Of Gridirons and Gunshots

The Greater Miami Pop Warner Football League struggles to control itself

With six seconds left in the first half, Florida City scored again. Charging downfield like the razorback hog that adorned his baby blue helmet, a Florida City wide receiver snagged a long pass and plowed his way into the end zone. And so the Razorbacks' lead stretched to nineteen points, an insurmountable gap for the visiting Pop Warner football team from Port Charlotte. As the halftime gun sounded, giddy Razorbacks dashed to the sideline, confident that the regional championship was theirs.

Applause from the stands was somewhat muted at Miami's Curtis Park in Allapattah. Only about 100 Florida City fans were present this past Saturday, November 21, and out of respect for the fragile egos of the Razorbacks' twelve-year-old opponents, only half of those fans chose to whoop and holler. The calm, however, was a welcome change. When Florida City played on November 7 for the county championship, the game was interrupted by gunfire.

"This has been the worst year in Pop Warner that we've had in the past four or five years," complained Charlie Brown, athletic director for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Miami and vice president of the Greater Miami Pop Warner Football League. "It has been absolutely the worst. Every game the fans grew worse. I said to everyone that something is going to happen. We didn't think it would happen at the Super Bowl. Frankly, we thought it was going to happen sooner."

Fans of pee-wee football in Miami have become noticeably more fervent in recent years, to the point where the threat of violence lurks at almost every game. "The fans are getting to be like soccer hooligans," Brown griped. "I've heard a lot of things about how there is so much money riding on the games now. There is so much passion. There used to be a time when these kids were able to just go out and play. No longer. Now it's work for them."

Gambling is common. "Why do you think all these people are here?" asked Gwen Cherry Park head coach Tommy Streeter as he surveyed the sidelines at a recent game at Moore Park. More than 1000 people were watching an 80-pound-division match between Streeter's Bulls and the Liberty City Warriors. Most of the players were eight years old.

The smoldering violence finally exploded November 7 at the so-called Super Bowl, the county championships held this year at Harris Field in Homestead. Just after 7:30 p.m., as the Florida City Razorbacks battled the Goulds Rams for the 120-pound-division championship, four shots rang out. Hundreds of fans stampeded from the bleachers.

According to Homestead police, the suspected shooter was found in the west bleachers. Dewey Arnel Davis, a 48-year-old Liberty City laundromat owner, held a gun in his right hand, dangling it next to his right leg. When confronted by police officers, Davis threw the weapon onto the football field and surrendered. A second, unidentified man lay face up in the bleachers, ten feet north of Davis. "I've been shot in my back," he said.

Actually he'd been wounded three times: in the back, the back of the neck, and the left shoulder. (A fourth bullet smashed the window of an unoccupied car parked 200 feet away.) A witness reported the two men were fighting along the bleachers' lower walkway when Davis pulled the gun from his waistband. It is unclear what started the dispute.

Davis, a three-time felon, was arrested and charged with attempted murder and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. The victim, Reginald Alvin, was airlifted to the Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital in serious but stable condition. He was discharged a week later.

In response to the shooting, Homestead city officials took a hard line. Before the nonprofit Pop Warner league could host more games at Harris Field, it would be required to more than double the number of police officers used for security. Pop Warner officials decided the price was too high, so they relocated the games to Curtis Park. "When the people in Homestead raised the costs, I think it was just their way of saying, Thanks, it's been a good experience, but don't come back," Charlie Brown speculates.

"This is the second year in a row there have been problems," clarifies Homestead City Manager Charles Baldwin. "Last year [at the Pop Warner Super Bowl] there were similar violent disturbances, though fortunately there was no shooting. Last year we employed three officers. Because of the violence, we decided we needed an increase in officers this year and went up to five. Clearly there is a need for even more."

The security presence at Curtis Park this past weekend was heavy. And bored. Three City of Miami police officers huddled around the Florida City Gatorade jug. Six more officers leaned against a bleacher railing, talking idly among themselves. After five games involving ten different teams, there hadn't been any violence. "Not at all," reported one cop as he walked across the running track ringing the field. "It has been beautiful all day. Even outside the park -- I just took a walk around the parking lot. It's beautiful out there, too."

He looked onto the field, where the Razorbacks' quarterback took a knee to run out the clock and end the game, a shutout win for the local team. "I'm happy about that," said the officer, not referring to the game.

ra_powell@miaminewtimes.com

 
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