Local newspaperman Powell empathetically portrays the heavy load shouldered by those involved with Pop Warner football in Miami.
It may be for little kids, but it’s no small potatoes in Greater Miami, where Pop Warner teams regularly field national champions in all weight divisions. Powell was curious. What role did these teams play in the poorest big city in America? Why were so many teams composed exclusively of black players, and why were they so serious? So he spent a year attending practices, rallies, pre-games, games, and post-games, talking with players, coaches, and parents. Although the author is digging for a story, his narrative is more personal than journalistic. Powell has very clear and raspy opinions on the nature of Miami’s Pop Warner. The positives are obvious: kids get to have some fun in a place where fun comes at a premium; they learn to play together and focus their energies; the games bring a little light to decimated neighborhoods, showcase some superior talent, and offer one of the few roads out of poor, black Miami. There are also the standard problems of over-competitive coaches, parents who wish to live vicariously through their kids, and kids just dumped and left. But Pop Warner in Miami has a few other extraordinarily unfortunate features. One is the poaching of players from other neighborhoods, a twisted trickling down of professionalism to the sandlots; another is the presence of gang members, who bet and bribe and aren’t afraid to loose a few rounds if it will end a game not going their way. Throughout, Powell draws a sharp portrait of Miami: one resident tells him living there is “almost—not quite, but almost—like it was being black in the fifties and the sixties”; another explains that, politically, “in this town, if you’re not Cuban, you’re nothing.”
A visceral and direct style makes readers feel the nap of a very rough place in which to survive, let alone grow up.