It starts to rain. Drops at first, then sheets of warm water strafe the park. Parents fold up lawn chairs and scurry for their cars. Brian blows his whistle to call his team in for a last huddle.
As he lifts a hand to get everyone's attention, rain washes clumps of mud off the helmets encircling him. He opens his mouth to say that practice is over, but the words do not come out. Brian gazes down at his players: Antwane, Stevie, Warren, Arlis, Diamond. It's been a tough season—one win, six losses and one tie (plus that one win by forfeit). No playoffs. No free trip to Disney World. Few achievements and, on game days at least, very little fun. Yet the kids and the coaches are still here.
A moment passes, then another. When Brian looks skyward, rain pelts his glasses. When he looks down at his team he finds his players expectant, waiting for his words. His lips curve into a smile, and he says, "Who wants to stay and practice?"
A cheer rises through the raindrops. Brian smiles. "O.K., then! Let's practice!"
The kids hustle back onto the field and resume their scrimmage. Water sprays in Antwane's mouth every time he yells hike! Stevie choreographs Deion Sanders-like dance steps just to splash in a widening puddle. After a few tackles in the mud, Diamond's practice jersey has turned from white to milk chocolate.
Sam Johnson, the man who runs the Warriors' program, is standing on the sideline under an umbrella. He takes in the scene with a smile. "Other parks think it's all about winning," he says. "Out here it has nothing to do with winning. I won't ever get rid of Brian."
"Last night I had a good dream!" Diamond says. "I was thinking about being a pro football player. They called me Diamond the Terminator, or something like that. And I was making all these touchdowns and making all these interceptions and stuff, and the crowd was going real wild and all that. Next thing you know the dream just went away."