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Gimme an F, gimme a U...

Ms. Quarterback
November 1990

A girl on the football team?
 photo svh070_zpseilpsjg4.png
May the best person win...


   Ken Matthews has regained his sight, only to face another battle. Now that he's recovered, everyone assumes that Ken is sure to win back his old position as quarterback for the Gladiators. But Sweet Valley High is stunned when Ken's toughest competition comes from the shy new junior- Claire Middleton!
  Terri Adams, Ken Matthews's girlfriend, sees Claire not only as a thread to Ken's football career, but also to her own relationship with Ken. Can Terri find a way to get Claire off the field so that Ken can resume his rightful place on the team?



   Ms. Quarterback is a bit of an odd book. Normally when a SVH book bothers to put a new character on the cover, we spend our time mostly with them, maybe with a side helping of Liz or another character helping them out. But the way the book is structured, we can't do that since Claire is supposed to be a woman of ~mystery~ and that doesn't really help our actual main character, Terri Adams, not look like a complete and utter jackass.

  If you haven't read, or simply don't remember, That Fatal Night, you're going to be at a serious disadvantage here as this is pretty much the sequel to that book. Terri and Ken have become a fairly solid couple as Ken has regained his vision. But Terri finds herself wondering if this will last should Ken rejoin the football team as its star player. And it's a valid concern, as Ken's first brush with the possibility of resuming his old life doesn't seem to leave much room for Terri.
   You might recall that at the end of the last book, we found out that Scott Trost, Ken's replacement on the team, was in danger of being placed on academic probation, leading to the team requiring a new QB. And sure enough, that happens. Everyone seems to assume that Ken is a natural lock for the position, not even really questioning whether or not he'd want to try out, much less whether it would be something he'd be physically able to do, given that as far as anyone other than Terri, Ken, and Elizabeth knows, Ken's vision is 100% back, or at least 99% and that's close enough, right? Bring on the feast of champions!
  This is also fueled by the desire for SVH to crush Big Mesa, the only team around with more wins than SVH this year. Liz also theorizes that the school is pinning so much hope on this game as it gives them something else to focus on rather than the race related fuckery that was the attack on Andy and the subsequent fallout of having to realize that your school is not as progressive or safe as you thought it was.
  Sadly (maybe?) that angle is mostly shoved to the side in favor of having everyone just hype up the mythical return of Ken Matthews, football god. Which I get, as we do love a comeback story. However, the reader spends more time with Terri and her ever increasing paranoia that Ken will return to his old life, complete with Terri not as his girlfriend, despite the fact that Ken does very little to prompt this fear. At worst, he makes a comment about hoping she won't be one of those girlfriends who is overly clingy... after she is overly clingy. And while it's probably not the nicest thing to say, especially in front of your friends on a double date, it's also not said maliciously and Terri herself recognizes that she's more upset that he's right than the fact that he said it.

   Sigh. Enter Claire Middleton. Claire's new at SVH as you might recall, and she decides to try out for the team since there's nothing in the rulebooks against it and she knows she's good. And Claire happens to be really, really good. She's faster than Ken on her off days and while he's better at say, passing, they're pretty much even in most other ways. Seriously, Claire and Ken are miles ahead of the distant third place candidate to the degree that it's like why bother prolonging the inevitable- the only real question should've been who was first string and who was second. So on the field, Claire is on fire.
  Off the field, well... Claire's got some serious people issues. She's standoffish and painfully blunt, with a serious case of Not Like Other Girls syndrome when it comes to cheerleaders, which makes her interactions with the twins kind of hilariously awful. Liz is tasked with interviewing her for the Oracle but the only time Claire opens up at all is when she's discussing football, and she's downright rude to Jessica about Jessica not taking up a real sport instead of cheerleading. Look, I'm all for giving Jessica shit when it's deserved, like later in the book, but cheerleading is a real sport and we've never been given any indication that Jessica doesn't treat it as such- when she's not busy chasing after Bruce Patman at the start of the series, anyway. This comment is going to bite Claire in the ass, just as you'd expect it to.

  Unfortunately for Claire, her "I didn't come here to make friends" kind of vibe means that instead of being able to bond with the obvious friend, Terri, she comes across as aloof... and also Terri is stupidly jealous because Ken is being nice to Claire instead of treating her like shit? I don't know. It's weird that Ken's behavior in the previous book, laughing at the idea of a girl QB, is gone completely but I'm trying not to complain too much, as I prefer Ken when he's not an ass. Instead, he cheers Claire on and seems genuinely happy for her, even when she's kicking his ass in tryouts. Initially Terri is proud that her boyfriend is such a good guy, but almost immediately her feelings sour when he makes a throwaway comment about Claire's looks. Suddenly Ken must want to date Claire and dump Terri and that's an awfully big leap to make when you've literally got John Pfieffer there making comments about Claire, and her looks, far more often. He's also got a girlfriend but not once does Terri comment on that. She's too busy freaking out about the potential hookup between Ken and Claire.
   Naturally she decides to take it out on Claire.


