Coming of Age on the 50-Yard Line

Most of the boys who play in Gwen Cherry Park's pop warner football program live in the Scott Projects, but they do their growing up on the gridiron

"We're going to go all the way!" someone shouts. "We going all ... the ... way!"

After the Goulds game, Frankie misses every practice. As punishment he sits on the bench while the Bulls trounce West Kendall, 26-0. A week later he's still sitting as Scott Lake, from north of the Palmetto Expressway, is blown out 36-0. Coach Dre lets him kick off and convert extra points, but that's it.

Linda Adams, Frankie's mother, says her boy missed the practices because he was in trouble at school.

In the regular-season finale, Frankie doesn't play a down as the team loses its first game, to the Northwest Boys Club, a league power. He doesn't even get in to attempt an extra point because the Bulls never score. "Keep your heads up and feel good about Gwen Cherry Park," Dre orders after the 26-0 drubbing. "It ain't nothing but one loss, baby. We're 9-1, we'll see them again." Despite the upbeat words, tears stream down the faces of tackle Lawrence Hook and several of his teammates.

The loss means little: With nine wins the Bulls had secured home-field advantage for the playoffs even before the kickoff. Still, Dre pulls Frankie aside afterward. "This is the playoffs now, Frankie. Do or die," says the head coach, grasping his kicker by the shoulders. "I need you to show up for practices this week. We need you in there at tight end. Can you show up for me? Can you do that for me, Frankie?" Frankie stares blankly at Dre, nodding slightly.

Frankie does not show up for a single practice in preparation for the first playoff game, against defending champion Liberty City. Coaches Dre, Streeter, and A.D. all pay separate visits to Frankie's row in Scott Homes to try to persuade his mother that practice is the best place for him to be. Sometimes she says Frankie is sick, other times that he's being punished for poor behavior in school. "She says that," spits Darrell Greene, "then we see him outside playing on the street. Man, I give up on Frankie."

At practice the Friday before the first round of playoffs, Dre cannot mask his disappointment at Frankie's absence. He recalls how he first saw the boy back in August, playing on the railroad tracks while the team practiced. Not knowing anything about Frankie's talents, the coach persuaded him to join the team and paid the entrance fee out of his own pocket. "Frankie breaks my heart," Dre laments, watching his offense run through a drill. "Every season I try to get through to all my players. But Frankie, I just can't get through to him. I tried to work with him. I tried to talk to him. But I can't break through."

Frankie doesn't show up for the contest against Liberty City, his first game-day absence all year. Before the coin toss, Dre gives the kicking duties to Ant Henderson, a wiry nine-year-old. To everyone's surprise, Ant converts after a Bulls touchdown, providing the winning margin in a close 8-6 game.

Needing just one more victory to reach the championship game, Gwen Cherry finally feels the loss of its regular kicker. This past Saturday morning, on a field slick with drizzle, Ant returns a punt 60 yards to give the Bulls a 6-0 first-quarter lead over the visiting Kendall Hammocks Chiefs. But his two-point attempt sails wide left, and the missed conversion proves costly when Kendall scores its own touchdown minutes later and amazingly makes the kick, taking a lead it will carry into the last minute of the game.

Down by two and out of timeouts, Gwen Cherry manages to move the ball 70 yards to the Chiefs' four-yard line. After Keith Holmes attempts a futile quarterback sneak up the middle, Dre frantically calls for a running play with less than ten seconds remaining.

Keith takes the snap and turns to hand off to Sammie Bush, but there's a miscommunication and the ball falls to the ground. As time expires, players on both teams scramble to recover the fumble, which squirts into the end zone. Somehow, amid the tangle of legs and shoulder pads, Sammie spies the bouncing pigskin and falls on top of it.

"Everyone on both teams was just standing there looking at him," Coach Dre will later recall. "Everybody was quiet. Finally, after maybe ten seconds, the ref threw up his hands."

Touchdown: Bulls win, 12-8.
Sammie, mobbed by frenzied Bulls, breaks into tears. Dre and A.D. leap onto the pile. As Charlie Brown tries in vain to keep fans from hopping the fence to join the fray, the Kendall Hammocks players slump off the field dragging their helmets on the grass. The 80s remain in the end zone to bring in the 110s, who are about to face Liberty City. Clapping, laughing, still crying with joy, the Bulls break it down. Blue and gold, rolling to the Super Bowl.

The Gwen Cherry Bulls 80s will meet the Goulds Rams in the Super Bowl on Saturday, December 6, at 9:00 a.m. at Harris Field in Homestead. Tickets are $3 for adults and $2 for children six and under. For information call the NFL YET Center at 694-4889.

In his cover story "Coming of Age on the 50-Yard Line" (November 27), staff writer Robert Andrew Powell erroneously stated that Anthony Dawkins had transferred money from one account to another while he was running the football program at Gwen Cherry Park. New Times regrets the error.

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