"He controlled a private entity that was renting city facilities and using the park," Barnes explains.

Three of the other Hurricanes coaches implicated by BSO — Darren Brown, Brad Parker, and Vincent Gray — had previous convictions for delivery of cocaine, dealing in stolen property, battery on a law enforcement officer, and grand theft.

"You would weed out a lot of bad people," Barnes says, with tighter rules on coaches.

Nay'quan Wright was shot in the chest at practice in 2011. He recovered from the wound to lead the Miami Gardens Bulldogs to a Super Bowl trophy in 2012.
George Martinez
Nay'quan Wright was shot in the chest at practice in 2011. He recovered from the wound to lead the Miami Gardens Bulldogs to a Super Bowl trophy in 2012.
Broward County youth football coaches Brandon Bivens, Darron Bostic, and Dave Small are accused of illegally betting on little-league games.
Broward Sheriff's Office
Broward County youth football coaches Brandon Bivens, Darron Bostic, and Dave Small are accused of illegally betting on little-league games.

Some cities have tried. Deerfield Beach started doing checks when Broward deputies informed officials about their investigation in May. Miami Gardens also had a rule prohibiting anyone with two or more felonies from volunteering. But Mayor Gilbert, a former state prosecutor, says the rule was routinely ignored.

So last year, while he was a councilman, Gilbert championed an ordinance exempting longtime coaches, noting that 15 out of 52 coaches at Bunche Park would not qualify otherwise. The Miami Gardens City Council approved Gilbert's measure by a 3-2 vote. Gilbert says coaches who have reformed themselves shouldn't be prevented from mentoring kids. "They have paid their debt," he says.

The City of Miami has also tried to tackle violence at youth football games; the Department of Parks and Recreation sent notice to all leagues in September asking them to start games by 5 p.m. so they'll end by sundown to discourage the kinds of shootings that leveled the Bulldogs and struck again at Overtown's Gibson Park last year.

Dade County also faces a new lawsuit from Eduardo Barnes, coach of the SFYFL team that was caught in crossfire at West Little River Park in July 2011. Barnes alleges the county should have done more to protect the park, where his daughter was shot along with three boys.

Gambling and violence aren't the only problems bedeviling the game, though. Medical experts and parents have raised increasing concerns over concussions and whether kids should be playing in full pads. An ESPN survey in August of more than 1,000 parents nationwide found 57 percent are less likely to allow their sons to play because of the research; two-thirds said concussions are a serious issue.

As of March 8, 2012, 41 states, including Florida, had passed laws protecting student-athletes from returning to play too soon after a concussion. Some experts, like Robert Cantu, a neurosurgeon and professor at Boston University School of Medicine, go even further. Cantu believes boys under age 14 should not be playing tackle football at all.

"The young child is particularly vulnerable to brain injury," he told a Boston television station in November. "We believe that kids under the age of 14 should not play collision sports as they are currently played."

But others argue that that's too drastic. "You want parents and coaches to be aware of the problem, but you still want kids to go out there and enjoy their sport," says Gillian Hotz, director of concussions for the UHealth Sports Medicine facility at the University of Miami's Medical School. "Obviously, a kid who comes home from practice or a game dazed and confused shouldn't go back to play until he is cleared by a physician, which is why we got the law passed in Florida."

Strickland, CEO of the Sports Concussions Institute, concurs. "You [reduce concussions] by raising awareness and educating coaches and parents to look for signs... But I don't think eliminating the sport in absence of empirical evidence is the answer."

As for Nay'quan, his only focus is on the game. When he and his teammates reach high school in three years, he wants the team to stay together. "We want to go to Miramar High," he says. "We'll see if Coach can help make that happen."

While his mom constantly worries her son will get severely injured or develop health problems, she's not going to let him quit.

After all, how can she tell a kid who survived an assault-rifle attack that knocking helmets on the field is too dangerous a risk?

"Football is dangerous," she says. "I worry about him because he is determined to become an NFL player. He went from being too scared to play to wanting to be the most famous athlete in the NFL. We'll see."

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