   Remember when I said Claire's crack about cheerleading would bite her in the ass? Yeah. Jessica passes it along to the cheerleaders and even those who were initially excited about the idea of a girl trying out for the team are hurt by this new girl's negative view of something all of them seem to take pride in. She convinces the others to do a kind of mean cheer to mock Claire, and good lord does this all fall apart the second you're not reading it in the book. Robin and Annie have both been on the receiving end of Jessica's particularly brand of scathingly brilliant ideas, so you'd think they'd forever be on the watch to keep her from pulling this shit again, but nope. Both eventually cave to Jessica's will.
  Amy and Jessica recruit some of the guys who've been cut from the tryouts to help play pranks on Claire, and I'm not entirely sure if they're actually trying to get her to quit, or just get her rattled enough to not beat Ken, as they do seem genuinely surprised when their cheer accomplishes the former. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.
  Terri overhears Jessica and Amy bemoaning the lame pranks the boys have come up with and decide they're going to have to take it upon themselves to really get through to Claire. Still very jealous of Claire, Terri offers to help under the guise of wanting to ensure Ken makes the team. Girl, there's literally no chance of him not making the team- it's just a matter of whether he's first string or not but whatever. Since Terri walked in on Claire crying and being really secretive about a signed picture of a cute guy named Ted, she volunteers his name to the harpies. Who immediately pounce on it and decide they'll work it into a cheer to rattle her.
  So they do. And it freaks Claire out so much that she quits, right then and there, despite the fact that she's in the midst of a scrimmage and is quite possibly even the front runner in this scenario since she's the one on the A team. (Not sure if there's any significance of her being on the A team while Ken's on the B but I'd like to think so.)

   Liz is horrified by this because earlier that morning, good old Steve "Exposition" Wakefield dropped the bombshell that Ted was likely Ted Middleton, the JV quarterback on the SVU team the previous year. The QB who died of a brain tumor very suddenly, I might add. So Liz, Todd, and Steve storm down to the field to ask wtf is wrong with the cheerleaders, with Steve explaining the story again while I ponder once more how time works in Sweet Valley since football is an autumn sport and if Steve shared freshman comp with Ted but Steve's also still a freshman at SVU and... y'know what, let's move on before my brain explodes again.
  So the cheerleaders are now suitably sorry for their prank turning out to be downright cruel instead of mild bullying and then Jess sells Terri out since she's the one who supplied Ted's name.

   Liz hunts Terri down and Terri is also horrified by the fact that Ted is dead and right here is where I cannot suspend my disbelief any further. Terri is the statition for the team, or was prior to her upgrade to assistant manager. She's also a big football fan in general. Palisades isn't that far away from SVH, and I assume that Ted played for them prior to going to SVU. She'd have heard of Ted Middleton. She might not have heard how he died, but she'd have heard that he died. She'd make the connection to Claire, especially once Claire proved how good she is at football. Terri, of all people, should know who the damn hell Ted Middleton was/is and I cannot come up with any reasonable explanation for why she doesn't beyond the plot needed her to be mindlessly jealous.

   Anyway, Terri goes to Claire's house and apologizes for being a huge jealous bitch and the two get over things very, very easily. Which I'm not sure I buy, given how Claire's been acting towards everyone but since it makes a shit ton of sense for these two to have been friends right away, I'll let it slide. Claire heads off to talk to the Coach about being on the team and Terri goes to Ken to admit her part in chasing Claire away... and also talk about the serious lack of communication in their relationship.
  Ken's fine with Terri being thoughtlessly cruel towards Claire, though it's not put quite that way, and he admits that he wasn't fully himself because he so desperately wanted to make the team again that he was willing to push himself a little too hard, and every time Terri asked about his vision, he'd shut down. This part is interesting to me and so naturally it's pretty much hand waved away, but I wish the book's plot had been more of Terri being caught between wanting Ken to reclaim his spot on the team and wanting to make sure he didn't fuck up his eyes permanently, possibly with a side of really liking Claire and wanting her to make the team, too. But in order for that story to work, we'd need Dave to be more than a distant third, I guess. As it is, I have to make due with the little glimpses, like when Terri feels guilty for being a bit nostalgic for the start of her relationship with Ken because while it was a good time, relatively speaking, for her, it was a terrible time in Ken's life because, you know, he was blind.

