On a practice field rimmed by wind-torn buildings and huge mounds of rubble, with a cluster of Army tents visible on a vacant lot 300 yards away and military relief helicopters clattering overhead, the Miami Southridge High football team resumed practice last week. Three weeks into the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew, coach Don Soldinger picked up where he had left off, bellowing hard-line instructions to his players: "Not cuttin' 'em a bit of slack," he said. The Spartans are defending state 5A co-champions, and they were ranked No. 4 in USA Today's national Top 25 high school poll last week, even though the start of their season was delayed until Oct. 3. But the fact that they will have a season at all is a tribute to their resilience.
Soldinger estimates that half his players are still displaced. Some kids are staying with teammates, while others are housed in churches, and still others are commuting from relatives' homes in areas where the storm did less damage.
Strong safety Dorian Mallary huddled in a closet with his mother, Jeanette, his father, Lorian, and his cousin Derrick for an hour on Aug. 24 while Andrew ripped off part of their roof and pulled a chunk of the house onto the family car. Dorian's house was five minutes away from school, but he now lives in an apartment 35 miles away in Carol City and drives to South-ridge. "We've got people living in half a house or in a house with half a roof," said punter Steve Robson. "My house was condemned. My dad got us an apartment in a building where, in six hours, 300 units were rented." Yet of the 67 players on the Southridge roster, 63 made it back to practice.
Most of Soldinger's assistants weren't spared by the storm, either. Offensive line coach Rodney Hunter's house was leveled, and defensive coordinator Mike Shapiro has been living in two rooms—his son's bedroom and the family room—of his three-bedroom house. Soldinger's town house in nearby Kendall escaped serious damage, and seven players stayed with him during the first week after the hurricane.
Last season the Spartans went 11-2-1, including a 22-22 tie with Orlando Evans in the state title game, but they were not rated by USA Today at any time during the season. So being ranked fourth the past four weeks has provided a little excitement during an otherwise devastating period. The hurricane forced Southridge to cancel three games and postpone another, but its five-game schedule against district opponents remains intact. Thus, even with a seven-game regular season, the Spartans remain eligible for another shot at the state playoffs.
Still to be worked out is where their games will be played. Like most large high schools in Dade County, Southridge uses county-owned facilities, but the three stadiums where the Spartans normally play are out of commission: Harris Field in Homestead was destroyed, the bleachers twisted and mangled beyond repair; the lights at Tropical Park in South Dade are no longer operable; and Tamiami Park, also in South Dade, is being used as a hurricane-relief staging area.
Southridge High suffered heavy water damage, and its roof was partially destroyed. Portable classrooms were torn apart. County officials initially doubted that Southridge could be reopened this school year. However, the school's principal, Dr. Fred Rodgers, thought otherwise, and classes resumed on Sept. 14. "This school is the hub of the community," says Rodgers. "When this building is open, when there is life here, there is life in the community. One of the neighbors stopped by the other day and said, 'I'm so happy to see the football team back out there. I was so happy to see your band back out there! Because, man, that means we're living again.' "