Illustration of lacrosse players
Art by Natasha Donovan

The Save

Is Oren a lacrosse star—or just plain lucky?

By Joseph Bruchac | Art by Natasha Donovan
From the October/November 2023 Issue

Learning Objective: Students will examine how the main character, Oren, becomes more confident in himself and his lacrosse skills and how his Haudenosaunee background affects his feelings about the game.

Lexile: 600L-700L
Other Key Skills: text features, inference, tone, interpreting text, text-to-self, author’s purpose, foreshadowing, plot, predicting, explanatory writing
UP CLOSE: Character

As you read, think about how Oren feels about playing lacrosse. Why does he feel this way?

Oren shifted his lacrosse stick from one hand to the other. 

Even with the mask on his face, his padding, and his gloves, he was feeling unprotected. The goal behind him was 6 feet by 6 feet. But it seemed as big as a barn door now that he was the one guarding it. 

In front of him were nine other boys on the team. Perry Elm, the third defender, turned to look over his shoulder at Oren.

“No worries,” Perry said. “We got this. No one’s getting past us.”

Oren nodded. He couldn’t believe that he was actually on the same field with these guys—in a real game. His heart should have been pumping with excitement. He was finally playing goalkeeper, the position he’d practiced for so very long. Instead, he was terrified.

Why am I so upset? Oren wondered. 

His team was ahead 14-2 with only two minutes left in the game. No way they could lose. That was why he, the third-string goalkeeper, had been given a chance.

A chance to look like a goof.

The team they were playing, the Buffalo Bulls, actually wasn’t that bad. But Oren’s team was winning because they were a whole lot better. After all, the Bulls weren’t buffaloes at all. They were just kids from the city of Buffalo, New York. 

He’d bet none of them had ever set foot on a lacrosse field before they hit middle school. How many of them had held their first stick before they could even walk? How many of them had a grandfather like his who was a legend of the game?  

And not one of those kids on the visiting team was Indian. Oren and his teammates, on the other hand, were Onondaga, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. The Haudenosaunee [hoh-deh-noh-SHOH-nee] had invented lacrosse.

“We’re proud, we are strong.”

That’s how Joanne Shenandoah sang it on his mom’s favorite CD. It was sort of a corny song, but it usually inspired him.

Haudenosaunee. We’re Haudenosaunee. And everybody on our team is so much better than these guys.

Except me.

Oren tried to concentrate. But for some reason, his mind wandered back to when he was showing those Buffalo kids around before the game. He’d been asked to be a tour guide. It was a way to make the third-string players like him feel more useful, he guessed.

He almost laughed remembering the city boys when they were given the short tour of the Reservation—or the Rez as everyone there called it. The best moment came when they were taken up onto the hill to see the tribe’s buffalo herd.

“Wow,” one boy said. “Those are real!” 

Another kid reached out to grab the fence. “Do they ever get out of there?” he asked. He sounded nervous. 

“Yup,” said Bill Jimmerson, the keeper of the herd. He was leading this part of the tour. “But only when they want to.”

That was when the buffalo everyone on the Rez called Big Guy, the largest male in the herd, decided to show his sense of humor. He spun around and charged straight at the crowd, head down and nostrils flaring. His snorting was as loud as a trumpet. 

To their credit, not all of the Buffalo Bulls ran or tripped over their feet as they tried to run away.

As usual, Big Guy stopped inches away from the fence. Then he lowered his head as Bill Jimmerson smiled approvingly at him.

“Wow,” said a thin, long-armed kid whose sweatshirt had a number 10. He was shaking his head and smiling as he stepped back up to the fence. “That is how to charge the goal.”

“You bet, Masterson,” said the slightly shorter boy by his side. Like his friend, he’d stepped back but hadn’t run for his life when Big Guy charged. The shorter boy’s sweatshirt had a large number 7.

Number 7.

A whistle sounded.

Wake up!

Oren looked up the field. The ball had been put back into play.

There were a couple of pretty good players on that Buffalo team: Numbers 10 and 7—the two kids who’d admired Big Guy. They’d scored the only goals. One each against Perry’s brother, Lee Elm. He was the second-string goalie on Oren’s team. Lee was good and would for sure be guarding the goal next year after Phil—the first-string goalie—went on to high school.

Number 10 and Number 7. Both of them were now heading Oren’s way, passing the ball back and forth between them. 

Be a panther in the goal.