   Anyway, Ken makes the team as first string QB while Claire gets to warm the bench just in case. And of course, Ken's vision is going to go wonky and Claire is tapped to play in the 4th quarter and she's AMAZING and leads the team to victory and huzzahs all around!
  Well. Almost. You see, the side plot we'd been teased with at the very start of the book, Enid being decidedly pro SVH despite her boyfriend, Hugh, attending Big Mesa, and making a comment about their relationship not being great? It's dropped entirely until the end when we find out that Hugh and Enid decided to split up, off screen and dammit, my Enid needs are not being met by you, book series.
  Oh, and part of Jessica's dislike of Claire is the fact that Jess set her sights on Danny Porter, one of the football players, but Danny is seen trying to chat Claire up, despite Danny being unbelievably shy. So, yeah, Jessica's hate-on for Claire is also fueled by jealousy. Woo.



Trivia:

  • The Palisades game is Scott's last game. SVH wins, 21-9.

  • Big Mesa is said to have more wins than SVH, but they must've only been ahead by one win since on the first day of tryouts we learn that SVH's record this season is ten wins, two losses, which ties them with Big Mesa for their division.

  • Scott is failing History and Spanish.

  • According to this book, Liz heard about Scott from John, who swore her to secrecy. She's the one who told Penny last book and she's told Todd prior to this book. Great secret keeping, Liz.

  • Despite frequently being described as curly, Todd's hair is never actually depicted as such on the book covers.

  • Todd claims he's all for a girl QB, mere seconds after rolling his eyes at the notion.

  • Liz heard that Ken was pro football material, at least prior to his blindness.

  • Enid and Todd both think Ken is a shoo-in for QB while Elizabeth isn't so sure due to his vision.

  • Jessica thinks the cheers have gotten old and stale, and Amy agrees with her. Later, Maria will too.

  • Since Ken left the team, Terri minimizes her role for the football team in public, like at pep rallies, which doesn't sound entirely healthy.

  • Scott had no backup QB and he wasn't as good as Ken, so he worked his ass off to the detriment of his education. Poor Scott.

  • Zack Johnson, a friend of Terri's, is a sophomore linebacker, and little brother of Tad "Blubber" Johnson.

  • Danny Porter is the wide receiver on the team. Jess has a bit of a thing for him, what with the cute smile and devastating blue eyes. He's also really, really shy.

  • Hugh and Enid go from being perfectly solid, as far as Liz knows, to being broken up, over the course of the book even though we don't see a thing.

  • Penny's hair is back to being described as light brown.

  • Liz forgot to setup an interview with Claire and this isn't the first time she's flaked on an Oracle assignment, though we aren't told of the other instances.

  • Penny arranges the interview between Claire and Liz for after the pep rally.

  • The Oracle is doing a bunch of stories on transfer students.

  • John wants extra coverage on the new QB spot. Not entirely sure why 8 sign ups make this a thing but hey. Liz is assigned to help him.

  • There are bleached maple wood benches in the SVH courtyard, tucked away in the trees and bushes. The courtyard also has large ceramic pots filled with flowers.

  • Claire Middleton is described as having a slightly tomboyish appearance, due moreso to her clothing choices than her looks. She's got long, pretty dark hair, an oval face, a beautiful smile, with a spattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, and unusual pale green eyes. Her family moved from the Palisades district to SVH's, downsizing to a smaller house, after her big brother Ted's death. She loves football, running, cycling, and describes herself as a fitness nut. She's not exactly pro-cheerleader. She's intense about things she likes and not good at half-assing things.

  • Claire's motto is, "I'd rather die than quit."

  • Ted Middleton was the SVU JV quarterback. He started coming down with wicked headaches, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Within a couple of months, he was dead. Steven shared a freshman composition class with him and Steve's roommate was good friends with Ted.

  • The way Liz asks Claire about having any siblings is weird, as she asks if she's got any attending SVH. Like, Liz, you'd know the answer to that.

  • Jess and Amy initially want to recruit Claire for PBA and initially Liz is skeptical, but then figures it's a way to shake the sorority's rep for being too exclusive. Later, Jessica confirms this.

  • Terri's little brother Mark is 12 and best friends with Dean Skinner, Stan Skinner's little brother.

  • SVH plays their varsity games on Saturdays and this is still very weird to me.

  • Terri's mom drives a blue Volvo that Terri frequently borrows.

  • Terri and Ken usually meet in their special spot in the hallway between 3rd and 4th period. Fourth period for Terri is music.

  • Ken and Terri think of each other as best friends. Aw.

  • The sign-up sheet for QB tryouts goes up at 11:30am and is taken down around 12:40. An hour to sign up seems pretty short, even if it is during lunch.

  • Ken's the first person to sign up, with Dave Pollock, Stan Skinner, and Patrick Reeve from the JV team signing up after that. Tim Nelson, a linebacker, also signs up, as well as Robbie Hendricks, and Bryce Fisherman. Claire is the last to sign the sheet.

