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Miami's Best Youth Football Team Beats Violence, Gambling, Turmoil, and Opponents

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The raid was the nadir of 17 dark months for youth football in Florida that started with a devastating ESPN special report and ended with one of the area's biggest leagues all but defunct. The arrests proved that not all coaches are like Wallace, a hard-working blue-collar dude mentoring kids and winning football games.

"It's about kids being exploited unfortunately by greedy parents and greedy grownups and coaches who were basically nothing more than criminals," then-Broward Sheriff Al Lamberti said after the arrests.

The investigation began in May 2011 after a report aired on ESPN's Outside the Lines. Coaches were secretly recorded exchanging wads of cash in the stands of SFYFL games in Broward during the 2010 season. The SFYFL, the second-oldest league in South Florida, started play in the 1980s. At its peak in 2010, it fielded 22 teams with 6,000 kids. When the Bunche Park and Miami Gardens teams were launched in 1990 and 2003, respectively, the programs both joined the SFYFL.

ESPN, though, uncovered a seedy underbelly in the league. Reporters interviewed Osbert Small, a coach for the Pompano Beach Cowboys, who was seen on camera exchanging money with several men during the SFYFL's Super Bowl in November 2010. Small later claimed he was only "holding money for an individual."

The report also noted that gamblers recruited children and their parents, offering one mom $2,000 to have her son play for a certain team, as well as providing the kid with clothes, shoes, and money. One coach told ESPN he lost one player when another team offered the boy's mother $3,500.

ESPN showed vice detectives from the Broward Sheriff's Office the footage, and another tipster told the cops to zero in on Bivens, known around the league as "Coach B."

The 36-year-old is the founder and coach of the Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes, which has about 400 kids ranging from ages 4 to 15. He's one of the area's most successful coaches, winning 15 championships since 2004 in several different weight classes. For coaches like Wallace, Bivens was well-known for turning the Hurricanes into an elite program.

But all along, the Hurricanes honcho was playing another role in the SFYFL: head bookie, says BSO Det. Solomon Barnes, lead investigator assigned to the case. "He was in charge," Barnes says. "This is a problem that has been going on for a long time. It is just starting to come out in the open."

Here's how it allegedly worked: Bivens and the other dirty coaches would arrange wagers by phone prior to game day. Before the league Super Bowl in 2011, for instance, coaches from teams hailing from Pompano Beach, Deerfield Beach, and Fort Lauderdale bet enough cash to build up a $100,000 pot on the game.

Deputies also caught coaches handling bets at two games between the Deerfield Packer-Rattlers and the Lauderhill Lions. During a sting on October 14 and 15, Barnes watched a confidential informant place two separate bets with Dave Small, a 42-year-old coach for the Lions, and Darron Bostic, a 29-year-old coach for the Packer-Rattlers.

Barnes provided the snitch with $600 to make the wagers. In one contest, Small allegedly told the informant that the point spread was six points for Deerfield Beach. Both Small and Bostic, who were each charged with one count of felony bookmaking, denied their involvement in illegal gambling in police reports. "That's a bold-faced lie," Bostic said when he was confronted by news crews from ESPN. Added Small: "It wasn't me, buddy. They got the wrong one."

While stalking those games, detectives also kept tabs on Bivens and five other coaches who frequented Red Carpet Kutz and the sporting goods store. Between June 25, 2011, and October 14 of last year, informants and undercover cops bet $50 a pop on sporting events at the two establishments, which were both owned by Bivens. Detectives dug through the trash from Bivens' house, finding wager reports, betting receipts, and deposit slips that matched the checking account number for Bivens, who declined comment for this article.

Even as police were closing in on Bivens and the other coaches, the league was already crumbling in the aftermath of the ESPN piece. Michael Spivey, the league's president, said coaches were upset with his attempts to address the gambling. For example, Spivey wanted the league to require volunteers to watch the ESPN report. He also wanted to be able to kick out any coach or volunteer who was caught betting.

Instead, last January, ten clubs — including Bivens' team, the Hurricanes — left the SFYFL to join the new Florida Youth Football League, AKA the "Flo League," whose founder is Carol City rapper Flo Rida. The league runs under the umbrella of the National Youth Football League, an organization headed by Miami New Times columnist Luther Campbell. In March, five clubs from Miami Gardens, including Wallace's Bulldogs, also switched over to the FYFL.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.