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On a recent Tuesday at 8:30 a.m., the 21 third-graders in Bethel's class at Excel Academy are reading excerpts, in unison, from a short story about Medieval Times, a Middle Ages-themed restaurant chain. Bethel, dressed in a red polo shirt, blue jeans, and red and white Air Jordans, is standing in front of the dry-erase board, watching over her pupils. The children are wearing their school uniforms — yellow, maroon, and navy blue polos with khaki pants or skirts — and paper crowns from Medieval Times.
A pudgy black boy named AJ is acting up and distracting Bethel. "AJ, you are being rude and disrespectful," she chastises. "If you keep it up, you won't participate in tomorrow's medieval banquet."
When the reading session is over, Bethel instructs her students to vote for 10 classmates to be the king, queen, knights, and servants for the banquet. After the children make their selections, Bethel asks her pupils to complete fill-in-the-blank exercises about the short story. A boy with thick braids named Derrick lets out a loud moan. "There shouldn't be any talking," Bethel says. "Your mouths should be closed."
As the students write their answers, Bethel informs a visitor that 2009 will be her last season with the Fury. "I can't go out like this, on the bottom," she says. "We went 7-2 my first season. Hopefully everyone will come back with a winning attitude and we can make a championship run next year."
After that, she's done so she can focus on raising her son and going to graduate school. "Myles is starting kindergarten next year," Bethel says. "I've already sacrificed spending time with him for the last three years. He doesn't get all the attention that I give my schoolkids. I have to make sure he has a good foundation."
She casually mentions that today is Myles's picture day. For the occasion, she dressed him in dark pinstripe slacks, a black tie, a crisp white shirt, and polished dress shoes. "I ordered two sets [of prints]," she says gleefully. "His graduation from preschool is next Saturday. He wants a lizard. I'll probably get him an iguana."
Bethel is not the only Fury player considering retirement. Two days before the away game against the Atlanta Xplosion (which Miami will go on to lose 35-0), Dixon is kicking back inside the Starbucks on the corner of NE 30th Street and Biscayne Boulevard. She sports a fresh summer outfit in Fury colors — aqua tank top, orange and aqua plaid shorts, and all-white Adidas shell-top sneakers. After nine years of dodging tacklers with her speedy legs, Dixon is contemplating hanging up her cleats for the 2009 season.
"I really love playing the game," she says. "But building the team has to be my main focus. That means I have to pound the pavement more, and that is going to take a lot of energy. So I have to make a sacrifice."
The Fury's soft-spoken leader says a major challenge for the team, besides bringing up its level of play, is raising its level of awareness; many Miamians don't know anything about women's football in their own back yard. "Man's biggest fear is the unknown," Dixon says. "But we are the only women's sports franchise out here. And that makes us unique."
And then there is the reality that, in another way, the Fury is hardly unique in South Florida sports. Like any other local team, its drawing power is subject to the mercy of fickle sports fans. "We got a lot of bandwagon-jumpers here," Dixon says. "Even professional sports teams like the Heat and the Dolphins that have money don't get fans unless they are winning."