into the net or passing it to a teammate, the way you’re always running and thinking about strategy, we’re all working toward a common goal—I have a blast. Whenever I put on my cleats and shin guards, something runs through me. I’m always the first one to get to practice and the last one to leave. Even though I’m only on junior varsity, I love the fact that I’ve gotten this far. I still remember my elementary school days, when I was usually the last one chosen for a pick-up game.

In addition to playing soccer, I also sing with my school’s best choir—but you’d never know it. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I don’t really talk to the guys on the team about my singing. It’s hard to explain the experience of performing in a truly amazing choir. A sense of accomplishment overwhelms you as the audience reacts with thundering applause and cheers. In middle school, I sang in more than 25 concerts, four choirs and acted in two plays. I got a solo in my final eighth grade concert and played the lead in The Music Man, but I never admitted it to anyone except my best friend Brian. I’m actually really good, in fact I’m better at singing than at soccer, but I keep it to myself. I can still hear the kid in middle school who would mutter, "Have fun in choir, fag," as he passed me in the hallway.

One day I had to wear a tuxedo to class because we were giving a concert, and my classmates said, "That’s really cool, I didn’t know you sing!"

"Yeah, just sometimes," I said. I was wearing my soccer hoodie over the tuxedo.

During my sophomore year, I missed a game because I’m a part-time cotillion dance instructor, helping young people learn ballroom dancing. When the guys on the team found out, they fell silent. Someone started laughing. "Michael, what? You do cotillion?" It was like I had betrayed them or something. I wanted to put my head in the ground.

Last spring, my choir was performing Fauré’s Requiem, an elegant churchy-sounding classical masterpiece. I had to sing an emotional solo in Latin about the damnation of a soul. After the intermission, we wanted to do some popular songs. A few of my friends and I decided on "Grim Grinning Ghosts," the theme song from Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion. We planned to cover ourselves in white flour to look like corpses.

Panic set in

This would have been fine and I was excited to sing the solo, except that the day before the show I overheard some of my soccer teammates talking about how they were going to the show to see some of the "way hot babes" in the choir. I went numb. That day at practice I was the goalie and I couldn’t stop the easiest balls. They were going through my legs, they were going right by me.

That night I was in a panic. I told my mom my stomach hurt and I had a fever. She didn’t buy it. She told me that was ridiculous and I looked fine. She wanted to know why I was pretending to be sick.

"Oh, I’m just nervous about my solo," I said.

Meanwhile, my mind was racing. Could I hide behind the microphone stand (only four feet tall)? Could I stand behind that tall guy? Maybe if I covered myself with tons of flour, no one would recognize me. What if I put a cream pie on my face—but then the cream would get all over the stage, and I’d look stupid. Could I sneak out the back after the show and avoid my teammates? What would happen—would the guys beat me up or force me to quit the team?

The next day I was still trying to think of a way out of it. By then I was angry at them for coming. I just knew that there would be some sort of monstrous collision of my two different worlds and everything would come tumbling down. It was the end of my soccer career.

Before the concert, as I sat waiting in the auditorium seat with the other choir members, I saw the guys come in. I ducked down below the seat.

"What are you doing?" the other singers said.

"Just focusing on my solo, getting my mindset right," I told them.

I paced around outside for a while, and then I hid in a side room next to the stage. What if I sucked? If I messed up my solo, would they rag on me for that? I started thinking about all the work I had done to get to this point, all those years singing in middle schools, the competitive try-outs, all the practices. Did I want to throw it all away?

I joined the group as everyone filed onto the stage. We sang the first part and we were so good I almost forgot about my soccer teammates being there. Before my solo, I had a fleeting fantasy of spraining my ankle and leaving the stage. Then I stared the guys down, looked at my mom who had already started crying, and started to sing. My solo was perfect. Afterward, the applause was amazing. I looked at the guys and their mouths were gaping. Were they going to start yelling at me in the middle of the concert?

After it was all over, I walked into the audience, hoping my soccer teammates had left. But they were right there, surrounding me. One gave me a pat on the back and others gave me high fives. "Dude, Zobel, that was ill," and "Zobes, you should’ve told us you could sing that well."

Of all the compliments I got, those meant the most. They actually respected me. All the tension that I had felt inside disappeared. What a relief. Afterwards, I started laughing to myself. Had I really planned to put a cream pie on my head so no one would recognize me?

This year, everyone on the team knows I’m in choir. Sometimes they still tease me about singing and being in drama, but in the back of my mind, I feel their silent appreciation of my other talents. One of the other members of the team sings in the choir too. I’m thrilled that we performed at Carnegie Hall in New York this spring, but I still don’t wear choir T-shirts or start singing randomly in the quad. When the other choir kids run by being their crazy selves, I’ll watch them go by with a smile. Then I’ll go to soccer practice.