That was how his grandfather put it to him.

Oren crouched. He could feel his heart beating now. It was pounding so hard it was as if an eagle were trying to fight its way out of his chest.

A panther. Be a panther, he thought.

Number 10 had the ball.

Masterson, Oren remembered. That’s his name.

Everything went in slow motion now. Masterson was getting ready to make a shot. The ball was flying toward Oren just as Number 7 charged at him. Oren tried to leap with his stick up to stop the shot. But as he did so, his feet crossed. His legs tangled together at the exact moment when Number 7 ran into him.

Oren twisted his body around in midair and landed flat on his belly. He couldn’t move. The wind had been knocked out of him like a piece of Bubble Wrap stomped on by a boot.

I really am a goof  was all he could think.

A whistle sounded.

The game was over. People were shouting.

“All right!”

“What a move!”

They’re praising that goal the Bulls scored while I was belly flopping, Oren thought.

Then he realized the voices were those of his own teammates. And it was not just his own guys who’d been impressed. Number 10 and Number 7 were leaning down on either side of him.

“Dude,” Masterson said. “That was amazing!”

Oren looked down at the stick in his left hand. There, held in the webbing, was the ball.

Coach White was patting him on the shoulder. “Oren, my man, you might take Phil’s slot next season,” the coach said.

I should tell everyone it was an accident, Oren thought.

But he didn’t.

What does your class think?

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My door is always open. That was what Oren’s grandfather always said to him.

And it was. When Oren got to his grandfather’s cabin, the door wasn’t locked. But his grandfather wasn’t there. There was a note on the door.

Note, "Gone to council meeting, come on in, food's in the fridge"

Oren pushed the door open and went straight to the fridge. He was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing off his fourth piece of chicken, when his grandfather arrived.

“Sge:no [SGEH-noh],” his grandfather said. It was the old greeting, a word that simply meant “peace” in the Onondaga language.

“Sge:no,” Oren replied.

“Leave me any of that bird?” his grandfather asked. He chuckled as he pulled up a chair.

“Not much,” Oren said.

“No problem,” his grandfather replied. “Plenty more at Firekeepers. Still hungry?”

Oren nodded. These days he was always hungry. Probably because of that growth spurt his mom said he was about to have. It couldn’t come fast enough. Oren was tired of being half a head shorter than the other boys on the team.

“Ready?” his grandfather said.

“Born ready,” Oren replied.

The two of them set off walking.

It wasn’t that far to Firekeepers. No more than a mile. It was the restaurant where everyone on the Rez liked to eat. 

They sat at their usual table, by the big window. So usual that the waitress brought out two bowls of buffalo chili and two glasses of water without their having to order. The food disappeared quickly. 

They sat there for a while in silence, looking out the closed window to Oren’s right. In the parking lot, the Thompson twins were practicing baseball, taking turns hitting the ball with a worn-out bat.

“Wish I could have been at the game today rather than at that council meeting,” his grandfather finally said. “Heard you made a great play.”

Oren shook his head. “No,” he said.

His grandfather didn’t say anything. He just looked at Oren, raising an eyebrow.

Oren took a deep breath. Then he explained it all, how it had been nothing more than a happy accident. How he felt like a fraud. How he shouldn’t be getting any praise at all. “Gramps,” Oren finished, “it was just dumb luck.”

His grandfather shook his head. “I think it was more than that. I’ve watched you practice. You have good reflexes. Sometimes we can do things that surprise even ourselves. Plus, what’s wrong with luck?”

Oren stood up. He wasn’t sure why. It was hard for him to sit and listen to his grandfather trying to make him believe he wasn’t a loser.

What happened next was hard for even Oren to explain. 

There was a loud THWACK. Then the Thompson twins’ baseball whizzed through the air toward the restaurant’s window. Oren found himself flying right over the table, like a big cat. He knocked his grandfather to the side just as the ball crashed through the window and sharp shards of glass sprayed all over their table.

“Gramps,” Oren said, jumping to his feet. He looked down at his grandfather lying on his back on the floor. “Are you OK?”

His grandfather smiled up at him. “Better than I would have been if that ball had hit me,” he said.

Suddenly, there were people all around them.

“You see what that boy did?”

“I never saw anything like it.”

His grandfather held out a hand and let Oren help him up.

“Well,” he chuckled. “Nya:weh [NYAH-weh], Grandson. Thank you! Remember what I said about you having good reflexes? No way are you going to feel bad about this save.”

