The Overtown Optimist Club Rattlers have practiced here since 1993. They've won four national championships and produced not only model citizens but astounding athletes. For example, there's former Rattler Dave Thomas, a cornerback who earned a Super Bowl ring with the New York Giants. Then there's Ben Hanks, who played Pee Wees and ended up a linebacker for the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions. Treon Harris, who quarterbacked Booker T. Washington High to the nation's top ranking last year, took snaps here. University of Florida phenom receiver Quinton Dunbar grabbed passes here.
But on September 5, after months of pressure, the City of Miami ordered the team out of Williams Park. There are two better fields a mile or so away, city Parks and Recreation Director Stanley Motley said last Tuesday. "There's artificial turf," he said before sloughing off comment to a city spokesman who didn't call back. "Better facilities."
Problem is, neither the kids nor the coaches want to go. This park, they say, is a cocoon that protects the young from the poverty and violence that pervade Overtown. Coach Joe Sweeting is perhaps the most eloquent of the many opponents to a forced move. His parents grew up just a few blocks away. Sweeting has been overseeing junior midgets, mostly 12 year olds, for the past five years. He volunteers about 24 hours a week.
"Out of all the parks in the city, this is the one that needs a football team the most," he says. "This area has the highest dropout rate, the highest drug rate. This is about more than sports."