  • Ken has a lunchtime appointment with Dr. Cragie the day of sign ups.

  • Terri and Ken share history class, and they're learning about the French Revolution.

  • The tryout turnout includes the entire football team, the whole Oracle staff, and a few dozen students.

  • Ricky Ordway injured his hamstring.

  • Ken does the 40 yard sprint in 4.9 seconds, while Claire does it in 4.8 and she seems disgusted with her own time.

  • Claire is the first girl to tryout for QB at a public school in the area - ever. I do wonder if this means someone did so at a private school or if the private schools simply don't have football teams.

  • Dave Pollock is a distant third place in the QB competition.

  • The Sweet Valley News calls Terri to confirm the race times, and later calls Penny regarding Claire.

  • Liz notices a lot of sophomore boys are watching Claire's tryouts with wonder.

  • On the cheer squad, Robin, Jeanie, and Annie are all very pro Claire until Jessica shares Claire's less than flattering opinion of their sport.

  • Sandy, Robin, and Jeanie all seem especially hurt/baffled by Claire's words.

  • Jessica has Amy recruit Tim to their prank war by telling him that Claire was talking shit about him. This never bites Jessica, or Amy, in the ass, btw, even though it's a lie.

  • Peter Straus, the Big Mesa QB is being recruited by many a top college.

  • Various pranks played on Claire: trying to fill her helmet with water, toothpaste in her shoes, her vitamin drink stolen, and hate notes left. How are hate notes pranks? Jesus.

  • Annie, Jeanie, and Cara have to be talked into doing Jessica's mean cheer.

  • The Middleton's house is simple and sparse, decorated in pastel colors.

  • Claire called Ted "Teddy" and I audibly awww'd at that.

  • Greg Herly and Don Cavendish are also on the SVH football team.

  • Big Mesa's tackle is Matt Ambers.

  • During the Big Mesa game, the score is 7-0 (SVH), 7-7, 14-7 (Big Mesa), and ultimately SVH wins, 21-14.

  • Tim sits out the second half of the game with a sore ankle.

  • Cara won the cheerleading contest with her cheer for Ken.

  • Eric Parker's looking for a typical all American student for his TV show.





Cheer Along:

Give us a clap!
Give us a twirl!
Give us a quarterback
who isn't a girl!
--From the mind of Jessica without any real thought or planning.

Who wants a guy
when a girl like Claire
can throw the ball from here to there?
Who needs a guy
when a girl gives more:
She steals the ball,
she makes the score!
Who needs a guy
when a girl instead
can play like Claire?-
We know about Ted!
-- An awful lot of work went into this compared to the other cheers for the actual competition.

Second and ten!
That's our Ken!
See him score?
There will be more!
-- Cara won for this?

Who needs a guy when you've got Claire?
She runs, she scores, she gets you there!
Of all the heroes, she's the best!
The greatest player in the west!
-- Jessica's new cheer for Claire





Quotable SVH:

"Suit yourself. I think you'd do yourselves and everyone else a lot more good if you played a sport instead of jumping around and screaming." - Not cool, Claire. p44

"Anyway, you know how literal guys are," she went on lightly. "You have to really goad them into doing something mean, especially to a girl." - uh, wtf, Jessica? p90

"Lila isn't typical," Jessica said dismissively. "For one thing, her father owns half of Southern California." - I mean, she's not wrong. p149




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   This wasn't really one of my favorites when I was younger and re-reading it now doesn't change that opinion much. It's an odd book, given how often it calls back to TFN and even the previous book, while ignoring the fact that in FaF, Ken is not the pro-girl QB advocate he is in this book. And I might ignore that if not for the fact that Dana Larson, who was shown to be very much a fan of the idea of a girl QB, pops up everywhere cheering for Claire. So it's not just the references to Andy's attack and the subtle and not so subtle prejudices at SVH, it's also very clearly following up on the way certain characters viewed the idea of girls playing sports.
  Also, Claire's kinda hard to like. She's really only likable at the end, when the truth about Ted's been exposed, and she's talking to Terri about Ted and also about how obviously head over heels Ken is for Terri. Prior to that, she's needlessly rude to Jessica, weird with Liz (why agree to an interview when you clearly want nothing to do with the article?), and short with just about everyone who isn't Ken- that's the angle you could've used for thinking they were falling for one another, Terri.
  Jess and Amy are awful to Claire but I can't fully blame them, at least not right away... and Liz is mentioned to be off her game in this book and she feels like it, too. Also, justice for Enid! Didn't even get a proper C storyline and usually a breakup will guarantee one.
Tags: b-list character spotlight, jessica schemes
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