“I guess so.” Oren grinned.

Write to Win

Explain how Oren’s background affects the way he feels about lacrosse. What events change the way he feels about the game—and himself? Send your response to “Save Contest” by December 15, 2023. Five winners will each receive a copy of Rez Dogs by Joseph Bruchac. Visit the Storyworks Contests page for more information.

This story was originally published in the October/November 2023 issue.

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Step-by-Step Lesson Plan

Table of Contents

1. Preparing to Read

2. Reading and Discussing

 SEL Focus, Close Reading, Critical Thinking

3. Skill Building and Writing

4. Differentiate and Customize

Striving Readers, Advanced Readers, Multilingual Learners

5. Can’t-Miss Teaching Extras

1. Preparing to Read

Build Engagement, Preview Vocabulary, Set a Purpose for Reading

  • Build engagement and activate prior knowledge by asking students to share whether they have ever played lacrosse. What do they know about the sport? Then show the Background Builder Slideshow to introduce lacrosse and the Native American origins of the sport.
  • Distribute or digitally assign the Vocabulary Skill Builder to preview challenging words. Vocabulary words include council, defender, fraud, legend, reflexes, and third-string. Students will be able to add other unfamiliar words from the story as well. 
  • Invite a volunteer to read aloud the Up Close box on page 11. Point out the questions in the margins and the arrows that connect them to lines in bold in the story. Preview the questions together.


2. Reading and Discussing

First Read: Get to Know the Text (20 minutes)

  • Ask students to  read the story independently or in small groups. They can also listen to our Immersive Read-Aloud, in which author Joseph Bruchac reads his story with music and sound effects for boosted engagement! 

Second Read: Unpack the Text (30 minutes)

  • Put students in small groups. Ask them to discuss the close-reading questions in the margins of the story. Answers to the questions are below. Go over the critical-thinking questions together as a class.

Close-Reading Questions


  1. Based on the line “But it seemed as big as a barn door now that he was the one guarding it,” what is Oren worried about? (character, p. 11) Oren is worried about the other team scoring a point while he’s guarding the goal. He feels vulnerable as a goalie and the goal feels very big behind him.
  2. Why are certain words in italics (slanted to the right)?  (text features, p. 11) Certain words are in italics because they are Oren’s thoughts. The italics indicate that what’s written is being said inside Oren’s head, not aloud.
  3. The questions at the bottom of page 11 aren’t meant to be answered; they’re meant to tell you something about Oren. What do you learn about him? (character, p. 11) We learn that Oren has been playing lacrosse for a long time and that his grandfather is a “legend of the game.” Lacrosse is something that is important to Oren and his family.
  4. Why does Oren think he should be a better lacrosse player? (inference, p. 12) Oren thinks he should be a better lacrosse player because he is a member of the Onondaga Nation, which is one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy that invented lacrosse. Also, he has been around lacrosse his whole life and his grandfather was a legendary lacrosse player.  So he thinks being a good lacrosse player should be in his blood.
  5. How do most of the Buffalo Bulls react to the real buffalo? What is funny about this? (tone, p. 12) The Buffalo Bulls run away when the biggest male in the herd threatens to charge the team. It’s funny because their team is named after this animal, yet they are afraid of it. 
  6. Why does Oren’s grandfather give him the advice “Be a panther in the goal”? What do you think it means? (getting the meaning, p. 13) His grandfather gives him this advice to help give him the confidence he needs to be a goalie. Panthers are brave and react quickly, which are two characteristics of a good goalie.
  7. Why does Oren think he’s a goof when he lands on his belly? (character, p. 13) Oren thinks he’s a goof because he tripped while trying to stop a shot on goal–and looked silly doing it. Plus, at this point in the story, he thinks that he’s let a goal be scored in front of everyone watching the game.
  8. If you were Oren, would you tell people the save was an accident? (text-to-self, p. 13) Answers will vary.
  9. Why do you think the author included this Onondaga greeting? (author’s purpose, p. 14) The author included this “old greeting” to show that Oren’s grandfather and Oren are connected to their Onondaga heritage. The author may have also included it so that readers can learn something new about the Onondaga nation and maybe even be able to greet someone from the nation in real life.
  10. What can you tell so far about what Oren’s grandfather is like? (character, p. 14) Oren’s grandfather seems like someone who is very present in Oren’s life. Oren feels very comfortable around his grandfather. Gramps is  easygoing and supportive of Oren, as well as being very connected to his Onondaga culture and community.
  11. Why do you think the author includes these details about the Thompson twins playing baseball? (Hint: Foreshadowing means giving clues about what will happen later.) (foreshadowing, p. 15) The author probably includes these lines to foreshadow that the baseball the Thompson twins were practicing with would go through the window of the restaurant later on in the story.
  12. How is Oren’s knocking his grandfather to the side a turning point in the story? (plot, p. 15) This moment is a turning point because it shows that Oren really does have fast reflexes. It shows that Oren probably stopped the goal earlier in the story because of those reflexes, and it wasn’t just a lucky accident, as Oren had worried about. This moment proves that he has had the ability to react quickly all along.
  13. Write your own question about these lines. (p. 15) Answers will vary. 


