Fast & Fury

Ten years later, the fury are still grinding out the yardage. Barely.

Linebacker and fullback Kalondra McKenzie doesn't make excuses for the team's horrendous performance. "I understand what you're saying, Coach," she says. "But y'all don't play. We play, and we didn't execute tonight."

Outside the locker room, Bethel's 4-year-old son, Myles, waits for her to emerge. He is wearing a black T-shirt with a picture of his mother in uniform and the phrase "My mommy ballin'!"

When she comes out of the locker room, Myles asks, "Mommy, did you win?"

Linebacker Gilda Bethel is an etiquette teacher who enjoys putting a stop to other women's forward momentum.
Laura Massa
Linebacker Gilda Bethel is an etiquette teacher who enjoys putting a stop to other women's forward momentum.

"No, we lost," the single mom says.

"Again?" Myles asks incredulously.

"Damn, even my git is givin' me a hard time about losing," Bethel grouses.

The Fury's loss to Atlanta drops the team to 1-2 for the 2008 campaign. And it doesn't get any easier. Up next: the Dallas Diamonds, who happened to demolish Atlanta 38-17.

Miami, Dallas, and Atlanta compete in the Independent Women's Football League, which also includes the Fury's in-state rivals the Orlando Mayhem and the Palm Beach Punishers. Since 1998, the year before the Fury's inaugural season, the league has expanded from 14 teams to 41 nationwide.

The women playing in the semipro IWFL are not paid. "We do it for the love of the game," explains 27-year-old Dixon, who, in addition to playing quarterback, co-owns the Fury with friend and retired defensive end Gayla Harrington.

In its nine years, the team has had a difficult time building the kind of loyal fan base — not to mention corporate sponsorships — that come easily for more successful teams such as the Xplosion and the Diamonds. "We really don't have any major sponsors," Harrington admits. "So it is harder for us to cover costs such as travel for away games." Says Dixon: "It's still hard finding corporate sponsors. But we have a group of dedicated players who work their butts off."

Every IWFL player is responsible for raising $1,000 from individual sponsors to help defray travel costs for away games. "Not every player can come up with the money," Dixon says. "But we still have to find a way to get there. In some cases, players drive their own cars." For its recent away games against Palm Beach and Atlanta, the Fury rented six minivans.

The team has posted winning records in only three of its nine seasons, making the playoffs once, in 2006. That year, the team posted a 7-1 regular-season record before losing in the first round to the New York Sharks. But the Fury regressed last season with a 3-5 record, losing its first two games by a combined score of 84-33 as well as losing Dixon to a foot injury. Heading into its last game of the season Saturday, the team's record stands at a dismal 2-4.

Fury assistant coach Benjamin Pierre-Charles attributes the losing record to roster turnover and inexperience. "We have a lot of new girls who are still learning how to play the game," he says. "They don't realize that if the other team scores first, it's not the end of the world. They really get down on themselves."

On and off the field, Dixon is the Fury's soft-spoken general. She stands 5 feet 7 inches tall and sports gold grills on her bottom teeth and tattoos on both upper arms. She is the oldest of four siblings who grew up in the guesthouse of their grandparents' Miami home. Her father, a saxophonist for KC and the Sunshine Band, was hardly around. Her mother abused alcohol and drugs, which forced Dixon to take care of her sister and two brothers, she says.

"My dad was on the road a lot," Dixon says, "while my mom was in and out of jail. There were times we went weeks without electricity. Through it all, me, my brothers, and my sister turned out all right."

Dixon says she was lucky to have teachers and coaches who really cared about her. "My second-grade schoolteacher would always tell me how trouble is easy to get into but hard to get out of," she says. "That stuck with me. Sports kept me busy and kept me in school."

While other 6-year-old girls in her neighborhood were dressing up dolls, Dixon was in the streets playing football just around the corner from her school, Lorah Park Elementary, on NW 31st Avenue. "I ran at the same pace as the boys in my neighborhood," Dixon recalls.

She played basketball, softball, and volleyball at Olinda Park, on NW 51st Street, and football — safety and wide receiver — for the Northside Optimist Club. "Anonka is a talented, competitive young lady," says Donna Jacobs, a 42-year-old retired police officer who coached Dixon when she was 11 years old. "She and her family struggled growing up, but she always kept up her spirit."

Dixon played girls' varsity basketball at Miami Edison Senior High, but she dropped out after her sophomore year to take care of her sister and brothers. She didn't return to the classroom for more than a year and received her diploma from Lindsey Hopkins Technical Education Center.

After coaching girls' basketball in the Miami-Dade County Park and Recreation Department for ten years, she returned to Edison in 2000 as an assistant to women's basketball coach Denise Novack. In each of the three years Dixon worked there, Edison went to state final-four tournaments and won the championship twice. "A lot of the kids were hardcore, from the streets and the projects," Novack recalls. "Anonka was good at teaching them the ups and downs of doing right and wrong things."

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