By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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Among the players Dixon took under her wing were Keondra Greer and Kalondra McKenzie, who now play for the Fury. Greer is a wide receiver, defensive back, and second-string QB; McKenzie is a linebacker.
Dixon began her semipro football career in 1998, when she played tailback and safety for the Minnesota Vixens. Two years later, she joined the Fury. "By the grace of God, Gayla and I were able to come up with the money to buy the team in 2005," Dixon says, declining to disclose the amount.
Since then, she and Harrington have been working full-time on building up the Fury by recruiting coaches and players. More than half the team has less than two years of experience in tackle football. The players are mostly African-American women in their twenties and thirties, plus a few Hispanics and whites. Some are locals, born and raised in the 305, while others come from the Midwest and Northeast.
Kimberly Fortin, a former Marine, moved to South Florida from Connecticut last August after accepting a teaching job at the 5,000 Role Models Academy in Liberty City. The 23-year-old rookie, who sports short platinum hair and a nose ring, played Pop Warner football as a girl. She found the Fury while searching on Craigslist for stuff to do.
"So far it's been great," Fortin says. "I love these girls and I love playing the game. It's also helped me with the kids at my school, who at first gave me crap for being the only white teacher there."
It's Thursday afternoon around 3:45, five days after the Atlanta game. Bethel has just arrived at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in Liberty City, where she works a second job five days a week, tutoring elementary and middle-school children from 4 to 7 p.m. "I teach them reading, math, and social skills," she says. "I teach them how to say please and thank you, as well as how to apologize and respect each other."
Her day began, as it does every weekday, at 6 a.m., when she wakes up to get ready for work and dress Myles for preschool. About a half-hour later, Bethel and her son are on their way. "Sometimes I stop by McDonald's to get him breakfast," she says. "And sometimes he eats at school." From 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., Bethel teaches third grade at Excel Academy, an elementary charter school at 3650 N. Miami Ave.
The 31-year-old Overtown native, along with five sisters and four brothers, was raised by her 77-year-old grandmother. "You learn to share with all those siblings," she affirms. "We weren't rich growing up, but I had everything I needed." After graduating from Miami Jackson Senior High, Bethel attended Florida Memorial University, where she earned her teaching degree seven years ago. "I wanted to teach to help the less fortunate kids in the inner city," she explains. "I believe I have a lot to offer them."
Tuesday through Friday at 7 p.m., Bethel races from MLK Park to Miramar Athletic Park, 10 miles north of her second job; Fury practice begins at 7:30 and concludes two hours later. Myles is always with her. "He's our number one cheerleader," Bethel boasts. "He's off-the-chain. The other day he asked me why we haven't scored a touchdown."
Her day ends around 10:30, after she has bathed Myles and put him to bed. "The next day I get up at 6 and do it all over again," she says, flashing a cheery wide grin.
When his mother is on the practice field, Myles spends time with other Fury players' children, including four-year-old Destiny, daughter of offensive tackle Kristina Williams. Sometimes Myles will get in trouble with Mom. At a recent practice before the Atlanta game, the ragamuffin was jumping on a pile of red clay on the baseball diamond, drawing Bethel's attention away from a postpractice huddle with the coaches. "Myles! I'm gonna kill you!" she screamed. "Look at what you did to your shoes!"
Bethel's family doesn't want her playing football. "For one, we don't play for money," she says. "And if we get hurt, it's not like we can afford to lose time off work. But I just like to play. Instead of doing drugs and drinking alcohol, I get all the adrenaline rush I need from football."
Today she has the day off from Excel Academy. She is dressed in jean shorts, flip-flops, and a white Fury T-shirt that reads, "Real women get down and dirty." Her cornrows are pulled tight against her scalp and extend down to the top of her shoulders. At MLK Park, scores of children come and go through the glass doors of the recreation building where Bethel's supervisor, Miami-Dade Park and Recreation manager Marvin Burroughs, stands behind the front desk.
Burroughs has known Bethel since 2006, when he joined the park staff. "She is intense at everything she does, whether it's playing football or getting children to do better in school," he says. "She does a lot of trash-talking, but that comes with the territory."
Shortly after 4 p.m., Bethel gathers seven youngsters between the ages of five and eight in a rec center classroom. She asks her charges: "What do you listen with?" The kids pull on their ears. "That's good," she says. "Now who wants to tell me about the good deed they did for the week?"