Critical-Thinking Questions

  • How does the way Oren sees “the save” change over the course of the story? How does Gramps help change his perspective? (character) At the beginning of the story, Oren sees the save he makes as a lucky accident. By the end of the story, he realizes that he actually has good reflexes, which was probably why he was able to make the impressive save. Throughout the story, Gramps encourages Oren to understand that he’s good at lacrosse. At the end of the story, Gramps helps Oren see that the same quick reflexes that made him push his grandfather out of harm's way also helped him save the ball from the goal.

  • How do you think Oren will think and behave differently the next time he plays goalie in a lacrosse game? (predicting) Answers will vary, but students will probably say that Oren will behave more confidently than he did before.

3. Skill Building and Writing

Featured Skill: Character
  • Distribute or digitally assign the Character Skill Builder to help students identify Elijah’s feelings and how he changes through the story. Available on two levels!

  • Ask students to respond to the writing prompt at the end of the story. Encourage them to submit their responses to our writing contest!

Differentiate and Customize
For Striving Readers

This story provides ample opportunities to review similes. Review the definition of this figure of speech, which compares two things using like or as. As you read, have students highlight the similes they  find in the text.  These include the following: “as big as a barn door” (p. 11); “[His heart] was pounding so hard it was as if an eagle were trying to fight its way out of his chest” (p. 13); “The wind had been knocked out of him like a piece of Bubble Wrap stomped on by a boot” (p. 13); “Oren found himself flying right over the table, like a big cat” (p. 15). Then, as a class, have students rewrite the sentences using their own words.

For Advanced Readers

This story notes that the Haudenosaunee invented lacrosse. Have students do some research about the origins of lacrosse, culminating in a poster presenting information about how the sport has changed since it was first played more than a thousand years ago. As a starting point for their research, share the Storyworks article “More Than a Sport” from December 2021, in which they will meet  Lawisana^wase (Wesay) Metoxen, a 10-year-old citizen of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin and lacrosse player.

For Multilingual Learners

Explain to students that the author of this story is Native American, and he includes many details in his story about the Onondaga nation. Provide several examples of these details: Oren gives the city boys a tour of the reservation where he lives, Oren’s grandfather’s note says he’s gone to a council meeting, and several instances where Oren and his grandfather speak in the Onondaga language. Ask: If this story were to take place where you or your family are from, how would these details be different? Allow some time for students to do their own research or ask a family member.

Can't-Miss Teaching Extras
Explore the Storyworks Archive

Check out other Storyworks stories with Indigenous characters and authors in our Celebrating Native American Heritage collection, perfect for Native American Heritage Month in November. Don’t miss “More Than a Sport,” our interview with a young lacrosse player from the Oneida Nation. (It’s part of our paired text feature “El Magnífico.”)

Dive Into These Resources

Learn more about the Haudenosaunee Confederacy’s history and continuing traditions on their website. Be sure to check out the “Culture & History” tab. The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian offers a fabulous Haudenosaunee Guide for Educators. This resource contains a section about lacrosse.

Learn More About the Onondaga

Spend time at the Onondaga Nation’s website reading about the culture, government, history, and current concerns of the  Onondaga. Check out their Videos page to watch a 3-minute video of an Onodaga boy answering questions about his school and community. (Note: Video starts after a short ad.)

Watch Lacrosse

Students will enjoy watching this 3.5 minute video of highlights from the first day of the 2021 World Series of Youth Lacrosse. For a deep dive into the history and current state of lacrosse, including traditional lacrosse stick-making, check out this 15-minute video from Trans World Sport. (Note: Videos start after a short ad.)