Raptors Win Game Under Fired Coaches

Yolanda Simpson and Nathan Anderson, beneath an umbrella, cheer on the Raptors. Simpson's brother and Anderson's cousin play for the team.
Yolanda Simpson and Nathan Anderson, beneath an umbrella, cheer on the Raptors. Simpson's brother and Anderson's cousin play for the team. (Bill O'leary - Twp)
By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 13, 2006

There was still a little pain, and a whole lot of rain, but the South County Raptors played through it like champions yesterday. The spunky team of 12- to 14-year-old boys from southern Fairfax County made one last successful grab for gridiron glory with a 6-0 victory over the ferocious Gainesville Grizzlies.

Ten days ago, the Raptors' winning streak appeared to be all but over after league Commissioner Dan Hinkle fired the team's head coach and assistant coach for moving Hinkle's son from defense to offense in the final game, a win. The move shattered hopes of a championship for the Raptors, who refused to play without their coaches.

Cheers went up on both sides of the field yesterday as the Raptors walked hand-in-hand onto the rain-soaked playing field in Vienna. Team members weigh in at scarcely more than 100 pounds, but they played big for a crowd of hearty onlookers who braved the blustery cold to watch the postseason bowl game organized just for them by a group of league officials.

"We felt really bad when the boys from South County didn't get to play. We're just excited to be out here with them," said Grizzlies fan Nancy Brosnahan, 40. "When all the kids suffer for the decision of one, it's disappointing."

The firing drove a wedge between players' parents and Hinkle, head of the South County Youth Association, one of 23 clubs that make up the Fairfax County Youth Football League. Hinkle, of Chantilly, has said he spent about $150,000 of his money to create the league.

During the preseason, he said in an e-mail to coaches that his son, Scott, 12, should play every play on defense. When he learned that the coaches had played his son on offense in the winning last game of the regular season, he fired Raptors head coach James Owens and assistant coach Bill Burnham, according to the former coaches and players' parents. Phone calls to Hinkle were not returned yesterday.

Although Hinkle allowed the Raptors to use league equipment and facilities for yesterday's game, his son did not play. The fired coaches did, however, return to coach a team that had stood up for them.

The personal power play by Hinkle was a blow for the Raptors, who with a 5-2 record were tied with the Grizzlies, the Herndon Hornets and the McLean Mustangs at the end of the season, but it didn't kill the team's winning spirit.

"It's cold, but it's good to be out here playing again," said player Andrew Rector.

Andrew punched in the winning touchdown with just under a minute to go in the second quarter. The 12-year-old from Lorton said he was sorry Hinkle's son wasn't there to share in the victory and said he wished Hinkle had been more sportsmanlike.

"I was sad when I found out we wouldn't be playing," Andrew said. "It would be great if he would apologize, but if not, we'll just have to hold on."

Several parents of Raptors players, however, said they don't want their sons to play for South County under the current arrangement of one-person league stewardship. Tyrone Simpson Sr. said he planned to pull his son, Tyrone Jr., 12, from the team because things had gotten so ugly. Simpson said Hinkle had too much power and had abused his position, an opinion voiced by several other parents.

"They need to have a board that makes the decisions, not just one guy who's throwing his money around," Simpson said. "What he did was unforgivable."

With 314 teams of varying age and weight categories, the Fairfax County Youth Football League is one of the area's largest. It has recently experienced substantial membership gains that have paralleled rapid growth in Fairfax and Prince William counties.

Under league rules, Hinkle had the authority to fire the coaches, and league officials said it is not unusual for coaches' jobs to be terminated. But Hinkle's move still came as a shock to most of the youth league boosters and officials. League Chairman Mark Meana, who helped arrange yesterday's special bowl game, said the incident had not only marred the season for the Raptors but stained the league's reputation.

"It's sad because this team always got along so well," Meana said. "Never in my 30 years of volunteer sports have I ever been involved in something like this."

Parents invest considerable time and effort in the games, shuttling their boys to practice three times a week and paying as much as $160 for equipment and other costs.

"The boys want to play ball," said Cindy Rist, whose son, Sarosh Gilani, 12, is a Raptor. "All of these parents and commissioners need to remember what it's all about. It's about the kids getting to play."

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