By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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Dejá, a cute dark-skinned girl with chubby cheeks and braided extensions, tells Bethel she helped her cousin get out of her wheelchair. A boy named Buddha says, "I helped my momma stir the meatballs." Another girl, Milagros, is making faces, which prompts a rebuke from Bethel. "You just got five minutes in time-out when we're done here," she scolds. Milagros crosses her arms and pouts.
Bethel forges ahead. "What did you do this week to solve a problem without fighting?" she asks the children. Six-year-old Cedric explains how he avoided a fight with a schoolmate. "This boy slapped me, so I told him he better cool down before I told the teacher on him," Cedric says. "He got scared." Bethel catches Buddha poking one of the girls. "You're going to time-out too," she says. Bethel looks around at each of the children and congratulates them for not getting into fights. "Any time you can avoid violence is a good thing," she says. "Tomorrow I want all of you to do a good deed and tell me about it."
After the social-skills lesson, Bethel lounges in the lobby and reflects on the Fury's performance against the Xplosion. "I can't pretend everything is all right when we just got whupped," she explains. "Fans don't want to come out to see you play when you are losing 44 to nothing." Bethel wonders if some of her teammates have the heart to play hard. "If you don't have it, dog, I can't put it in you," she says. "And this is gut-check week."
She's right. The Dallas Diamonds are one of the premier teams in the IWFL. In their first three games, the Diamonds beat the competition by a combined score of 186-14, posting shutouts in their first two wins, including a 91-0 pasting of the Palm Beach Punishers. "Those girls pull tractors for a living," Bethel jests. "But we can use our speed to negate their size. We just need to play with more discipline."
Later that evening, at Miramar Athletic Park, Fury practice is in full swing as the offense goes over blocking techniques against the defense. Coach Fanakos is encouraging wide receiver Ashley Rijos to engage linebacker Kalondra McKenzie, who is 30 pounds heavier and six inches taller. "Push her!" Fanakos screeches. "Push her! That's it!"
Number 22, a tall, 145-pound wideout named Latoya Lynn, is next, going up against 240-pound linebacker Keisha McDonald. Fanakos blows his whistle to start the drill. Lowering her center of gravity, Lynn pushes McDonald out of the way. The two ladies butt helmets as the rest of the team claps in admiration.
Fanakos, a deep-voiced man with oval eyeglasses who also coaches high-school football at Doral Academy, says he didn't sleep for three days while reviewing film of the game against Atlanta. "They left us in a world of mess," Fanakos laments. "We gave them everything."
For the last two hours of practice, the Fury goes through its offensive and defensive sets while also running plays Dallas might use. The drills are so intense that at one point, center Jessica Montanez runs off to a corner of the field, behind a light pole, to puke. Quarterback Dixon calls her out. "Oh shit, everybody!" Dixon says. "Jessica is pregnant!" Laughter erupts among the teammates. "Fuck y'all!" Montanez retorts.
In between the action, Dixon rattles off the reasons Atlanta blew her squad out of the water. "Basically we weren't focused," she says. "We shot ourselves in the foot and it went downhill."
Two days later, during the home game against Dallas, the Fury is keeping up with the league's number one team. The score is 7-6 midway through the first quarter. The bleachers are virtually empty, except for about 30 spectators, mostly Dallas fans who traveled from Texas.
The Diamonds' five-foot nine-inch, 206-pound running back Jessica Springer is methodically pounding the Fury defense. On one play, she busts a 25-yard gain. On the same drive, she hammers forward, picking up first downs on consecutive plays. On third and 12 from the Fury's 22-yard line, Dallas sends the tight end in motion. That sets off Fury defensive coordinator Raul Camaliche, who screams at Bethel to cover the player. "Gilda! Gilda!" he hollers. "Watch the pass to the tight end!"
Bethel seems confused when the ball is snapped. The tight end races past her, catching a pass in her breadbasket and scoring a touchdown. It's 14-6 Dallas. An angry Bethel marches off the field, screaming at Camaliche. "Coach can't put me in that predicament!" she yells. "He gotta tell me to stick her!" Camaliche walks over and soothes Bethel's shoulder pads. "It's all right," he says. "Don't worry about it. Just keep your focus."
By the end of the third quarter, the Fury is at the bad end of another blowout. Eventually they lose 48-6. Their 1-3 record has left their playoff hopes all but dead. To qualify, they will need to win all four of their last contests, including rematches against Atlanta and Dallas on those teams' home turf. Luckily the Fury's next opponent is the Palm Beach Punishers, an even more hapless bunch that gave the Fury its first victory of the season, 6-2, and its second, when the ladies from Miami go on to clobber their regional rivals 22-0.